Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Friday, March 29, 2013

a foot shaped church, 3.28.13

John 13:1-38
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.

5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”

10Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

Second reading
12After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

18I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfill the scripture, ‘The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ 19I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he. 20Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.”

21After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. 23One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; 24Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” 26Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.”

So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. 27After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” 28Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. 30So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

             You could write a book about how many times the disciples don’t understand what Jesus is talking about. They’ve followed him for three years. They’ve listened to him along the way. They’ve even gone out on their own at his instruction to share the message of God’s kingdom. They get some of it, but some of the big things, they still don’t understand.

            For example, they don’t understand that Jesus is going to the cross. Now, for sure, they know his ministry is risky. They know the religious leaders are angry with Jesus. In the past they’ve recognized that the conflict with the leaders is a life or death matter, but they really don’t expect the cross.

Each time Jesus has talked to them about his death, talked to them about the cross, the disciples show that they don’t get it. Not only do they not understand that Jesus is going to be crucified, they also don’t understand what that means in terms of power. Instead, they argue over which one of them is the greatest. They argue over the best seats in God’s kingdom. God’s kingdom isn’t about who gets the best seats. Jesus goes to the cross because God is love and love rules by giving, not taking.

Since the disciples don’t get it, Jesus tries another way of saying the same thing. During supper, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. I imagine many of the disciples were confused and uncomfortable. Peter is at least honest enough to express his shock. Here was his teacher, his Lord, kneeling at the feet of the disciples. It didn’t make sense, and Peter wanted no part of it. Probably other disciples felt the same way, but were afraid to say anything.

On his knees at the table Jesus is saying something important to the disciples, the disciples in that upper room and the disciples in this upper room. The disciples, the community of men and women who define themselves by following Jesus, the church, is supposed to be a fundamentally different kind of community than the world.

In the world and in most of our communities, whether we say it out loud or not, who you are matters. It matters what you wear, how much money you make, and what kind of car you drive. Some people are in charge and other people follow. Some people are more valuable than others. People with power tell everyone else how it’s going to be, and how it’s going to be benefits the folks in charge.

The church is supposed to be different. There are leaders in the church, but the leaders are servants. They are servants of God and servants of the members of the community. Jesus says, I am you teacher and your Lord, and I wash your feet, so you should wash each other’s feet too.

Washing feet isn’t glamorous, but it’s intimate. It is hard to feel powerful when you’re washing someone’s feet; it’s also kind of hard to feel in control when someone else is washing your feet. More than that, it’s hard to take each other too seriously. Feet are funny looking. Having someone wash and massage your feet tickles. And it’s relaxing. The warm water on your feet at the end of a long day is soothing. The tension drains out, the pressure to be perfect evaporates. We can’t hide our flaws if someone is holding our feet in their hand.

And when we’ve got someone’s foot in our hand we have to handle it gently. We need to scrub enough to get the dirt off, but we need to be delicate and caring as well. It’s not time to talk about what the other person has done to hurt us. It’s not time to complain about someone else’s clothes or attitude. It’s not time to fret about bills and budgets. When we wash each other’s feet we are in a moment together. The leader is not the boss; the follower is not a minion. We are a loving community shaped by humble, caring service for each other and for the world.

No wonder we shy away from washing feet. In the protestant tradition we believe that Jesus gave us two sacraments, baptism and communion. We believe they are special ways of experiencing God’s grace because Jesus experienced them and commanded us to do them in his name. We can do those, no problem. Jesus also clearly tells the disciples to wash each other’s feet, but most churches just quietly ignore that one. Maybe it’s too weird for the church to take it seriously. Maybe that level of intimacy just isn’t comfortable. Maybe we want to keep a layer of distance, even a layer of hierarchy between us.

Monday, March 18, 2013

You are forgiven, 3.17.13

Matthew 18:21-35
21Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me,
how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

23“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.

28But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place.

32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Luke 7:36-50
36One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.

39Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.” 41“A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.”

And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
            These two passages are incredibly rich. There are lots of different directions we could go with them, which means there’s a lot I’d like to talk about here that we won’t get to in this sermon. If something grabs your attention, I’d love to talk with you more about it after worship or during the week. As always, I encourage you to read over these passages again when you get home to let the message sink in further and see what else God has to say to you.

            Love is the most important part of our faith; I think forgiveness is second. Jesus’ death on the cross is the main way we talk about forgiveness. It’s a powerful expression of how much Jesus’ love and forgiveness cost, and it’s the reason many of us fell in love with Jesus in the first place.

            At the same time, there are a lot of Christians who really struggle with the image of the cross. It’s brutal and bloody. Many of us can’t understand why God would send Jesus to such a terrible death. And not understanding that makes us question God’s love. I think there are questions that bring us deeper into faith and questions that stall our faith and keep us from moving forward. Sometimes our questions about the Bible or our faith encourage us to dig deeper, to read closer, to study and pray and discuss; that helps us grow. Other times our questions don’t lead us further, but instead make us hesitate to read, hesitate to trust, hesitate to invest our heart in our faith.

            I have a feeling that for a lot of people, the cross is one of those second kinds of questions. I think there are a lot of faithful people who love the story of Jesus, love the message of love and welcome and acceptance, but then get to the cross and have a hard time moving forward. If that doesn’t describe you at all, then don’t worry about what I say in the next 30 seconds. If that struggle with the cross sounds like your story I need you to hear me now.

            Today’s sermon is especially for you because we’re talking about forgiveness, but we’re not talking about the cross. I want to be clear, the cross is an essential part of the Christian faith. It’s important for how we think about power and love and destiny. If you struggle with it, I want to explore that with you sometime to see if we can make some progress. I don’t want to convince you of something, but I do want to look at the cross from some different angles and see if we can’t make sense of it together.

But today, we’re not talking about the cross. Jesus forgives the woman in our passage before he goes to the cross, so in some important way the message of forgiveness in Jesus is bigger than the cross. So even if you can’t come to terms with the message of the cross this morning, this passage and this sermon are for you.

            Obviously, both of our passages are about forgiveness. And both start with the reality, the experience of being forgiven, so that’s where we’ll start too. We all carry a burden. Sometimes it’s the weight of things we’ve done wrong. Maybe we have taken advantage of someone else. Maybe we feel guilty about an unkind word we said in frustration or anger. Maybe we fell short on our marriage vows or cheated on our taxes or made another person feel less precious than they are. We all do things we shouldn’t sometimes, and we carry that burden.

            On top of those times we have done wrong directly, we also carry the burden of guilt for the sinful systems we are part of. Those who live comfortably feel the guilt of having what others do not. Men share the guilt of our society’s refusal to treat women equally. Whether we are personally guilty of that or not, we are part of a system of prejudice.

Those of us who are white share the guilt of racism in our society. Despite loud claims to the contrary, white people still have tremendous privilege in our culture. American culture values American lives much more highly than other lives. In God’s eyes we are all the same, but that’s not how we see the world as a nation.

Those of us who are straight share the guilt of our society’s prejudice against people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered. Those who are able-bodied too easily forget how little we do to make the world accessible to those with disabilities. The list goes on and on. We are all caught up in systems of oppression, systems of sin. We also bear the guilt for our addiction to violence as a species.

            We also carry another kind of burden, which is different from sin and guilt, but also keeps us from living the full and free life God invites us to. It’s harder to put a finger on, but it haunts us just the same. We carry a feeling that we are not good enough. Some part of each of us feels like a failure, like a fraud. Some part of us thinks we can’t do anything right, that we aren’t worthy of love, that we don’t deserve joy.

