Sermon: Redeemed

…our flaws and our failures are not counted in God’s judgment of us. What counts is our willingness to do what is right, even if we don’t succeed. … It’s the Heart that matters, not the Head…. God judges our hearts.

gettyimages-660179780-1024x566This morning, I thought we should tie up some of the loose ends I’ve left from our last two sermons.

Two weeks ago, in the sermon “Very Good” we learned that God sees only the goodness that is an inescapable part of who we are; and which God deliberately put into us at the very beginning. All are just as loved by God as we are; and all anyone needs is a revelation of this Love; a love which heals us from all of our iniquities.

Last week, on Palm Sunday we remembered that we’ve all betrayed Jesus, even God betrayed him. And that we cannot help but muck things up, because muckiness is also a part of who we are.

In other messages I’ve given here, we’ve talked about how – because we are conscious of ourselves, and have the freedom to choose right from wrong.  Then we must have the right to fail. This is also part of who we are. And, we not only can fail, we must. We must  have the freedom to fail, and will, even though we don’t want to.

These messages are somewhat at odds with each other. Two weeks ago, we talked about how we are all, in our heart of hearts, “Very Good” and that God sees the goodness in us, and is determined to save us for that reason.

But last week I said we are creatures of sin, we are always making choices that increase our separation from God. This seed of corruption is buried deep within us: and is a very necessary seed.  If we are to be worthy of Love, and not simply puppets of the Almighty, then God must allow us to be able to distance ourselves from God. We must have the right to fail. We must have the right and power to betray others, even betraying the Son of God himself.

So, how do we reconcile all this? Yes, we are, ultimately, Very Good: beloved children of God. And yet, we killed the Son of God through the sin that is part of who we are.

And, how does this all tie into our hope for redemption, for our salvation which is promised by virtue of Jesus’ Resurrection?

First, let’s begin by talking about sin.   When we refer to “sin”, what are we talking about?

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An Easter Sermon: A Sissified Jesus?

No, we (who are seen by some as “Liberal” Christians) do not believe in a sissified Jesus. We follow a Jesus who died for us. A Jesus who will never let us go, and a Jesus who loves us no matter what. That kind of love, that walks through any fire, endures any cross, is an uncompromising and fierce love. This is a Jesus who’s Gospel – in whatever form it may take – is for all, not just for some.

Kneeling at The CrossYou know, loving others is hard.

Loving those lost in grief or pain, loving those who have turned away from the world out of their illness or fear or abuse, is hard.

Loving those who are different from us; who’s ways are alien to us; who’s politics or faith, or piercings and tattoos, are offensive to us; is hard.

Loving people when they shout at you, when they refuse to hear what you have to say, when they call you ugly names, when they slander you and despise you and shut you down, is hard.

Loving those who abuse or oppress you, loving those who cannot or will not love you in return, loving others when you are in such pain yourself, loving those who are nailing you to a cross, is hard.

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An Easter Sermon: The Missing Link

Good Friday is the day when we hear the first half of this story, where we mourn the death of Christ – and claim him as one of our own. And now, on Easter, we hear the rest of the story, the Divine did not relinquish its claim on Jesus either, but instead raised him from the dead. He is the missing link: we and God both claim him for our own. God has saved us through Christ, just as Jesus told Nicodemus so long ago. Jesus binds us together as members of the Body of Christ, and as children of God. The resurrection is a living reality. But, unless we come to know Christ in the depths of our hearts, unless we take the risk of claiming Christ for our own, the resurrection will never be a living reality for us.

La Descente de Croix - Rubens (1617)
La Descente de Croix – Rubens (1617)

On Easter, we celebrate the heart of our faith, the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. Why is it so important? How does this narrative bridge the gulf between Human Sin and Divine Grace? And, why does this Act of God from two Millennia ago matter to us today?

Let us pray…

Lord God, we lift up this morning’s message.  May it touch our hearts, may it speak clearly to our souls.  We know that your Word and your love have bridged the huge chasm that separates us from you, and affirmed that all of us are your beloved children. Speak to us now, Lord.  Help us to know you in the ways you have wanted us to know you since the beginning. Amen.

Three years ago, I visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the place at the heart of the events of Easter. As you enter that Church, to your right and up a flight of stairs, is the shrine of the Crucifixion. To the left, what would be behind me and deeper into the church, is the Shrine of the Tomb. So, on one side is the place where our Sin brought about the death of our Savior; and on the other is the spot where he was resurrected by the Grace of God.

Man’s Sin sent Jesus to his death, and God’s Grace brought him back, but what ties the two together?

The answer is in front of you, unavoidable as you enter the Church: the Stone of Unction.

It is a simple stone, unadorned, surrounded by a few lamps, and just long and wide enough for a body. On the wall behind it is a modern mural that depicts the event that took place at this spot, where Joseph of Arimathea and the Pharisee named Nicodemus laid Jesus’ body after taking it down from the Cross.

