All posts for the month April, 2012

29 April 2012 at Saint Mark the Evangelist in Norman, OK

Acts 2: 14, 26-41 + Psalm 23 + 1 Peter 2: 20-25 + John 10: 1-10

In the monestary where I studied to be a priest there is room where the monks gather to make decisions about the life of the community called: “The Chapter Room”. At that particular monestary, the Chapter Room has has some unique stained glass windows that illustrate some of the more important elements of the “Rule” written by Benedict which guide the life of the community. One of the windows has a human ear with the word: “Listen” written beside it. As a young student, I was often in that room because there the choir would wam up before important celebrations in the church. I was always fascinated by that window, and to this day whenever I am back there, I stop in to look at that window. I came to learn that the first word in the Rule of Saint Benedict, written in the sixth century, is “Listen”. “Listen with the ear of your heart” Benedict says.“

In all the readings today, there is a great concern brought to us about the need to listen. The sheep follow Jesus in this Gospel for one reason: they know his voice. All through John’s Gospel there is a distinction made between those who “know” and those who do not “know” the identity of Jesus. For instance, when the man born blind is interrogated by the Sanhedrin they claim that they “know” that God has spoken through Moses, but as for this man, they say: “We do not know where he is from.” It goes on an on in John’s Gospel, this need to know; and to those who are in the know (who listen) Jesus says directly: “I came from the Father and have come into the world”; and then he says: “I am leaving the world and going to my Father.” Remember that at the very beginning of John’s Gospel, Jesus is described as the “Word of God.” So the very identity of those who follow Jesus depends upon knowing what voice to listen to. Listening to the voice of the Shepherd is the way to know who you are.

The same thing happens in the first reading from Acts of the Apostles. Peter stands up and speaks on that Pentecost day, and although they all speak many different languages, something happens when he says: “let this be known to you, and listen to what I say…let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” It is by hearing Peter’s testimony and coming to know Jesus as the resurrected Messiah that thousands of persons came to be baptized on that Pentecost.

The author of our second reading pushes us a little deeper by suggesting that listening and knowing is not an end in itself, but the foundation for a kind of endurance required to stay true to the Gospel. More and more, we are beginning to discover how hard it is and what it takes to hold fast to the Gospel and this Way of Life to which we are called as the culture in which we find ourselves living is less and less Christian. It is to people who have heard and have known that this epistle is addressed; a people who have been forced out of the synagogue, looked upon with suspicion, judged harshly, and even killed that this epistle is address. All becasue they have listened and known.

What is revealed to us this Easter season Sunday is that by listening to the Word spoken to us in Jesus, the Word of God, and in words spoken to us by Jesus, we shall discover who we are and why. We shall come to know not only the identity of Jesus, but our own as well, and with this knowledge comes the clarity to know our mission with endurance to live in knowledge, confidence, and joy.

Young people, you above all must come to understand this Gospel and learn to listen, to listen to the one voice that will lead you to safety within the flock. There are, as Jesus says, other voices calling and speaking to you. Today they text and they chat. Those voices have much to offer you that is shallow, false, and empty. They will suggest that a certain look will make you happy, that certain styles will make you appealing, that having a certain toy will make you respected and admired. Then the look is gone, the style changes before you know it, and the toy breaks leaving you with nothing. You will have listened to the wrong voice, and you will find yourself outsdie the flock, lost, alone, and in danger. “Listen and Know” says your church and your shephered, and your Lord.

The rest of us must endure as the second reading insists. We must endure something those first believers suffered greatly: the seperation and the loss of people we thought were friends, the breaking of family bonds, the disappointment and confusion that comes from being judged by those who do not know. While I think we sometimes exaggerate the physical perscution and the violent martydom that also marked those years under the Romans, we must not neglect to recognize that there was another suffering they all endured by being expelled from the synagogues. That meant broken families, husbands or wives, children or parents coming together without one another, watching with sadness as loved ones refused to share, to listen, and know.

Find comfort in these words and in companionship with these who have gone before us and still speak to us of the truth, the goodness, and the joy that comes from listening and from knowing who really has the words of everlasting life.

