Sunday, April 22, 2012

Resurrection Witness

(A sermon based on 1 John 3:1-7 & Luke 24:36b-48 for the 3rd Sunday of Easter)

I grew up with, attended church with, and roomed in college with a guy named Randy. His father was named Roscoe and my father was named Champ; the two of them died within a few weeks of each other in 1979 and we held each of their funerals in the legendary Midway Baptist Church on City Pond Road four miles outside of Barnesville, Georgia. We both married Mercer girls who were good friends, he Jennie and I Debra.

After losing contact as we lived our respective lives, we all happily reconnected a few years ago. Neither Randy nor Debra do Facebook but Jennie and I do and our spouses participate vicariously through us. Not long after we reconnected, Jennie put a picture of Randy and her on Facebook; the last time I had seen them we were all quite a bit younger. When I saw the picture, I sent Randy an email that said, “Jennie is beautiful. You are Roscoe.”

Not long ago, I put a picture of me with my dog, the well-known public figure Rainey Jane Ruffin, on Facebook, and another old hometown friend, this one named Debbie, commented, “I could have sworn I was looking at Champ Ruffin.” I’m pretty sure she was talking about me and not about the dog, given that my father, as is the case with all Ruffins, was extremely good looking. Come to think of it, so is Rainey Jane.

Anyway, Randy and I do look like our fathers. I imagine that sometimes, when Randy does something or says something in a certain way, his mother sees Roscoe—and I imagine that my mother would see and hear Champ in my mannerisms and words were she still with us.

Some family connections shouldn’t be denied.

Some family connections should be celebrated.

Some family connections should be cultivated.

“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him,” wrote John the Elder (1 John 3:1). In God’s love, God has made us the children of God. Because we are God’s children, we bear a family resemblance to God. How can that be? Well, Jesus Christ the Son of God was the image of God and the fullness of God in the world and so we who are the children of God are the sisters and brothers of Jesus; we look like Jesus—or at least we can look like Jesus—in the ways we think, talk, and act.

John the Elder said that the world did not know Jesus and so the world would not know us because we look like Jesus. Maybe what he meant was that the world did not like the way that Jesus looked—the way that he thought, talked, and acted—and so the world will not like the way that we look—that is, the world will not like the way we look when we think, talk, and act like Jesus did.

Or maybe the problem was that Jesus did not think, talk, and act like they thought God should and would think, talk, and act. And maybe the reason that people these days don’t have much of a problem with the Church is that we don’t think, talk, and act very much like Jesus did. Maybe the world knows us and likes us just fine because we fit in just fine with the world’s ways of domination and manipulation that revolve around the exercise of power and the worship of money.

Take a moment and think about it—what’s the difference between the way you deal with problems and with people (which can be the same thing) or with success and circumstances (which can also be the same thing) and the way that people who don’t claim to follow Jesus or who don’t claim to take their following of Jesus seriously deal with them?

Do we in our day-to-day really bear witness to the suffering, crucified, and resurrected Jesus that we say we follow and that we say is present in and among us?

Jesus told the disciples to whom he appeared on the evening of the day he rose from the tomb, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

How were they to bear witness to him? How were they to testify to a Messiah who suffered, died, and rose? How were they to testify to the forgiveness of sins? How were they to testify to the presence in their lives of the resurrected Christ?

How are we?

They were to do so and we are to do so by becoming more and more like Jesus, which we can do because he is in us and among us. As John the Elder put it, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”

In other words, we are not yet what we will be when we become just like he is but we are—we really can be—well on our way to becoming like he is.

Interestingly, John said that we would one day become like Jesus because we will see him as he is; that is, when Jesus returns we will become all that we are supposed to be. To a large extent, though, we have already seen him as he is—we have seen him in our Gospels as the suffering, crucified, and resurrected Son of God. We have even seen him in a few—perhaps a very few—Christians that we know bear witness in their lives to who Jesus really is. So we can even now be well on the way toward becoming those who follow Jesus through giving ourselves up in suffering, sacrifice, death, and resurrection.

