SERMON - NOVEMBER 25
REVELATION 1.4B-8 (NRSV): Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
JOHN 18.33-38 (NRSV): Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." Pilate asked him, "What is truth?"
It is time and past time for the elders to speak . . . you, elders of the church . . . you, wise ones given the gift of time upon this earth . . . you, who have lived long and seen much . . . you, who know the ways of kindness and the ways of cruelty . . . you, closer in time to the Ancient of Days than to the babe laid in a manger . . . you . . . it is time and past time for you to speak and be heard . . . when ugliness rears its head in the land . . . when fear dominates faith . . . when the One You Serve is erased in the trampling of running feet . . . when our family, our homes, our nation, our tribes, our protections, would make us small . . . when asked to give account for the world we have made . . . it is time and past time for the elders to speak . . . you, who have lived long enough to know you are the least and long for kindness and welcome . . . you, who have lived long enough to know that all who wander this earth are our children . . . it is time and past time for you elders to speak. . . tempting Pilate stands before you, asking, nay, demanding, an account of your faith . . . and what will you say? For it is time and past time for the elders to speak.
What is The Truth?
As with all earthly kings, the people of scripture grace Jesus with all kinds of titles. The titles have significance, for they indicate our collective understanding from ages past up to this very moment, just who and what we understand this king to be.
Jesus, the king, our king, is first and foremost, the one "who is and who was and who is to come". This, the language indicating Jesus, with God and very God, existing beyond all boundaries, is the king of even time itself.
This, the king of time as well as of space, is, in terms of his earthly connections as we understand them in our own very limited ways, the "faithful witness" – so described in both Revelation and in Jesus’ encounter with Pilate as related in John. In the Pilate encounter, "the faithful witness" is essentially the title Jesus gives himself, claiming that the very reason he came to earth, the very reason he was born, was to testify to the truth, that being the very definition of a faithful witness – one who testifies to the truth.
The truth is that Jesus is the ruler of all the kings of the earth – not just the good ones, not just the familiar ones, but of all of them. And the one who rules over all the others is the one who loves, well, us. Who freed us from the bondage of sin by his own self-sacrifice, by his own blood. This king has made of us a kingdom. This priest-king has made priests of us.
Alpha-Omega, first-last, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty, the one for whom all will wail, the one whom all will see, the one who is coming in the clouds, all of that and more, begins with the identity of Truth Teller.
The question, perhaps, for us, is can we, will we, hear; can we, will we, believe; can we, will we, follow; can we, will we, live, the Truth he tells?
The Truth is that we are the people of The First and the Last. The Truth is that we are loved. The Truth is we are freed. The Truth is all our shortcomings have been forgiven because he did the work for us. The Truth is we, each of us and all of us, are priests of the Most High, called to mediate on our own behalf and on behalf of others, between the world and God, because The Faithful Witness has made it so.
Can we, will we, hear; can we, will we, believe; can we, will we, follow; can we, will we, live, the Truth he tells?
The Truth is meekness "wins".
The Truth is sorrow has its comfort.
The Truth is the hunger, the desire, for righteousness, produces righteousness.
The Truth is mercy generates mercifulness.
The Truth is while people may turn their backs on the pure and the kind, God shows up for them – every time.
The Truth is peacemakers, whether successful in human terms or not, do the very work of God.
The Truth is the less you have on earth, the more you are noticed in heaven.
The Truth is that standing up for God and for the ways of God matters.
The Truth is God desires peace and justice and mercy and goodness and kindness and love and everything God does works towards those goals.
The Truth is how God achieves peace through us is by waging peace, not war.
The Truth is God achieves mercy is by waging mercy, not condemnation.
The Truth is God achieves truth by telling truth, not lies.
The Truth is God achieves goodness and kindness by acts of goodness and kindness, not badness and cruelty.
The Truth is God inaugurates love into the kingdom by loving. Not by hating. By loving.
It’s obvious, isn’t it?
Why, then, does it seem so easy for us to forget? To forget that God’s ways of love are not hate; that God’s ways of peace are not war; that God’s ways of righteousness are not cruelty; that God’s ways of honesty and integrity are not graft and corruption?
The most important job that we, as followers of The Most High, may have during this time on earth, is to simply recall The Witness of Truth and believe him.
Believe him when he tells us of God’s ways.
Believe him when he tells us this world does not have the final say.
Believe him when he tells us we’re up to the job.
Believe him when he tells us God’s vision.
Believe him when he gives his literal all that we might have life and have it abundantly.
Believe him when he calls us to follow in The Way.
Pilate had to ask, "what is truth?", but you don’t. You know The Truth. Live him. Follow him. Be him. Believe him.
Believe him and then go and do likewise.
It is time and past time, O elders of the church, for you to speak. . . a world runs in fear for its life and what will you say? Will your fears silence you? Your guilt consume you? Your blindness freeze you in place?
Or will your freeing grace open your hearts and mouths to proclaim a real rather than wished-for peace? Will you open your doors as wide as you claim to open your hearts? Will you sink to the ground in surrender? Or will you lead the way?
It is time and past time, O elders of the church, for you to speak.
What, oh what, will you say?