22 April 2012 at Saint Mark the Evangelist in Norman, OK

Acts 3: 13-15, 17-19 + Psalm 4 + 1 John 2: 1-5 + Luke 24: 35-48

We have, for one reason or another begun to confuse “Peace” and “Security.” I am noticing this more and more in the rhetoric we hear from the  leaders in this world. When they talk of peace, they often say “peace-and-security” which too many people seem to think is the same thing. The gift of Jesus about which we hear a great deal on these Sundays after Easter is not “security”. It is something else. It is possible to have one without the other. It is preferable to have both, but if it is necessary to choose one or the other, the human family might be better off with peace. Security will follow, but no amount of security is going to bring peace.

Since the life-changing events of 9/11, we have, in this country, put into place an entire army with the name: “Homeland Security”. TSA agents now have more to do with our coming and going than traffic cops. It strikes me as ironic that this entire agency concerned with “Security” has accomplished nothing when it comes to peace: not even peace of mind. In my opinion, it has made us more anxious. We want to build walls and fences to “secure” our boaders. Why? I think it is because we have not figured out how to have, make, or establish “peace”; and so we settle for security which in the end is a poor substitute.

Those apostles after the death of Jesus had no security. They locked the doors where they were. So Jesus came again and again to suggest to them that what they needed was peace, and once they had it, received it, gave it, or found it, they could forget about secuirty. The truth is, they never did have security. The fact is, they did not need it after they found and made peace. Life was still full of threats and danger, conflcit and adversity, but they lived in the midst life with a spirit of peace, with courage and joy.

A careful reading of Luke’s Gospel verses after the Death and Resurrection makes it perfectly clear that this gift of “peace” is the consequence or the reward that comes with forgiveness. I believe that what went on in that upper room to which they seemed to return so often was forgiveness: a healing experience that emerged from their memories of what Jesus had taught and said to them over and over again. I believe that first of all they forgave themselves for being such cowards and doubters. I believe that they forgave Jesus for leaving them: a process of grieving, and I believe that they forgave one another for not being there, for their easy ambitions, and their failure to grasp what was in front of them while it was there. I believe that they began to accept the forgiveness Christ offered them for having failed to understand and to act. That forgiveness gradually and steadily gave them peace.

Another way of looking at this might allow us to say: that they were not living in harmony with their conscience. The inner conflict between what they knew was right, and what they did or failed to do kept them for being and living in peace. Once they came intouch with their conscience formed by the Word of God in Jesus, they had peace: the peace Jesus wished for them.

I often think of Father Stan Rother in this regard. He left Guatamala because there was no security. He wasn’t safe. He came home, and over a period of weeks I think his time at home was much like the time the Apostles in that locked up room. He had security, but no peace. So, over time, I think he wanted peace more than security. He wanted the peace of being where he was called to be with the people he loved more than security. He went back with peace – guided by his conscience, at peace with his conscience, and in spite of the violence of his murder, I believe he died and now lives in peace.

At the heart of it all is forgiveness, and without forgiveness, human kind has no hope and no future. Without forgiveness and the peace which follows, we shall destroy one another. Most of the time, when it comes to generations of hatred, anger and violence, no one can rememeber why it started, and if they do, they know in their hearts that it was some silly little thing. Anger has a way of taking over our lives, of possessing us, and making us mad/crazy/incoherent, and insecure. The gift Jesus would leave with us, the whole purpose of his incarnation was peace: reconciliation. 

The novelist Mary Gordon after the break-up of the Soviet Union in the early stages of the conflict in Yugoslavia wrote these words: “The heavy topsoil of repressed injustice breeds anger better than any other medium. That anger rolls and rolls like a flaming boulder gaining mass and speed even when the original causes of the anger is forgotten. The only way to stop this kind of irrational anger is an equally irrational forgiveness.”

The apostles learned that truth from Jesus. The question remains when shall we learn it and act upon the lesson seeking peace rather than security, since once there is peace, there will be no need for security. We must come to live in peace with our conscience, doing what is right rather than what is easy, living the right way even if it means living with some risk, and speaking the truth even if it means paying a price.

15 April 2012 at Saint Mark the Evangelist in Norman, OK

Acts 4: 32-35 + Psalm 118 + 1 John 5: 1-6 + John 20: 19-31

We live in a world of smoke and mirrors. Magicians have fascinated and drawn crowds forever. It’s always about tricking the eye. In today’s world, with all our technology and digital skills, we can never be sure of what we see. I was reminded of this Friday night when standing there with a couple after their wedding. I pulled this micorphone off my ear and thought I had flipped it out of sight. Actually it just came to rest on my shoulder and someone reached up to finish the job when the photograpaher said: “Never mind, I can photo shop it away.” And of course she could. She could also photo shop me away! In this day of artificial sweetners, phaux finishes, cloning, and reproductions of just about anything; seeing is not at all close to believing.