Perhaps one way to consider the kind of witness to the resurrected Christ we need to become is to consider the kind of witnesses to him that make us uneasy; perhaps they make us uneasy because we see in them what we know down deep inside we ought to be but are afraid of becoming.

Are there people whose witness to the crucified and resurrected Christ makes you uneasy? What about those Amish witnesses who forgave the killer of their children? Or witnesses like Mother Teresa who tend to the lepers and other outcasts? Or witnesses who live simply without slavish ties to technology? Or witnesses who point out and challenge corporate (or corporation) evil as well as individual sin? Or witnesses who live out the ways of reconciliation and peace rather than the ways of conflict and war? Or witnesses who remind us about our connection with all other people and with all other living things?

Well, let’s look at Jesus one more time as he stands there in front of his disciples on Easter evening and as he stands here before us one more time, his wounded hands stretched out for us to see. What do we learn from what he showed of himself to his disciples and from what he is again showing us? How did they and how do we bear witness to him?

First, be real. Jesus said, “Touch me and see.” We need to be real to ourselves and to others; we need to be the body of Christ to each other and to the world; we need to be the presence of Christ with sinners and with saints. We need to be available and vulnerable.

Second, be wounded. Jesus said, “Look at my hands and my feet.” His hands and feet bore the wounds of his crucifixion. We need to accept and to bear the wounds that come to us when we show love and grace and mercy. The earliest Christians understood the words of Isaiah 53 as descriptive of the kind of Messiah Jesus was: “He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account” (v. 3).

Jesus was so wounded that he was hard to look at. I wonder why the Church today is so easy on people’s eyes.

And third, be alive. Resurrected folks who serve a resurrected Lord ought to be more alive than we’ve ever been before. Of course, Jesus shows us that real life is found only on the other side of the kind of death to self that leads to purposeful and intentional sacrifice.

What kind of Christian life are we living? To what kind of Messiah are we bearing witness?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Resurrection Fellowship

(A sermon based on 1 John 1:1-2:2 and John 20:19-31 for the Second Sunday of Easter 2012)

Early on Sunday morning Mary Magdalene discovered that the stone had been removed from the tomb of Jesus. When she reported that troubling news to Peter and the Beloved Disciple, they ran to the tomb and found the tomb empty except for Jesus’ grave clothes. Then, they went home. Mary Magdalene returned to the empty tomb where she encountered the risen Christ and, following his directive, went and told the disciples the very exciting news that she had seen the Lord.

So, naturally, all of the disciples, hearing that strange news, went out immediately to see if they could see the risen Christ, too.

Well, no, they didn’t.

So that evening Jesus came looking for them, and he found them, cowering behind locked doors.

To be fair, they had reason to be afraid—It was entirely possible that the same authorities that had Jesus killed would come after them next. Also to be fair, they had reason to be skeptical—yes, it was a fact that Jesus’ body was gone but there were much more reasonable explanations for that than that he had risen from the dead. Still, he had raised Lazarus, hadn’t he? And now that they thought about it, he had tried to tell them something about his being killed and then raised, hadn’t he? But still, even though Mary Magdalene claimed to have seen him, nobody else had and maybe she was just hysterical in her grief.

Better safe than sorry, they concluded, and so they locked themselves away from the threatening world.

Before we are too hard on the disciples, we should reflect on how we can be just like them, by which I mean that we try to lock our doors against the threats of the world, too.

We might do so as individuals when we try to ignore the hurts and losses that are going on all around us or when we refuse to let our real selves be known but instead wear masks that we think will meet people’s approval or when we lock ourselves into a narrow-minded and shallow-spirited religion that refuses to take seriously the minds and spirits of people.

We might do so as a church when we see our sanctuary as a fortress against the attacks of the world rather than as a base for ministry in our community or when we talk about the same old things that are wrong with the world more than we talk about how God in Christ is making all things new and right or when we spend much, much more of our time, energy, resources, and money on serving ourselves than we do on trying to serve others.

