God With Him | God With Us

God With Him | God With Us
Sermon preached at St. John’s Diocesan Center
Palm Sunday | Passion Sunday | April 5, 2020

The Rev. Andrew F. Kline

Isaiah 50:4-9a | Psalm 31:9-16 | Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 26:14–27:66 

“Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee…. Finally, when it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus.”

Standing at distance…. some women…. A little later, drawing a little closer, a man…. These women, at a distance had been with him since the beginning (how interesting that Matthew refers to Jesus’ mother in this remote, almost impersonal way!). That man? Most likely, scholars say, he was member of the high priest’s family. No doubt he had just signed up and was keeping it a secret.

It is so apt that the story grinds to a halt just here, pointing to a question: Were you there?

And if you were there, how close did you get?

What were you up to?

Did you rise to your feet, threatening to violently resist? Were you slinking off to the side? Checking out? Falling away? Betraying? Denying? Did your instincts leverage the power of religion and state to stand up for the old truths, stamp out rebellion and blasphemy, and make Israel great again? Or did you use the power of the religion and state to quash the truth, scapegoat the innocent, and make sure the machinery of the status quo would keep collecting its taxes and rent?

Were you there? Come as close as you dare. We are taught to keep our distance from things contagious. Like sin? Like passions? Like the darkness that befalls not just the itinerant teacher from Galilee? Like chaos itself! Like the earthquake that is our lives at just this moment. In the beginning of the story, the truth is hidden. In the end revealed. Here, finally, in the stillness after the sacrifice, is it possible to stumble upon the question we need to ask today?

Were you there? We never actually ask that question innocently. Because usually we weren’t there! What we mean is: Where were you there when…. JFK was shot? Where were you when we invaded Iraq? Where were you when the planes crashed on 9/11. When did you realize you had to be somewhere – like staying at home! – in March of 2020 when the “outbreak” came to consciousness, and you realized you were fight “contagion” itself.

“Were you there” really means “What do you make of it?” What do you think it means?” “How did it affect you?” “Did it have an impact on you?” “Did it change you?”

What is our question today?

What’s going on here? Who’s in charge?

God? Are you there? Are you in charge? Where is God in this?

Or…. Will we make it through? Whose got my back? Can I make it through?

After this, the world is going to be different. But how? What is on the other side of this?

I invite you to come as close as you can. Keep that proper social distance, befitting your personal and spiritual condition, and discover what your questions are. Then see how this haunting suffering servant from Galilee gives answer, responding from an unlikely, dangerous and difficult place, not known for giving up its answers.

Do you see that this whole week beings with something like a practical joke? Stage left, over here at the East gate: King Herod’s annual parade, his pompous entry into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, replete with dressed troops, resplendent marching bands, paid up crowds.

Stage right, over at the West Gate! – King Jesus’ carnival. The itinerant preacher from the North waltzes wildly into the great city on a donkey, adored by hundreds, maybe thousands — of nobodies! Shouting Hail! Hail! Heil! Heil! Hosanna! Hosanna! Heal us! Save us!

Do you see how the practical joke just really gets under everyone’s skin? It could be that Herod complained about it to Pilate. Certainly, the High Priests were outraged. As Jesus forces more and more to take him seriously, he causes more and more problems for those who must be in charge of things, who must keep the machinery of religion, the state and the economy running.

Do you see how all this could have been avoided, if the small group around Jesus had just hung together, had just trusted his message and mission? How familiar. When the bonds of a family, a fraternity, a group, a friendship, fracture, in just the slightest ways, given the right conditions, everything falls apart and comes to a grinding halt.

Do you see that none of this is clear cut? It is not hard to whip up a list of Jesus’ crimes and misdemeanors. He did not observe the Sabbath. He hung out with the least, the lost, the marginalized and all those unclean foreigners. He deconstructed human laws and taught people to think for themselves. At one time or another, he certainly OFFENDED almost everybody.