This wonderful passage from John which the church proclaims every year on the Second Sunday in Easter draws us deeper into the wonder of the Resurrection and proposes that we might question what we see, and perhaps consider what others see when they are here.

The approach that Thomas brought to the Resurrection was and remains thoroughly modern. He was practical, pragmatic, experiential, and rational. While these qualities are in themselves admirable, they are not dependable when it comes to leading us to truth and to faith. There is nothing rational about God, about God’s love, or about God’s way of expressing love. There is nothing practical about dying on a cross, spending three days in a tomb, and coming out alive. Thomas wanted scientific evidence. There was none, and until he got over it, he couldn’t believe. The evidence of the resurrection was not to be found by handling or probing the wounds of a body.

The evidence was there in that upper room, but obviously it was a bit unconvincing. There is a suggestion here that those who had seen the Lord were still afraid. The doors were locked. They were not yet Spirit-filled enough to get out of that room with any courage or vision of what the Resurrection meant to them. So perhaps the faith of Thomas depends upon the witness of others, and that witness was not there. They were timid and afraid.

Had he seen a group of people who had been transformed from powerless, fearful, hopeless, filled with shame and guilt into believers who were clear-sighted, courageous and hope-filled; people who were forgiven and empowered to extend that forgiveness others, there would have been nothing to doubt.

Wonder for a moment what someone finds when they walk into this church. I think there is a Thomas here every time we open the doors. What does that person find in this assmbly? We have to get a grip on this Gospel and let John speak to us again. This is not a story about Thomas or doubt. It is about a group of people to whom God has entrusted a message and a mission. How anyone will ever believe in it depends upon how we behave more than on what we say. Reducing Faith and Religion to a bunch or rules and obligations is not inviting or convincing. Using the rules and obligations to shape, form, discipline, and identify who we are is a different thing. We do not impose those on others, we invite them to find in the obligation to love and forgive the experience of resurrection. We invite them to find in fulfilling our obligations, an experience of joy and discovery that comes from unity, peace, and patient, tollerant acceptance.

There is one more thing about Thomas found in this story worth pondering. He was absent. He left the company of the apostles. He left the other struggling believers. He sought loneliness rather than togetherness. He went off on his own with his difficulties, whatever they were, and this moved him further from Christ. Thomas tried to become a Christian “Lone-Ranger” trying to live faith on his own. It did not lead him to the truth and to the risen Christ. I like to believe that the others went after him, supporting and encouraging, inviting, and maybe even pleading. They stayed with it and “I will not believe” went to “I will believe if….” and then “I will believe if….”became: “My Lord and My God.”

It is important that we stay with the weak in faith in order to help them stay connected. It is important that they stay connected with the family of faith, the community of believers, with the parish. The Lone-Ranger Christian is at risk in any generation and especially in our own as we move from centuries of faith to uncertain secularism. In the Epistle “Hebrews” (10:25) the writer says: “We should not stay away from our assembly as is the custom of some.” To do so weakens faith and continues to make our witness to the resurrection less than believable. As I have said again and again: If we truly believed and lived all that we say and do here, no one would doubt the resurrection; and we will have become credible undeniable witnesses to the resurrection by our own coming to life and resurrection from all the tombs in which we hide and lay buried like the dead.

Acts 10: 34, 37-43 + Psalm 118 + 1 Corinthians 5: 6-8 + John 20: 1-9

April 8, 2012 at Saint Mark the Evangelist in Norman, OK

The world in which this Easter is celebrated has problems with resurrection. It has problems with anything transcendent: anything it can’t see, buy, control, or understand. This life is all there is. You only go around once. Grab all you can for the thrill of it. Enthralled and entertained by skills of indulgence talk of heaven and the suggestion that there is something beyond this life seems oddly out of place and to some inappropriate. We want to make good sense of our faith as Christians especially to those who think our beliefs are outdated. But our discourse and conversation is hardly ever about forgiveness, redemption, heaven and hell. If someone would ask us about our church or our faith, we might start talking about how friendly it is, how beautiful the church is, how wonderful the choir, or how big the gym and inclusive the programs might be from softball and soccer to quilting and healthy living.