Besides, the disciples had not yet seen or encountered the risen Christ; they had the testimony of others but they still had their doubts, as the absent Thomas would articulate later. (By the way, I wonder where Thomas was on that first Easter Sunday evening. We tend to criticize him for not being present; should we commend him for being the only one not locked away in the group fear fest?).

No, they did not go to find Jesus but Jesus did come to find them.

And whether or not we open our locked doors and leave our fortress church to go look for him, he does come looking for us.

So the disciples were—and we are—the fellowship of the found.

Interestingly, and maybe even amazingly, a week later, Jesus came back to them—and they were behind closed doors again!

Maybe one reason he came back was to give Thomas the affirmation for which he had asked, but maybe another reason was to give the disciples, still huddled away from the threats of the world, a second chance.

Thankfully, the Lord knows that we need second—and third and fourth and fifth and…how high can we count, anyway?—chances.

When I served on a university faculty, we were always getting directives from above (the administration, not the Lord) about thinking about ways to “work smarter” and ways to improve our “quality.” Finally, at one meeting, our most veteran professor said in frustration, “I already know how to do a better job than I’m doing!”

We know how to do more and better with our discipleship than we’re doing, too, and we even know that it is possible. After all, Christ is risen indeed! The same resurrected Jesus whose wounds Thomas could see and to whose reality the other apostles testified is present with, in, and among us. We know that we can have deeper fellowship with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and with each other in the community of the Church. We know that “God is light and in him is no darkness at all” and that “if we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true.”

We know it is possible! We know that in fellowship with God we can be who God means for us to be. We know that the Bible’s stated ideal for us is that we not sin.

But we know that the Bible’s stated grace for us is that we do sin and that when we do, “the blood of Jesus cleanses from all sin” and that “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us and that “if we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” and that “if we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

So there it is. We are not to sin. We do sin.

Thanks be to God, when Jesus finds us he makes us the fellowship of the forgiven.

Here is reality for us, if we will face it: as the monk said when asked to describe life in the monastery, “We fall down and we get up again. We fall down and we get up again. We fall down and we get up again…”

This is where we live in the real Christian life in the real world as real people serving a real Savior: we live where failure meets forgiveness, where guilt meets grace, and where carelessness meets compassion.

We are the fellowship of the found and the fellowship of the forgiven.

Jesus once told a parable about two men who went up to the Temple to pray. One, a respected member of the religious establishment, prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” The other, the tax collector references in the religious man’s prayer, would not look up toward heaven and beat his breast as he prayed, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

Which one was a member of the fellowship of the found and the forgiven and which one was not?

Which one are you?

Which one would you rather hang around with?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Assimilating Holy Week

It is Easter Monday, the day after Easter Sunday, the second of the Fifty Great Days of Easter.

I decided that this year I would begin a new tradition of using that day to pray, to reflect, to recover, to regroup, and to do some gardening.

It’s all about assimilating the experiences of last week into my life and I hope that you will spend some time doing that, too. I’m thinking about all that the disciples of Jesus had to assimilate when they woke up on the first Easter Monday; it boggles my mind—but not as much as it boggled theirs, I’m sure.

Two related words are haunting me: “follow” and “participate.” I am struggling to think about and to live in light of the fact that to be a Christian means to follow Jesus Christ and to participate in the life of Jesus Christ.

During Holy Week I found myself thinking and preaching about following Jesus wherever he goes.

So on Palm Sunday we imagined Jesus riding toward us and then away from us and we pondered the questions “Where is he going?” and “Will I follow him, go the other direction, or just stand right here?” Those are vital questions, I think. Answering them requires getting to know him and getting to know ourselves—both are difficult and necessary processes.

On Maundy Thursday we imagined Jesus washing our feet and telling us that we are to love each other in the same way that he loved us and we pondered the question of whether we in our lives exhibit a love that looks anything like the love he showed in stooping to do a slave’s service to his disciples. That’s a vital question, I think. There is no way—absolutely no way—to separate loving, sacrificial service from the practice of Christian discipleship.