What Christians mean, when they say Jesus was tempted yet did not sin, actually takes this difficulty head on. It is breathtaking to remember that Jesus was the one who taught: “settle up with your accuser before they drag you in front of the judge, because if not, your freedom and your life will be taken from you?!” Is it a sin to do things to intentionally get yourself killed?

Do we really appreciate, the depth of the sorrow and pity, the failure and forsakenness, that Jesus knew at just this moment?

Now…. do you see the oddest thing of all? Do you see that the outcome of the story, its meaning depends upon your relationship to HIM. You have to decide what you think about his response.

And this is what I see. Jesus still in the midst of the storm. He takes the brunt of it, the weight of it, and simply carries it. He calmly, compassionately, mysteriously faces everything that comes at him, confronting every obstacle, yet without a complaint. He faces his reality.

If he seems to act out of self-interested, he doesn’t apologize. What drives him, his motive – is simply the will of his Heavenly Father. He always speaks the truth from that place.

The truth of this story is not clothed merely in words. As body, soul and spirit is bent and disfigured, Jesus takes on more. Shame and dishonor. Check. Suffering and Reproach. Check. Betrayal and Blame. Check. Offense and outrage and bitter revenge, paying the price for them all. Check. As they are all lifted up with him, on that cross, he redefines what is good and true and beautiful and worthy and strong and finally lasting.

Most other stories we can leave or take, take or leave. We can only get so close to this thing. Do we see that “something”, that gift, that only this man Jesus can do, can accomplish, or to use a more wonderful word, deliver?

After so many questions, also always this one. “So what?!” Reflecting some decades later, at the graceful distance, the Apostle Paul was able to put it this way:

“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. Therefore, God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Coronavirus or no Coronavirus. Jesus is Lord. God is at work in the world, reconciling us to himself, canceling all our debts, healing all our wounds, lifting us up with him, so that we can finally understand that he is here with us here – in this thing, working in it and through it to bring the world through to a new place.

*****************************************************************

I was hoping to end the sermon just there. Just right there. But as I was writing those last words, I got a text from my college roommate. So, this message has a coda. Some breaking news. A word for somebody listening right now.

My college roommate, we call him Brownie, texted me yesterday. Brownie grew up in Detroit. This newsflash is from a Dr. friend of his in Detroit, who himself has children on the front lines in New York City, Cincinnati, Ann Arbor and Baltimore. Indeed, we are going to pray in just a minute for Greg, MaryBeth, Megan in NYC, Brandon married to Christina in Cincinnati, and their youngest son Sean at John Hopkins – as we are going to pray for all those working right now on the front line, shepherding lives through this.

Here’s what happened. A man in his 50’s was just hospitalized for several months following his bone marrow transplant this past year. He was finally healthy to go home to his wife two weeks ago. One day later she gets sick (Covid-19).  She ends up hospitalized and dies.

He then gets sick with Covid-19 last week and ends up in the hospital. His respiratory status deteriorates, and he needs to go on a ventilator. He finds out how short the hospital is on ventilators and tells my colleague: “I want to be with my wife. Save the ventilator for someone who needs it to live.”  He died one hour later, peacefully. In peace.

“Let the same mind be in us.”

May we all be as courageous, and loving. Living fearlessly. Answering the question of what comes next in a life-giving way. As one husband did in communion with his wife. As another child of God will receive an answer in the gift of a ventilator.

“Let the same mind be in us.”

Jesus faced his trial. Can we face our trial? And following that, can we face what is coming at us? Every Christian’s trial is shaped by the cross, embracing the height, depth, length and width of what we will go through as individuals and a society.

“Let the same mind be in you.”

Leaving self behind, claiming the absolving and cleansing power of speaking only the truth, like Jesus, give our all. And being so delivered, share with others the knowledge of how salvation is accomplished and renewed in Jesus.

“Let the same mind be in you.”