Maybe we learned that feeling from our family or our school or our first boss. Maybe we learned it from magazines full of perfect-looking, thin, strong, rich people who look like they have it all together. Maybe we learned it from our friends or our enemies. Maybe we learned it from our spouse or our lover or our ex. Maybe we learned it from a divorce or a breakup. Sometimes it comes from financial struggles and stresses. Maybe we don’t even know where it came from, which sometimes makes the feeling stronger.

For some of us the feeling is so strong that it haunts every step we take. Sometimes it takes the shape of depression. Other times it looks like boredom or distraction or fatigue. Sometimes it’s an obvious inferiority complex and other times it shows up as arrogance or bullying. Sometimes it feels like fear: shapeless anxiety or crushing terror. When we’re honest with ourselves, and I hope you feel like you can be honest here, at least with yourself and with God, we all know the feeling.

            We all have that feeling; you are not alone. Take a moment and feel the weight of your guilt, your shame, your failure and your heartache.

            Now let it go, because God already let it go a long time ago.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Laurelton Holy Week Schedule, 2013

Holy Week at Laurelton
Following is the worship and event schedule for Holy Week

Sunday, March 24th – Palm Sunday
Worship 10:00 a.m.; Elder Linda Sullivan; Look for sharing this worship service with Eco-palms that we purchased through the Presbyterian Church (USA) (www.pcusa.org) website as part of their “Enough for Everyone” program.; Special Offering – “One Great Hour of Sharing”

Tuesday, March 26th – Ecumenical Tenebrae Service
St. Ambrose Church – 7:30 p.m., this is a joint service sponsored by the Northeast Cluster of Churches. In years past, it has been a wonderful service and a great chance to get to meet our neighbors. There is also an opportunity for singers if people are interested.
“Tenebrae comes from the Latin for darkness or shadows. Candles are extinguished during the service to symbolize the gathering darkness of Christ's betrayal and death.”

Thursday, March 28th  – Maundy Thursday
Pot Luck dinner – 6:00 p.m.; sign up on the kiosk in Christler Hall for a dish to pass.
Worship/Communion at 7:00 p.m. following Pot Luck dinner. After worship, we will strip the sanctuary of paraments and other symbols as we transition into Good Friday.
“The name [Maundy Thursday] is taken from the first words sung at the ceremony of the washing of the feet, “I give you a new commandment” (John 13:34); also from the commandment of Christ that we should imitate his loving humility in the washing of the feet (John 13:14–17). The penitential acts of Maundy Thursday have celebratory aspects as well: restoration through the bold declaration of pardon; the act of foot washing connoting humility and intimacy; the celebration of the Lord’s Supper embodying the mystery of Christ’s enduring redemptive presence. Maundy Thursday’s acts provide the paradox of a celebratively somber and solemnly celebrative service.”

Friday, March 29th– Good Friday
8:45-11 a.m. - Ecumenical Walk of the Stations of the Cross. The walk will begin at First Genesis Baptist Church, 292 Hudson Ave.  As we remember the passion of Christ, we too remember this is our time to gather for "solidarity against violence and injustice.  Please join your fellow Faith in Action Network (formerly GRCC) members for this Ecumenical Walk.

12:00 p.m. Worship Service in Laurelton’s sanctuary
After worship, we will be draping the cross on our front lawn with a black cloth and crown of thorns.
“The Good Friday service is a penitential service, yet it is also a celebration of the good news of the cross. The passion narrative according to John is read on Good Friday, because at the heart of John’s passion narrative is the good news of the cross — the victory of the cross. Thus, John’s emphasis on crucifixion and glory corresponds to the tension and ambiguity of the day.”

Sunday, March 31st – Easter Sunday –
Sunrise Service @ Durand Eastman Park Beach, Lakeshore Blvd., 6:30 a.m. (sunrise is at 6:42 a.m.); Parking lot B

Worship 10:00 a.m. – He is Risen! Risen Indeed!
     Rev. Sam Picard
     Special Offering – “One Great Hour of Sharing”
 Bring in flowers to share and to adorn the cross on Laurelton’s front lawn after worship.