On Good Friday we imagined ourselves watching the crucifixion of Jesus and we pondered the question of whether we follow the teaching of Jesus that to be his followers means taking up our cross and following him and that of Paul that we are to have the mind of Christ which means emptying ourselves completely and utterly in willing sacrifice. That’s a vital question, I think. After all, to be “Christian” is to be “Christ-like” and the New Testament makes it abundantly clear that being Christ-like is all about giving up self for the sake of God and for the sake of other people and not about a lot of the things that we try to make it be about.

On Easter Sunday we imagined ourselves hearing the testimony of that first witness to the resurrected Christ, Mary Magdalene, as she breathlessly shared the news with us that Jesus is alive and we then imagined ourselves being in the room when Jesus made his first appearance to the gathered disciples and showed us his wounds and breathed on us the Holy Spirit and told us that he was sending us out to continue his mission. We pondered the question of whether we are really able to see Jesus—we’re not, except in our faithful imaginations—or whether we are numbered among those who have not seen yet believe—and we are, which is all right, since Jesus said such ones are blessed. That’s a vital question, I think, because the fact is that our following of Jesus, while based in a personal relationship with him through the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, also depends—at least for its beginning--on the testimony of others, be they biblical authors or contemporary Christians.

What passes for “proof” in our modern Western scientific mindset will not come to us in a life of discipleship. The “proof” of our relationship with and following of Jesus comes in our willingness to accept that it is in Jesus’ wounds that his faithful service is seen—even after his resurrection his wounds were still visible—and that it is in our willingness to be wounded and to bear our wounds for God’s sake and for love’s sake that our following is given validity.

Given that Paul said that our resurrection bodies will be like of Jesus, I wonder if we must place alongside the truth that there are no tears in heaven the possibility that the wounds we accept or that are forced upon us in our service to God and to others will be visible.

The ongoing accumulation of wounds as evidence of our love is the closest thing to proof of our relationship with Jesus that we are likely to get.

As we follow Jesus, then, we will find ourselves participating with him in his life; we will find ourselves living a life like the life he lived, and that life is a life of love, of service, and of sacrifice.

Perhaps I can distill what I learned this Holy Week into this: whereas I have always prayed, thought, and preached about what it means that Jesus suffered, died, and rose for us, this year I found myself praying, thinking, and preaching about what it means that we suffer, die, and rise with him.

The challenge now is to assimilate into my day-to-day living what I have been assimilating into my prayers, thoughts, and sermons…

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Look! He is Risen!

(A sermon based on John 20:1-18 for Easter Sunday 2012)

During this Holy Week we have been closing our eyes and using our imaginations to try to place ourselves in the events of that most crucial of weeks and to see Jesus as he lived and died through them.

Last Sunday we looked at him as he rode into Jerusalem and into the week that would hold the events that would be so trying and tragic for him and so devastating and transforming for his followers.

Do you remember how he looked as he rode toward you, as he looked at you, and as he rode past you?

On Thursday we looked at him as he washed our feet and as he told us that we were to love each other as he loved us.

Do you remember how he washed the feet of his disciples, including Peter who would deny him, Judas who would betray him—and you?

On Friday we looked at him as he was fastened to the cross, as he was taken down from it, and as he was laid in his tomb.

Do you remember how he looked as he was being nailed to the cross, as he suffered and bled, as he breathed his last, as he died, as he was taken down from the cross, and as he was placed in a tomb?

On Saturday, hopefully we took some time to look at him as he was in his tomb, his body taking its Sabbath rest.

Do you remember the feeling of finality and the sense of hopelessness that came over you as you gazed upon the large stone that blocked the entrance to his tomb?

Do you remember?

All week long we have said that it takes imagination to see Jesus and to see ourselves seeing Jesus. Maybe, though, the better word to use would be “faith”; that is, we have to take the leap of faith, to exercise the gift of trust, really to see Jesus and to see ourselves in the story of Jesus.

Seeing ourselves in the story of Jesus back then is one thing while seeing ourselves in the story of Jesus right now is another thing—but they are related things.

So today, let’s try one more time.

Please close your eyes and imagine.

You have been in hiding since Friday out of fear that the authorities who had your Teacher killed will come after you and his other disciples, too. You and others of the group are locked away in what you hope is a safe place.