Whether you find yourself outside the walls of Jerusalem, or inside a hospital in Detroit: Get as close as you can. Humbly present yourself. His arms are outstretched to embrace you. Call upon him. Call upon his name. Call him Lord! This is what matters now.

Lamentation Option

Lamentation Option
Sermon delivered by The Rev. Andrew F. Kline
March 29, 2020
St. John’s at Diocesan Center, Norristown, Pennsylvania

Ezekiel 37:1-14 | Psalm 130 | Romans 8:6-11 | John 11:1-45 

I would never have admitted this until now, but given that “everything has changed”, I have been watching stupid videos on YouTube and Facebook. Of special interest, of course, are the genre or meme of “How to survive a Pandemic” or “The Four Stages of Sheltering in Place” etc. Some are quite funny. And, alas, very much all the same….

  • Guy or gal walks in house loaded down – groceries, toilet paper and cleaning supplies. Out of the bags and on to the counter go a ridiculous amount of toilet paper, as well an enormous pile of of junk food: sodas, chips, candy, cereal, donuts, frozen pizza and pigs in a blanket.
  • Before putting anything away, our hero sits down, so we are told, to binge watch everything on Netflix…. Camera fades out. Camera fades in. 
  • Having watched everything on Netflix…. Our hero proceeds to break open the processed feast of added sugars and empty carbs awaiting him on the kitchen counter. Camera fades out. Camera fades in.
  • End of Day 1.  Our hero, so bored, so tired, so bewildered, looks around wondering what happens next. On the TV screen is the order to Stay Inside!!! And the voice of the well intentioned expert telling us that what we must do is make a PLAN. 
  • OK! We create a schedule. We imagine what is going to be routine and normal. Perfectly sensible. Our hero grabs a ruler, a calendar, and scrap of paper to write a list on, and starts marking up the future. Camera fades out. Camera fades. 
  • End of Day 2. Together we realize that we have no idea what our days will look like. Given what little structure we can put on them, they will be what they will be. For once, it may be starting to sink in. We are not in control of this thing. We are not in control of any thing.

What do you do when you realize you really are in a desert, where there are no signposts and no well trodden paths? My friends, we truly are in the final bewildering stages of our Lenten journey. What do you do when you realize there is not even “a new normal.” How will this time of pandemic unfold, when much of the world seems to be coming to a stop. What will we do on Day 15? What should we do on Day 30? What will get us through to Day 60?

Thankfully, God’s Word today shows us something we can do. In the outline of the dust just ahead of us we see a band of pilgrims, and yes, we also make out a sound. From some very deep place. A measured breath. In and out from the diaphragm. From there! A cry. A song.

Psalm 130 is called a Song of Ascent. Sung on pilgrimage, on the way to the great feasts in Jerusalem. It is, O my soul!, a lament.

1 Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice; *
let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.

2 If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss, *
O Lord, who could stand?

3 For there is forgiveness with you; *
therefore you shall be feared.

4 I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; *
in his word is my hope.

5 My soul waits for the Lord,
more than watchmen for the morning, *
more than watchmen for the morning.

6 O Israel, wait for the Lord, *
for with the Lord there is mercy;

7 With him there is plenteous redemption, *
and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.

De profundis. From the depths. Cry Out. Call Out. Don’t stifle that sound within. Grieve. Grieve. Grieve. Wait. Wait. Wait. Plead. Plead. Plead. Speak from there.

Apparently, dear friends, it is time to LAMENT. As reality washes over us, it is time to pour out our soul. To acknowledge the pain, the confusion. To grieve. To say in every language of body, soul and spirit. This is not right. This sucks! And to realize that lamentation is not just a last resort. It is what God is up to as well. An ancient strategy for finding our way.

Until now, no doubt, everything about our culture has been designed to make “Lamentation” optional, unnecessary. No more. We can’t pretend anymore that we are in control of our lives. Like Ezekiel. Like Jesus. Like the Creator and Sustainer of all. Let’s learn how to lament.