To think, talk, and act this way leaves us on a collision course with what we are really doing in here in worship Sunday after Sunday. If we ever give serious thought to the reality we claim is taking place in this assembly around this altar, we might run for cover, or cover it up. There is something more astounding and profound happening here beyond warm fellowship. There is something more profound going on here than stirring music and crafted thought-provoking homilies. The act of our liturgy is more significant than this homily or their music. The act of our liturgy is more significant than this building, it’s style or decor, but that fact does not seem to be sinking in or widly believed for let something go wrong or something more interesting come along, leaves us to count the missing.

What we do here is about our salvation and our destiny or it is nothing it all. It is the pledge of eternal forgiveness. Communion is not mere bread for earthly bodies. Quite the contrary, it is nutrition for transformed bodies. It is what sustains pilgrims on their way out of and beyond this life. We eat this body of Christ who has died and risen so that we might die and rise.

We celebrate Easter with Eucharist because this is the promise of an eternal banquet. We celebrate Easter with Eucharist because on the night before He died he asked us to do this in memory of him. We celebrate Easter with Eucharist because he said: “Unless you eat flesh of the Son of Man and drink  his blood you shall not have life in you.” We celebrate Eucharist because every celebration of Eucharist is Easter for those who are celebrating and proclaiming the death of the Lord until he comes in glory.

We are a people who believe that there is more than meets the eye. There is more than the earth in all its might, more than our projects and exploits in all their splendor, and therefore, there is more to us than what we can buy and consume just as there is more on this altar than bread and wine. There is more to that empty tomb than met the eye of those who looked into it. They found nothing. Not only did they fail to find the Body of Christ, they did not find death either which is what they expected. So that discovery was a surprise; it did not fit in to their expectations and it changed everything. That empty tomb was more empty of death than it was of Christ. What they failed to find was death in a tomb. It isn’t there anymore.

There is a little detail in John’s gospel that feeds our imagination and faith. It is the matter of those folded up cloths. Unlike Lazarus, who comes forth from his tomb wrapped in burial cloths that needed to be untied so he could go free, the burial cloths of Jesus are left behind. They are folded up neatly, not ripped and left in haste by anyone who might take the body. Jesus comes forth from that tomb in a totally new kind of life, leaving behind the rags of his old life.

That woman, Mary Magdalene and Peter are slow to believe. The other disciple, the one Jesus loved the Gospel says, saw and believed. What did he see, or what does “seeing” really mean? The other disciple with Peter was a man of love which always allows us to see what others do not see. True Resurrection faith does not arise from seeing and believing in an empty tomb but from meeting God in the Scriptures and knowing that God is love. As long as there is love, there will be life. As long as there is love, there will be forgiveness. Those who love Jesus Christ are drawn to mourn his death, only to learn that he lives with them in a way that trascends their hopes because there is always more than meets the eye. There is more to us all than what others can see. Say “Amen” to that someone!

This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad!

Genesis (2) Exodus, Isaiah, Psalm 118 + Romans 6: 3-11 + Mark 16: 1-7

Every three years we pick up the Gospel of Mark during the Easter’s Vigil. In the morning it will be Luke. I always like the Easter text from Mark because it doesn’t tell us much. I think that’s better, because it leaves us wondering. It leaves us open, and a little more free to image what’s next. Luke has Jesus all over the place that day. He’s at Emmaus, then drops in to the upper room, then he leads them out near Bethany and Asceneds: all in one day! John tells us that on that morning, Mary Magdalene, weeping beside the tomb, meets the gardner, or at first she thinks it is the gardner, then later in the day Jesus shows up in a locked room, and the Thomas story begins. Later there is an incident at the sea, and finally Peter has a remarkable moment with the Christ he had denied three times. Matthew doesn’t have as much to say about the details of the resurrection as he does about the consequences of it in terms of disciples being commissioned and addressing the false rumors that the body of Jesus had been stolen.

The first version of Mark’s gospel, the earliest was a problem for some early believers becasue it stopped with what we just heard. So over time, there were at least three well-known conclusions added to Mark’s text, and one of them is still included in our Bibles, but always with footnotes alerting us that those last verses were not Mark’s. In Mark’s original plan, Jesus is just gone. He is out there somewhere. Mark tells nothing of an Ascension, and he never says how Jesus appears to those who believe in him. He just leaves it wide open, and I think that is an invitation to a wonderful adventure.