“Unction” means “anointing,” and it is here on this stone that they washed Jesus’ body, anointed it with oil, and prepared it for burial.

Why is this important? Why did the designers of this Church orient it such that this spot is right in front of you as you enter the church? And, why is the building laid out such that you must pass by it a second time as you go from Calvary to the Tomb? In other words, why does it matter?

Let’s start by imagining what would have happened if Joseph and Nicodemus had not taken Jesus ‘ body down from the Cross.

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Letting Go

Dad and son on bike with training wheelsSermon: “Letting Go”
Delivered at ARK Community Church, Dalton MA
Easter, April 20 2014.

Scripture readings:
Acts 10:34-43 (from “The Message”)
John 20:1-18 
 (from “The Message”)

As you know, I often speak of the many ways God holds on to us, and how we are called to claim Jesus for our own, and called to hold on to Christ and to God’s love. But, Easter is not about holding on!

Let us pray… 

Lord, on this Easter morning, we celebrate your victory over death, and with it your promise of new life in our own futures. Open the scriptures before us, and enable me to clearly communicate what you intend for us to receive here today.  May your gospel live within each and every one of us, driving all despair and fear from our hearts.

We rejoice in this opportunity for new revelations and a deeper understanding of your call to walk before you, spreading your gospel to all nations. We ask that your Word live and work through us to amaze and transform not only our own lives, but the lives of all whom we encounter.  Help us to embody your teachings, and to live them, in all that we do, think, speak, and are.  

In Jesus Name, Amen.

It’s Easter. At the start of our reading from John this morning, Mary Magdalene is alone in the predawn light, weeping before the empty tomb. The mortal remains of the man she loves are missing. Although she doesn’t know it yet, Jesus has been set free from the bonds of death.

As I said earlier, Easter is not about holding on. John makes this clear by telling us that once Mary realizes who is standing before her, Jesus says, “Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.”

It seems that holding on to Jesus frustrates the plan of God! Jesus the man is again alive, just like Lazarus; but the transformation of the man into the Christ is not yet complete. Jesus is still in the process of as he puts it, of “ascending to my God and your God.

Mary is given a role in this when he says, “Go to my brothers and tell them….” Her mission involves leaving him behind and carrying his message to all who believe. Her task is to let go, to forever turn away from the man she loves.

I imagine this was very hard for Mary. He was lost, and now he’s found. He was dead, but is alive again. Her arms ache to hold on to the man she loves, the man she’d given up as forever lost. What would happen when she turned her back to leave? Would she ever see him again? She must have asked herself whether her heart could bear losing him again. Turning away was a big risk.

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A Children’s Message: “Out of Darkness”

Finger Lights
Finger Lights

Preparation:

You’ll need small and inexpensive LED lights to give to the children. I recommend “finger lights” like those shown in the image associated with this posting.  Clicking on the image will bring you to a product page for them on Amazon.com.  Be aware that there are several vendors who make these lights: some are good quality, many are not.  The ones shown here are good and reliable (and cheap, when bought in quantity).

The Presentation:

Tell me what do you think of when you hear the word “darkness”?

(Solicit responses from the children, looking for ways in which they connect to darkness, prompt if necessary.)

Why would we want to talk about darkness here, in Church?

(Solicit thoughts, looking for the idea of salvation and Jesus’ Resurrection on Easter as God’s way of redeeming us from darkness.)

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The Stone of Unction: What are You Going to Do?

The Stone of Unction: the spot where Jesus' body was laid when first taken down from the Cross.  Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem.
The Stone of Unction: the spot where Jesus’ body was laid when first taken down from the Cross. Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem.

Presented at a joint Ecumenical Service at Christ Lutheran Church, West Boylston, MA; April 6, 2012 (Good Friday).

Gospel Reading: John 19:31-42.

Seeing this beautiful Cross laid out here before us this evening, I am reminded of my recent visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the focal point of the events that take place in this evening’s reading from the Gospel of John, the central narrative of our faith, which we remember in this Good Friday service, as well as on Easter, the story of Christ’s death and resurrection.

What made the biggest impression on me in that place was not the elaborate shrines of Calvary and the Tomb. It was a humbler shrine near the main entrance to the Church, “The Stone of Unction.”

This stone marks where Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the High Council in Jerusalem, and the Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews; laid Jesus’ body after taking it down from the Cross. It was there that they washed Jesus’ body, anointed it with oil, and prepared it for burial.

Why is the Stone of Unction important? Why did the builders of that Church orient the building such that this spot is so close to the main entrance? Why is the building laid out such that you must pass by the Stone of Unction as you go from the Cross to the Tomb? In other words, why does it matter?

Let’s start by thinking about what would have happened if Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had not taken the body of Jesus down from the Cross.

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