Here what happens to my soul as we join Ezekiel and look out over the Valley of Dry Bones. And stand with Jesus, Martha and Mary in front of the grave of our friends Lazarus.

  • On the one hand, things are IN PIECES. Looking at the entire populace of a once great nation as hopelessly disconnected, I face and embrace a reality, that life like that Jungle Gym project splayed out in a million pieces on your lawn with no instructions, and no idea where to begin, and no way it is all getting put back together. Nothing but ‘dem’ dry bones. Lament.
  • On the other hand, the things we thought mattered don’t really matter any more. It’s funny how standing in front of this cave, this place where they have put the bodies, all kind of reflection and regret and emotion arise. But there is no where for it to land. No exit. No next step. One big fact. STOP! Time’s up. You’re done. It’s over. And no one, especially those who love you and care about you seem to be able to do a thing. Lament.
  • But then, precisely because we are mortal and this is how we are made, we discover that there is just one more thing that we do. Take the next breath. Whether in the valley or in front of the cave, in these fearful places, it’s not that we reach for the depths, we FIND something in the deep. In the depths, we catch our breath. We Breath. Well, because we have to. From the deep place you breath again. And again. Formulate a question: Mortal can these bones live? Is this sickness unto death? How is God glorified in this?! Weep. Lament.
  • And from that breath, from that enacted question, miraculously, we can make a SOUND. It doesn’t really matter what kind of sound. In the end, that sound is meant, as we gather with others who have stumbled on to its miraculous existence, to move us to action. All of this is still an imperative. Lament. Right here in front of our obstacle, our dilemma, is where we are supposed to be. With our cries, our tears, and yes, our songs. Lament!

Do you hear God’s Word today. People of faith, it is not enough just to take the next breath. Step in front of your obstacle and address it. Prophesy to the breath! Speak. With intention. With whatever sight you have. Hope against against hope. Speak. And take another breath. In front of your darkest place. Clear your throat. Open the eyes of your heart. Look into the future. Call it forth into sunlight. Declare it “Unbound.” Yes. Sound its melody. A song of Ascent. A single note. Lament.

This will require, from time to time, getting offline, turning off the TV, just truly being with ourselves. But it will not require us to forget that there are others, so many others, just six feet away, just on the other end of this special kind of prayer, this corporate grief we share. Let us all together now…. Give up our plans. Give up the pretense of a certain kind of knowledge. Of where we will go. What we shall do. Let us all together now…. Prophesy to the breath. Breath! And sing a new song that is the best doorway to our future.

Our lamentations of course are a form of inquiry. They form questions, that help us form answers. Can God set a table in the wilderness? Can God make from these lifeless stones, these dry dry bones, children for Abraham? Will God show up this time, right on time, and weep with us. Do we not realize that we lament, precisely because this is what God must do with and for us. Jesus wept. And then he called forth his friend Lazarus.

The process of Lamentation, from things going from “being in pieces” to “it’s all over” to engaging body, soul and spirit in our deepest longing, is all here in the Gospel lesson.

Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Martha is trying to put the pieces together. Martha looks at him in bewilderment. Sure. A numb, textbook reply. Let me go find my sister.

Mary knew how to activate this process in Jesus. That was how close they were. “She knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” 

Only from there – in front of your obstacle, your terror, do you find your breath, your most honest voice, your most troubled soul – is your life renewed. 

Martha can put it together intellectually. Mary can move things forward. Mary gathers herself, prostrates herself, fills her lungs with air, and calls forth the creative Spirit of God.

Today is a day we can claim what Jesus said to Martha, with the intention of Mary. With whatever we have at our disposal, we not only give up control or fighting the inevitable, we join with the one who is drawing near to us, and see the tears on his face. 

De Profundis. From the depths. Lament.