All day Saturday you have tried to stay out of sight. Your heart has been heavy and your mind has been confused. You had such high hopes. Now it seems that everything is like it always was, only worse, because, you reflect, hope never felt is bad enough but hope felt and then dashed is utterly heartbreaking.

Sunday morning you awake and start thinking about what you should do now. Perhaps you should just go home and back to the life you used to know. Maybe you should leave the country and try to put as much space between this wretched place and these wretched events as possible. Maybe you should just try to put Jesus out of your mind.

A rueful smile comes to you despite your best attempts to stop it—you know that despite the way things turned out, he’ll never be out of your mind.

“Why is that?” you’re wondering when your friend Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ disciples, shows up knocking on the door, almost yelling for you to let her in, like she has forgotten the danger that you are all in and how important it is that you not be noticed or found.

Peter and John go to the door and she almost knocks them over with her confused and grief-laden words: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him!”

After a while Peter and John come back. “What happened?” you ask. “We don’t know,” they reply, “the stone has been rolled away and his body is gone. We don’t know. We just don’t know.”

It seems the final insult. Usually the body of a crucified person was left on the cross for the scavengers to enjoy. At least, thanks to some benefactors, Jesus had been given a decent burial. But now, the authorities—who else could it have been except the authorities, given that a guard had been posted?—had taken his body away to do—well, to do what?—with it.

“They couldn’t even let him rest in peace,” you think. Everyone in the room is staring at the floor.

Then, suddenly, there Mary Magdalene is again, this time practically knocking the door down. As soon as you see her you know something has happened; she is grinning from ear to ear even as tears stream down her face. She is aglow.

“I have seen the Lord!” she shouts, grabbing each of you and shaking you. “I have seen the Lord, I tell you!”

Someone makes her sit down and you give her a drink of water.

After catching her breath, she manages to spit out, between gasps and giggles, her story.

“I was standing outside his tomb, crying. Some strange looking men asked me why I was crying. I told them it was because someone had taken the body and I didn’t know where. I turned around and saw another man standing there. He asked me why I was crying and for whom I was looking. I thought he was the cemetery groundskeeper.”

At that Mary starts laughing so hard you’re afraid she is getting hysterical.

When she gets control of herself, she says, “So I asked him”—she starts laughing again—“I asked him to please tell me, if he was the one who had removed the body, where he was so I could take care of him.”

She wipes her eyes and says softly, “Oh Jesus!”

“What did you say?” someone asks.

She starts laughing again. “Jesus! It was Jesus! He called my name and as soon as he did, I knew it was him. He is alive! I moved to embrace him but he told me not to, saying something I didn’t understand, something about having to go to the Father. Then he told me come tell you all, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Everyone looks at her, confused.

“That’s the part I didn’t understand, either,” she says. “But don’t you see? What matters is that he is alive!”

Can you believe her? Dare you believe her? Dare you not believe her?

It sounds too good to be true. Maybe it’s too good not to be true!

All day long you wonder. You and the other disciples discuss it among yourselves. She was probably hallucinating. But what if she wasn’t? You go back and forth, back and forth.

The issue is settled that evening when Jesus appears among you and your fellow disciples and says “Peace be with you.” Then, as if to alleviate any doubts you might still be having as to the reality of who you are seeing, he shows you the wounds in his hands and the wound in his side.

Please open your eyes.

Look at him.

Look at his wounds for it is his wounds that prove that it is Jesus.

Now listen to him: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Now feel the breath of his life upon you as he says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Go, he tells you—he tells us—to be in our world, in our community, in our home, in our church, in our workplace, in our school—the wounded, raised, and empowered body of Christ.

Do you see him?

It might be helpful and encouraging to remember that a few days later Jesus would say, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”…

Friday, April 6, 2012

Look! He Is Crucified!

(A sermon for Good Friday, 2012)

It is a good thing during this Holy Week for us to imagine that we were there.

Please close your eyes and imagine.

It has been a long and awful day.