SERMON - DECEMBER 23
SCRIPTURE READING: Luke 1.39 - 45 (The Message): Mary didn’t waste a minute. She got up and traveled to a town in Judah in the hill country, straight to Zachariah’s house, and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and sang out exuberantly, "You’re so blessed among women, and the babe in your womb, also blessed! And why am I so blessed that the mother of my Lord visits me? The moment the sound of your greeting entered my ears, The babe in my womb skipped like a lamb for sheer joy. Blessed woman, who believed what God said, believed every word would come true!"
Matthew 11.2-6 (NRSV) When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."
The thing about joy is that in the journey itself, we often do not know, cannot even imagine, the joy that awaits us at our destination . . . and thus do we all too often lose our joy in the journeying – like tired, impatient travelers anxious just to get there, in our impatience, we actually forget the joy of what awaits us.
So it was with John the Baptist sending his disciples to Jesus to beg an answer; John, the baby who literally leapt in his mother’s womb upon meeting his cousin Jesus, he too a belly baby at the time.
But that first meeting was a long time ago and the promised destination it foretold seems a long way off and nigh impossible to reach, for the fact is, when John sent his disciples to question Jesus, John was sitting in jail awaiting his sentence of execution by beheading at the hands of those who had power but no scruples . . . the ability to carry out the sentence with no understanding why they even would.
So it is in this in-between waiting time that John asks of Jesus . . . are we still awaiting our Messiah or are you the one? In the question there lies the despair of one who has worked and waited and championed this would-be Messiah only to have all his work seemingly go down the drain of his own ignominious death.
John is on death row and death row is no place for joy.
Jesus’ answer isn’t much comfort for John . . . the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.
But what John’s question is saying, in effect, is: I know all about that! But what about me!?! They are going to kill me! What are you going to do about that!?!
Jesus’ literal answer is nothing. Jesus does nothing about John’s execution.
There is no last minute reprieve. Jesus doesn’t spirit John out of his cell and into paradise. John must travel, as must we all one way or another, through his own death to find his paradise. At some level, that’s just so very unfair
Here, then, is the hard lesson of the life of faith: if we condition our faith on certain outcomes, we believe in vain.
Yet it is joy towards which we journey . . . always . . . whether we know it or not . . . believe it or not . . . live it . . . or not.
It’s not the joy we expected, this present gift-wrapped in a baby’s skin only to be opened to find there lying a cross. It’s not the joy we expected. But it is joy.
It is the joy of Job standing speechless before the Lord.
The joy of Adam and Eve no longer in a garden but God walking alongside nonetheless.
The joy of Thomas seeing his risen Lord still bearing the wounds.
This is the joy of knowing our Messiah and following the trace of his feet in our own daily walk. It’s the hard-scrabble joy of eking out a crop from unwilling ground. . . the joy of hoping against all hope that this journey we call life actually has a destination . . . and that the destination always was, always is, and always will be . . . home – the truth that wherever we are, wherever we’re headed, somehow, we’re always pointed to our own true north, that even unbeknownst to our own selves, we are homegoing creatures.
So it is. That it is so with God as with us is remarkable . . . beyond words remarkable, that out of this grand love affair with our kind, the God of All would empty God’s very self in order to become sufficiently small to be not just a human being, but a human baby. . . and in that grand emptying, that pouring out, God was made vulnerable to all the vagaries of being human . . . from the common cold and more serious maladies that affect these bodies to natural disasters to the cruelties we humans visit upon one another . . . it is an act of self-sacrifice beyond my reckoning . . . this homegoing pilgrim journey Jesus took from deity to humanity and back again.
And lest we forget, in his very humanity rests the best exemplar of divinity . . . the giving over of self that all may have life and have it abundantly . . . and so it is in every house in every moment on every street . . . there stands . . . lays . . . walks . . . loves . . . lives . . . and dies . . . Jesus . . .
Poet G. K. Chesterton, in his poem The House of Christmas, imagined the homegoing we have in this human Jesus made small something like this: There fared a mother driven forth out of an inn to roam: in the place where she was homeless, all men are at home . . . men are homesick in their homes, and strangers under the sun . . . but our homes are under miraculous skies where the yule tale was begun. . . A Child in a foul stable, where the beasts feed and foam; only where He was homeless are you and I at home . . . To an open house in the evening, home shall men come, to an older place than Eden and a taller town than Rome. To the end of the way of the wandering star, to the things that cannot be and [yet] are, to the place where God was homeless and all men are at home.
There, where God’s own self was homeless, are we all at home . . . there, in the arms of a mother loving or indifferent . . . in the fields of the farmer industrious or lazy . . . in the schoolyard bully or bullied . . . in the hospital and the gymnasium . . . at the tables of peace and upon the fields of battle . . . in the dying of a child and the living of a man . . . all wrapped up into one, like the world-weary salute of one child soldier offered to his fellows, gone off to a war not of their own making they can scarce understand.
In the longing for Eden in this fallen garden of an earth . . . like two babies meeting womb to womb for the first time, there remains an echo of a song once heard . . . almost forgotten . . . ours for the claiming . . . even when enemies stand across the barbed wire of their differences . . . even when children are sent to war . . . for even when we no longer know the words . . . the melody of a distant song calling our hearts to home remains.
Oh yes, John . . . just as you knew from the moment you first met, womb to womb, until the very end of time, he is most definitely the one.
And there, and nowhere else, is your home.
IN THE WORDS OF MARTIN LUTHER, LET US PRAY:
Ah dearest Jesus, holy child, make Thee a bed soft undefiled within my heart that it may be a quiet chamber kept for Thee. Amen.