In every gesture of complaint, grief, despair and honest bewilderment, we can yet throw ourselves down and cry mercy. Because we know our God joins us in this. From there he breaths with us. He says the words that raise us up. Lazarus, will die again, but today he will be lifted! Raised up to live another day. 

Prophesy to the breath! Call forth from your deepest place the Lord of Life. And discover that he laments with you.

Come! Lord of Life. Come Holy Spirit. Sound us out. Call us out. Unbind us. Though dying we live. So living and believing – that this is not ever the end of the story! 

Amen.

Look! Faith!

Look! Faith!
Sermon preached at St. John’s at Diocesan Center
by The Rev. Andrew F. Kline
March 22, 2020

Consider the predicament of the man born blind – through no fault of his own – the man who is healed by Jesus, but in such an interesting way that he does not know how it all went down. 

And who after a wild ride with his relatives and the authorities, finds himself stranded by the side of the road on the way out of town, stigmatized and ostracized by his community. Familiar, isn’t it. Our predicament.

I immediately think of some glib expressions of saber-rattling faith I’ve heard in recent days. Not to mention the hand- wringing and blaming that is inevitable during this unprecedented time of crisis because of the Coronavirus. Distractions one and all. Let’s not lose sight of him, this man. While everyone is panicking, and arguing, and completely forgetting about what started it all, and what is the point, we will go looking for him, and God willing, find him again, just as Jesus did.

But first! What words we have of absolute comfort in the Psalm, the hymn of praise to the Lord!
1) The Lord is my shepherd.
2) I shall not want
3) Even though…. What? Fill in the blank. Anxiety. Stress. Sickness. Death. YOU are with me.
4) A Table in the Wilderness. Nourishment. Oil. Wine. Healing. Sustenance.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me – always and everywhere. And I will find home.

The summary of our faith in the 23rd Psalm? God provides. God guides. God protects. I shall lack nothing good. I am not alone. The Lord is my Shepherd. In answer to the eternal question, God does indeed set a table in the wilderness. We can expect more than just water from a rock, even manna from heaven!

The Lord is my Shepherd. We desperately need this picture, don’t we? As people of faith, this is what we would like to see. Something is about to break upon us like a terrible wave, and if we are honest, we are wondering whether we can keep our eyes fixed on the horizon. 

And then, there’s how we feel. Even though our officials can helpfully tell us it’s Ok not to be OK, we Christians need to take stock, and prepare. What does this moment before the storm feel like? We look out on our streets and into screens that reveal upset, displacement, sickness, and suffering in the face of the unknown, an enemy we cannot see and do not fully understand. 

Good thing for us we have this promise, which contains a prescription. The Lord is our Shepherd. And the Shepherd is on the move. Do you notice the miracle of the movement in the psalm? The Shepherd knows we might be stuck, we might be standing there looking up into the hills wondering where our help is coming from…. 

He raises his rod, his staff, he gestures…  Just take a step back… or a step to the side, or yes, even, a step forward. Follow me.

“Jesus was walking along.” He saw a man born blind from birth. Maybe he even was holding a walking stick at that moment, a shepherd crook. Why not. He gets things rolling. He stooped down for some clay. He spit, he daubed, he gave a command. After taking this risk, perhaps thinking of us today, he practiced a little social distancing. He walked on. He stepped away. He practically vanished.

The apostle Paul was very much thinking of Jesus’ presence in his absence when he told us, almost as an afterthought: “We walk by faith, not by sight.” With Jesus, whether in the body or out of the body, there is always a way forward.

We know what it is like when we are not engaging our faith. Looking at the rising numbers of sick and dying. Perhaps an emptying bank account. The uncertainty of the life and livelihood that does or does not await us after all this is over. Stuck. Or moving without a lot of energy or direction. 

How do we get unstuck? Simple images and rules of thumb are the most help. Visualize the space around you. Stand with your arm outstretched. Right across is your partner, your child, your neighbor, with their arm outstretched. We can come only so close. Keep our distance. Can we do this with a new body language? A grace that declares: you are not my enemy. Yet for now, we will keep a loving distance.