When you live with and believe with Mark’s Gospel, you are not going to get all side-tracked and distraced wondering what the Risen Christ looked like or sounded like. You don’t get all curious about how he walked through locked doors yet still consumed food.  You don’t sit and wonder why Mary Magdalene didn’t recognize him as she sat weeping by the tomb, and what Thomas actually did after being invited to probe the wounds. All of that is of no consquence or interest when you start with Mark’s Gospel.

Moving into the spirit of Mark’s resurrection, we are left to wonder, just when and just how we are going to meet the risen Lord. One thing becomes remarkably clear by the time all four Gospels get put together: Jesus comes to everyone who has been his disciples. And when he does, they get a job, a commission, a vocation: call it what you will, but everyone who meets this risen Lord is assigned a task. If you look through Matthew, Luke, and John, you begin to see it. They are sent to Baptize, to Teach, to Forgive, to carry the news, to feed the sheep of the Shepherd, to break bread in his memory, to receive the Holy Spirit, and to love oneanother.

Tonight sitting by the glow of Christ, Light of the World, Christ risen in glory, we must catch some of the spirit of Mark’s wonderful adventure and be open to what is next to come. For you who are about to descend into the grave, the tomb, of a font, something new is in store. You can’t know and I can’t imagine right now what it is; but God has something for you or you would not have found your way into this church. This night is a beginning. It is not the end of your initiation. For you who will be anointed with Chrism by the power of the Holy Spirit, something is going to happen with and through you. You not only will meet the risen Lord, there is every reason to believe that you will reveal that risen Lord to someone else.

You cannot, you may not, be a disciple of Jesus Christ without taking up a share in his mission. You sit now in the assembly of God’s people, a people who have their own stories of what God can do and has done. Around you are people whose lives have been broken by failure, sin, and sadness. But they are here having crawled out of tombs of lonleliness and disappointment, having found forgiveness and hope in the Gospel we share and the sacraments we celebrate. It’s an imperfect church of imperfect people, and it is right where you belong. By your gifts, your faith, and with your vision, we shall all move closer to that perfection found in the Risen Christ.

“This is the day the Lord has made!” is the cry of this church today for everyone across the face of the earth. Realize that these ancient rites are happening in every land, among every people on the face of this earth tonight, becasue something has happened on this earth, and something more is yet to come. What we know is that there was and there still is an empty tomb. Because of what happened in Jerusalem, every tomb is now empty: empty of death. That is what they could not find in that tomb. It was not just the body of Jesus of Nazareth missing. There was no death. What was not in that tomb was death itself. This is the news we share by proclaiming the Risen Christ. This is the hope we proclaim to you. Death is gone, vanished, conquered, finished. This is the meaning of an empty tomb. My prayer for you is that this discovery will not leave you paralyzed by fear, but on fire with the joy and hope, the peace and the courage to live in the constant expectation that you will see the risen Christ, and he will come to you.

April 6, 2012 at Saint Mark the Evangelist in Norman, OK

Isaiah 52: 13- 53:12 + Psalm 31 + Hebrews 4: 14-16, 5: 7-9 + John 18:1 – 19:42

There is some really bad thinking going around, and it’s been around for years. I would like to put a stop to it. I doubt that there is time in my life to make much of an impact upon the whole world, but I would certainly like to stop that thinking here, with you. I’m not sure where the idea came from, but I think we started it as a way of finding some comfort and an excuse for the Passion and Death of Christ. There is one thing about us that is consistent and sure: we don’t like to take the blame for much. We do like to pass it on. When it comes to the shame of Christ’s death, it’s been going on for years. Blame someone! For awhile it was the Romans who got the blame, then in the shameful years of anti-semitism, it was the Jews, then we get more informed and sophisticated and we blamed Pilate, the Chief Priests, the Scribes, the Zealots, or the Pharasees. We just have to blame someone. It makes us feel better.

Then at some point in pious history, someone decided that it was God’s will, and no matter what, Jesus had to die, becasue God wanted it that way. Now I ask you, who in the world, the real world would want to get involved with a God who kills people or a God whole likes human sacrifice? The Greek Gods were into that, the Romans liked the idea, but somewhere along the line in our God’s relationship with us, perhaps around the time of Abraham, God said, “No” to that and suggested a Lamb; and from then on things got quite different in terms of God’s expecatations, and our understanding and response to God. Finally, you may remember, God said: “It is mercy I desire.”