Your Teacher, your Master, the one on whom you had pinned so many of your hopes, has been beaten, mocked, humiliated, and convicted of challenging the cooperating authorities of religion and empire.

He has been sentenced to death.

After a torturous walk on which he was accompanied by other convicted insurrectionists and by crowds of onlookers, his arms were nailed and roped to the crossbeam that was then hoisted to the upright beam to which it was fastened. His ankles were then nailed to sides of the upright beam.

There he hangs, exposed and vulnerable, brutalized and humiliated.

Look at him.

He is bruised and bleeding.

Look at him.

He is exhausted and spent.

Look at him.

He is dying.

Look at him.

He is what happens to love and grace when they are lived fully and well.

Look at him.

He has given of himself until he is empty.

Look at him.

He said to be his disciples we must follow him.

Look at him.

He draws his last breath.

Look at him.

He is taken down from the cross.

Look at him.

He is laid in a tomb.

Look at him.

He is sealed in the tomb by a large stone.

Look at him.

He is dead.

Look at him.

Please open your eyes.


Look at him.

Look at him….

Now…hear the word of the Lord:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)


Then he said to them all, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?" (Luke 9:23-25)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Look! He Is Serving!

(A sermon based on John 13:1-17; 31b-35 for Maundy Thursday 2012)

During Holy Week it is a good thing to try to imagine what it was like to experience the events of that week; it is a good thing to try to place ourselves in the story so that maybe we can in fact find ourselves in the story.

So I invite you to close your eyes and imagine.

It is Passover week in Jerusalem and the city is teeming with pilgrims and the air is thick with tension. The Roman-appointed governor, Pontius Pilate, is in the city for the week as is his custom and Roman soldiers are much more evident than usual. Your teacher Jesus has been involved in many controversies and has engaged in many debates with various religious leaders during the week.

What a relief it is to go into a private room to share a dinner with Jesus and with the other disciples; what a relief it is to shut the door and close yourselves off from the teeming crowd and from the maddening world.

Besides, you think, it is always a joy to share a meal with Jesus; he always enjoys his food and he always enjoys the fellowship.

Soon, though, you realize that something is different about this night and about this meal.

The atmosphere in the room is heavy; the conversation around the table is subdued.

Jesus is much more solemn than usual; when he looks around the room there is a pronounced sadness in his eyes and when he speaks there is a troubling pain in his voice.

Everyone is eating and drinking—and waiting, although you are not sure for what.

Jesus is picking at his food.

Then he sighs, gets up, pours some water into a basin, and kneels in front of Bartholomew. He removes the disciple’s sandals. Bartholomew just sits there, his mouth open, as Jesus begins slowly and deliberately to wash his left foot. The water in the basin darkens with the dust from Bartholomew’s feet even as, you can’t help but notice, the countenance of Judas Iscariot, who is sitting beside Bartholomew, darkens with—well, you really can’t tell with what. Jesus moves to the right foot of Bartholomew and repeats the process, carefully and tenderly. He then takes a towel and dries Bartholomew’s feet.

Jesus stands.

He skips Judas.

He moves on to Matthew, then to Thomas, then to Thaddaeus. Judas is staring at the floor. You are staring at Judas.

Jesus pours a fresh basin of water and walks back to the group, stopping in front of—Judas. He kneels before Judas, placing the basin on the exact spot into which Judas has been trying to stare a hole. Jesus glances up at Judas with what you will later think of as a knowing glance and then gets to the business of washing Judas’ feet. Judas alternates between expressions that look like he wants to throw his arms around Jesus and like he wants to get up and bolt from the room.

Jesus moves to Philip, then to Andrew, then to James the Son of Alphaeus.

After refreshing his basin of water, Jesus goes to Simon Peter. To this point no one has said anything but you can always count on Peter to be the first. They’re on the other side of the room and their exchange is quiet but you can interpret their body language well enough to know that Peter at first refused Jesus’ offer to wash his feet and then quite dramatically acquiesced. As Jesus begins to wash Peter’s feet, you see the first and only smile of the night appear on your Rabbi’s face—as well as the usual look of confident confusion on Peter’s.