As hard as it is. It’s not about you. Move it. Move on. Walk away. Go inside. Shut the door. As much as possible, act as you are the problem, the one who could endanger the ones you love. A terrible truth. But the first move of authentic faith – at least for a few more weeks!

Walking faith is in constant dialogue and struggle with what we can see, standing where we are, what we can presently understand. Ultimately, faith is not opposed to sight, but supports and enlarges it. Take a few creative steps, trusting in the promises of God’s Word, and you see things in a new light.  

I don’t know about you, but in these early days, I am seeing much more of my neighbors. Walking along. Outside outside in the fresh air. Waving at me. Family and old friends getting in touch. People going to extraordinary lengths to figure out what is essential, and keeping those essential services going. 

Again, we are having to lean in, think a little deeper, get creative. As I am inevitably more and more online, we are getting pretty creative with their virtual hugs. I’m learning more than I ever thought I would know about infectious diseases. Did you know that certain heroes now stepping forward have been calling for years for us to pay attention, and to invest in a new the Manhattan project dedicated to discovering a universal vaccine for respiratory illnesses.

People of faith, the remedy is to take whatever step is in front of us. A movement of faith. The faith move. If we dare, now is the time to see the world differently. After this, everything will not only look different, it will be different.

Certainly, we will walk back into our homes and close the door. But that “walking faith” says, the door opens again. Peak your head out and see what is going on. Keep looking. Don’t look away. Reframe. Don’t forget the most vulnerable. Respect the supply chain. Pray for, support and cooperate with the first responders, the healers, the shepherds, the ones keeping the peace. For us here especially, I pray we will keep feeding our neighbors.

One last little reality check, given the need for faith when our sight only goes so far, our Scriptures remind us this morning that, alas, it is will always be the most difficult to see our ourselves. The man born blind is healed, but stranded by the side of the road, going nowhere until he sees the one sees him. It is interesting how John’s long tale of mistaken meanings and mistaken identity winds down with one final warning: Those who claim to see, but don’t believe, are the ones who are truly blind. Our sin and ignorance remains. Ouch. 

Do yourself a favor. Don’t forget this story. Do not fear if Jesus seems distant. Stay humble. The Shepherd is out there getting us unstuck. 

He sees each one of us. Jesus is walks by, we don’t even know he has healed us, and even as we don’t know what’s hit us – and there he is. Right there, spreading his table in front of us, anointing us with oil, and pouring us a drink.

He’s here. Today. Jesus is walking along. Jesus is at work. Tomorrow, especially when he seems to be nowhere to be found, he will circle back around. We are in this together, through famine, pestilence and plague. The faithful will continue to testify. Jesus will continue to show up. 

You can bet on it. Go ahead. Make that your first step. Put your money, put your life, on the one who promises to lead in front, guide from behind, sustain on every side. 

This move is the only thing that matters. 

The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want. We will not lack any good thing. With him, we can beat this thing, we can see it though, and, however long it takes, we will see anew.

An Easter Message

You cleft the earth
and streams broke forth….
You went forth to redeem your people,
to rescue your anointed one.
You tore the roof from the house of the wicked
and laid bare their foundation.   [Habakuk 3:9,13]

Dear Friends,

In the middle of the night the Word arose and signs occurred which became the message of unlikely prophets and the testimony of transformed witnesses.

The biblical story is a twice told tale – two testaments that say two principle things – that Christ is Lord and that God raised him from he dead. Every word has been passed on, so that it will be passed on by living witnesses, for the sole purpose that we will in turn bear its testimony through our lives. Many words, many stories, but one message in stereo, turning what we believe into the obedience of our daily lives.

Indeed, every Sunday we proclaim in the Nicene Creed that:

For our sake [Jesus] was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the scriptures.