My point is, Christ did not choose to be crucified. He chose to be faithful no matter what it meant. The simple fact is, if you listen carefully to the Passion Narrative, human beings freely choose to kill him.

There were all kinds of people involved in this. They were all powerful: Pharasees, Peter, Judas, Pilate, Herod, James and John, the Chief Priests. Eveyone had a part to play in the death of Christ, and many of them could have stopped it. To the Pharasees, Christ was impure. He broke with their tradtions. The Pharasees were not bad guys. They were truly religious people, but they were complacent and satisfied. They had fallen into the trap of assuming that anyone who challenged them was an enemy. There is something wrong with that thinking.

Judas, inspite of what lots of people think was probably acting with good intentions. He just had his own idea about how things should be going and decided to put Jesus on the spot and force him to show some power. The problem that got in the way for Judas was simply that he was too narrow and caught up in his own ideas, closed to any other options. There is something wrong with that thinking.

Peter? He was simply afraid, and in a moment of panic said the wrong thing. Fear does terrible things to people and makes people do terrible things. And then there was Pilate. He is simply above it all, interllectualizing the whole thing with philosophical questions about “truth”. When pushed, he does what many choose to do when pushed, he does nothing at all, thinking that by doing nothing he will be in the clear.

All of this assumes that the death of Christ is something in the past, and that these behaviors are not stll going on. It’s easy to excuse ourselves and think, “Well, I wasn’t there. This all happened a long, long time ago.”  But we all know that Calvary still goes on every day. It is repeated in far off dictatorships and in the heart of cities like our own where drug infested neighborhoods tear families apart, and gang murders happen every day killing innocent young people. The real tragedy is that we might allow ourselves to think that Clavary and its cast of characters appeared only once in history. We’re there, and we can’t hide. We’re Peter when we deny our faith in the office or the neighborhood  or at school because we’re afraid of what people might think of us if we speek up against injustice. We’re Pilate when we’re afraid of the boss, or just don’t want to get involved. If you can quit the blame game, you can find yourself in today’s version of Calvary. The best hope is that we might be like the weeping women, or Simon of Cyrene, or Joseph of Aramathea, but we’re in there somewhere.

My friends, the cross was raised because no one stopped it. There have been too many croses raised on too many hills and outside of too many towns. What becomes good about this Friday is that we realize it does not have to be this way. This world need never be so small and full of hatred to let it happen again. We must this night challenge this heartlessness so that two days from now we can again be called to live in a world full of mercy, compassion, and courage, with the hope that the Resurrection promises. 

April 5, 2012 at Saint Mark the Evangelist in Norman, OK

Exodus 12: 1-8,11-14 + Psalm 116 + 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 + John 13: 1-15

This world is full of people who are always pushing and shoving to get ahead, to be first, and be number one. Their dignity and what they perceive to be their rightful place is all that matters. A sense of privilege and rights marks our public discourse and our politics. We get offended when we are not recognized or do not get the honor or thanks we think we deserve. We are caught up in the “pecking order” syndrome. If the service is slow we get mad and complain, if the line is long we jump around to get better treatment.

We know that even the apostles were working the system of their time talking among themselves to see who was going to sit where and have the best place of honor. I suspect that they were all getting a little impatient with the progress of the Kingdom Jesus continued to talk about, waiting for that great day of victory when Jesus would finally reveal himself in all his power and glory. Then they would really be set, and everyone would finally know who they were. They even tried to work that system once by keeping those little children from getting too close to the MAN!

I suspect that Jesus was getting a little weary of all that, and so there in the quiet intimacy of dinner in that upper room, he probably drew them close, leaned forward and said: “I want to tell you something really important, something essential to my message, something you must understand if you are ever going to carry on my mission.” With that, I think, he gave up on words. He had talked and talked to them, using parables, signs and wonders of all sorts and they still were not getting it right. So, in one last effort, he resorted to action rather than words. In a moment of quiet intimacy, Jesus teaches once more that there is only one kind of greatness and that is service. Then as now, the world is full of people who want to stand on their dignity when they ought to be kneeling at the feet of everyone else. “Do you realize what I have done?” he asks after his silent lesson.

We can only imagine what was going on in their minds. They had come into Jerusalem triumphantly. They must have been sure that now it was finally going to be revealed, that now this “Master” they had come to recognize with such power was finally going to show the world what real power was all about. In the context of that meal, they had  remembered the power of Moses splitting the sea, his victory over the armies of Pharoah. This new Moses they had followed so carefully was surely greater than the old Moses.