Jesus then washes the feet of the brothers James and John, who are together, as usual.

And now, at last, he kneels in front of you.

Please open your eyes.

Look—he is serving—you!

Look—he is washing—your feet!

After putting away the basin and the towel, Jesus said, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

Later, after Judas had in fact for some reason bolted from the room and as the room became filled with an air of expectation, Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Look—he is serving!

Now—look at us…

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Look! He Is Coming!

(A sermon based on John 12:12-16 for Palm Sunday 2012)

I asked the congregation to close their eyes at the indicated point and not to open them until the indicated point.


Imagine that you were there.

Imagine that in Jerusalem it was a day kind of like it was there today: fair and around 80°--a lot like it is here, coincidentally. Imagine that the roads entering the city were more crowded than Pine Street in Fitzgerald on Wild Chicken Festival day—or even than those in Athens or Tallahassee on a fall Saturday afternoon or Augusta on any day this week. Imagine that rabbis and supposed messiahs were being greeted with more fervor than that directed toward Bruce Springsteen or Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift when they first appear on stage.

Imagine that you had heard him or heard of him or been with him or knew someone who had been with him.

Please close your eyes.

Imagine that you hear the whispers and then the murmurs and then the shouts: “He is coming! There he is! I see him! He is coming! He is coming!”

Before you see him you see the people--people who had followed him and people who were curious about him and people who were caught up in the crowd mentality and people who had been impressed by his raising of Lazarus as well as, no doubt, by other miracles he had performed. They are running before him, spreading palm branches along the dusty way before him. They are shouting “Save us, we pray! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel!”

And then, as he comes around the bend, you see him. He is riding on a young donkey that is trying to remain calm in the face of all the tumult around it. The donkey’s gait is slow as the palm branches land with gentle rustling sounds before it; it cautiously steps along the slippery green carpet.

Perhaps the donkey is so careful because it senses that the man who is its burden would gladly change places with it if possible.

The closer the man gets to you and the better you can see his face, the more moved and troubled you are. His expression is simultaneously concerned and serene, troubled and peaceful, present and removed, determined and relaxed. And his eyes—you couldn’t even begin to describe his eyes, no matter how hard you tried; the word “compassion” comes to mind but it’s not nearly enough.

You listen to the people: “Save us, we pray!” they are shouting, which makes some sense to you; who, after all, is not in trouble? You know you are. Who does not, after all, need to be saved? You know you do. But what does that have to do with this man who is riding on a donkey, who is blinking in the bright sunlight as he looks around at—it seems—absolutely everybody?

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord—the king of Israel!”—that one really has you confused. What kind of king rides into the capital on a donkey with a bunch of peasants singing his praises?

He is smiling at those peasants; he clearly enjoys being surrounded by them.

Then you notice some men standing in a knot, talking and pointing and gesturing and fuming. They are not peasants; they are dressed in the robes of the big-time religious leaders. The man on the donkey sees them, too, and when he does, his face becomes clouded for a moment, but it passes, and he starts waving and smiling to the peasants again.

He is riding past you now. He looks right at you.

Please open your eyes.

He’s so close you can almost touch him. You see the dust in his dark beard, the lines on his dark face, and the tears in his dark eyes; those eyes lock with yours for just a moment, a moment that feels like an hour to you.

You feel things.

You feel both life and death emanating from him.

You are simultaneously drawn to him and repulsed by him.

He is past you now.

There he goes.

The crowd continues to go before him, singing and praising and dancing and tossing palm branches. You watch him until he rounds the next bend and things calm down.

You stand there, thinking. He looked so resolute, so determined, so torn, so together, so tense, so relieved. He looked like a man on a mission—a dangerous mission. Where will he go? What will he do? What will happen to him? What does the rest of today hold? What does the rest of the week hold?

You know that you will think of nothing else on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,




and even a week from now, next Sunday.

You may never think of anything ever again without thinking of that man on that donkey with that face, those eyes, that aura.

What will you do for the rest of this week—and for the rest of your life?

Will you follow him wherever he is going?

Will you turn around and go the other way?

Or will you just keep standing there...