That all these things happened “according to the scriptures” is worth pondering. It has long been noted that Jesus death and resurrection do not take place in response to some straightforward prophecy or simple reading of the Old Testament plot line.  It is true that the early Christians noticed many striking verses of scripture that illumined the manner and meaning of Jesus’ death.  The passion story is filled with these allusions.  But it is also true that these references do not paint by numbers what we see on Easter morning or predict, as in hindsight, what we see. 

Our earliest brothers and sisters had made a discovery. They starting telling others what happened and inviting them to come and see. They started to tell the story “one more time with a difference” — and a sense of fulfillment and confirmation overtook them. 

Jesus settled the contest between the Exodus and the Exile for possession of Israel’s soul, the perennial plight of Israel’s bondage and struggle for freedom.  Where is God? Is God with us?

Every child of Abraham was aware that Israel had failed in fulfilling its destiny. After all this time, after year after year celebrating a Passover liberation – even after returning and rebuilding the temple – they were not free. Are we condemned to ever sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? Jesus rode into Jerusalem and forced the question between his body and God’s house. Where will God make his home? How?

Jesus, himself, would seem to be broken by the twice told tale of attempted liberation, being left for humiliated and crushed. The stubborn mystery this side of the grave? As long as death reigns, so will sin, and everything that divides us one from another.  If forgiveness is real, and follows us into eternity, then would we not truly be free?  

It would be Jesus who would say that all important third time:  Shalom.  You are forgiven.  Let my people go! The new Israel began to realize that Jesus has not just mindlessly walked in the footsteps of the prophets and sages of old, but that he has understood Israel’s story in a way no one else had.  Moreover, he has forgiven them and set them free.  

The prophet Habakuk glimpsed a vision of a new Moses. Even more, he looked for someone who would lay bare the foundation. He longed for someone who would write the law on their hearts and truly lead them to the Promised Land.

In the parting of the waters, in the darkest moment at the end of a Holy Week, long after the cruel tale of the victim’s passion has been sung, when the vigil has run its course, after we have gone over the stories one more time — it is precisely here we see what God was aiming at all along.

Not surprisingly, the final Return from final Exile (O Death!) would be the root pattern of the early church’s experience, enshrined in its liturgies — in the ancient baptismal service in particular — that Christ’s death and resurrection is the Golden thread connecting with the elements of how God has always been trying to tell this story. 

Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us! Righteousness and Peace kiss. Exodus and Exile meet. Israel lives! We live!

What a discovery indeed. May you and yours hear this twice told tale one more time — with a difference.  May you come to a living faith, a wider love, and a greater praise of God’s eternal purposes.  May you know real forgiveness and a lasting freedom.  May you know that you belong to Jesus’ people and thus to God.  And may it be no small thing that you understand that all this is done “in accordance with the scriptures.”  That, after all, means that God has made you an everlasting part of that story as well…

Therefore, let us keep the Feast!

Happy Easter!
Andy+

What you can expect – Worship @ 9:30

When you enter St. John’s you know you are in a sacred place. It is the oldest continuous structure of worship in Montgomery County, founded with the town in 1813. Still, it was changed in many wonderful ways over the years.

These days, right in the back of the church, we have set up tables to welcome visitors.

If you come at 8:45 AM you can sit at those tables with a cup of coffee and ask your questions about faith and bible, especially about the bible readings you are going to hear that day.

Just before 9:30, the beautiful space is filled with music, and you are invited to put everything else aside and come into God’s presence. That reality shows up in so many different ways. Certainly a high point is Communion. After we reflect on Scripture, pray our prayers, confess our sins, we are invited to remember what Jesus did for us in those last days of his life. Remembering his death and resurrection, we are invited to participate in new and abundant life today.

Because we are celebrating the power of this love every Sunday, all baptized Christians are invited to receive at the Lord’s table, regardless of denomination or creed. Because we are trying to live into the power of that love, we invite everyone to come and see for themselves, and receive a blessing.