But what he did in fact was give them bread and wine, and wash their feet. And when he finished, he told them to “Do this in memory of me.” That was the proclamation of divinity Christ had come to Jerusalem to make. It was not what they expected. It must have struck them as completely foolish to see this man who calmed the storms of the sea, fed thousands with five loaves and two fish, giving sight to the blind, and calling a dead man out of tomb now wrapped in a towel on the floor washing their feet.

For us too when all the final revelations are complete it is a challenge and hard to grasp that God – God Almighty would get down on the floor, crawl around in the dirt, touch dusty, dirty old feet, wash them clean and dry them. Imagine that! God the creator, who with one word brought light out of darkness, dry land out of the sea, threw the stars into the heavens, is now on the floor washing feet.

This, my friends, is none the less what he had to say to us and how he revealed the truth about greatness, about divinity, about power and about authority. All of that has only one purpose: service of others; a willingness to get down and get dirty, to reach out and touch the feet of another, rub them, wash them, dry them.

Why is it we always want to act like God with our wrath, judgements, and power, but we don’t want to act like God and get on the floor? It’s a question we will have to answer in the depth of our own hearts prompted by the depth of our faith. The fact of the matter is undeniable, our God gets on the floor. It’s a long way from heaven, a long way from that shining glory we like to imagine. God has countless angels ready to do God’s bidding and fulfill every command; but no angel got on that floor. No angel washed feet, no angel was broken and shared.

This is not just something to think about. It is something to believe in and it is something to act upon, and when we do suddenly we shall awaken the real divine image in which and by which we were made, and then we shall know why.

April 1, 2012 at Saint Mark the Evangelist in Norman, OK

Isaiah 50: 4-7 + Psalm 22 + Philippians 2: 6-11 + Mark 14: 1-15:47

It is so ironic! The people reject Jesus and choose Barabbas whose name in Aramaic means, “Son of the Father.” Rejecting the real son, people choose a false son. How could that be? How absurd it was to choose a thief, one who takes over one who gives! What was wrong with those people? We know what was wrong with the Chief Priest, the Elders, Pharasees, and Scribes. For many otf them He threated their power, their influence, and their security. But the people? Where were the 5000 he fed, the throng who crowded into homes and synagogues, who chased him around the countryside and across the Lake? For that matter, where were those chosen ones? Silent. Absent. Intimidated by what? A pack of loosers?

Ironic too is the way we like to leave this story in the past and proclaim, read, and study it today as though it were a peace of literature rather than the living Word of God. “Barabbas” in Mark’s Gospel is not the only “Son of the Father.” This church is full of the Father’s children, and there are way more besides. We are not here telling a story out of the past nearly as much as we are describing the days in which we live. Many are still threatened by the Gospel. Their power, influence, way of life, possessions, and values are called into question by a man who arrived on a beast of burden. Don’t miss that important detail. Many are still silent and absent who have quickly grabbed, enjoyed, and accepted the free gifts given to them. When it comes time to bear witness to the giver of those gifts, they are somewhere else either too busy or simply too lazy.

Ironic too is the absence and silence of those who were chosen and called, those to whom the Will of the Father had been revealed: the Will that so desired forgiveness, charity, and peace. Bold at first, they are suddenly intimidated by this crowd angry when they do not get what they want. You know that is, another “sign”. That’s what they want, because that’s what they have been hanging around for all the while: signs and wonders. They come when they want something and get angry when they don’t get it. So, they choose Barabas.

If we can stand to think about it, this story we live and proclaim still goes on chapter after chapter, and so does Christ at the center of it teaching, revealing, living and dying.  Perhaps we can make some new verses to this old story. Perhaps in the next telling we shall not be silent when a crowd makes the wrong choice, perhaps we shall know better than to choose one who takes over one who gives. Perhaps we might be less threatened by the gospel that challenges our values and possessions. If it causes us to be derided by friends, mocked, scorned, ridiculed, and maybe even feel abandoned by God, we shall be in good company. For at that point we have every reason to cling to the sure and certain hope that having chosen what is right, having remained faithful to the promises we have made, we shall rise with the one who has come riding not on a proud warrior’s horse, but astride a beast of burden like a servant. In too many ways, we are Barabbas, children of God, set free while the real Son of God suffers and dies. Wondering what that can mean might lead us deeper into the mystery of this Holy Week.