"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

19 April 2009

A word to the airlines. (moved)

To whom it may concern (Airlines, this means you! Delta-Northwest, this especially means you!!):
We, the passengers who choose air travel, would like to remind the airline industry that we are not cattle. The nickname "cattle class" is only a joke and should not become a reality. We are human beings and we have a right to be treated like human beings. To that end, I would like to remind the airline industry that for the human being, parents and children are not interchangeable parts. I do not wish for strangers, who have no understanding of my children’s needs, to attempt to care for my children. I should not be forced to trust a random person who I have not met with the care of my most precious treasures. Your airports remind us often not to let strangers tend our luggage, but you expect us to let them tend our children? Likewise, my children are not comforted by strangers, and strangers are put out if they are placed next to unattended children.

To the rest of you... actually this is just an excerpt from my three page (and they deserved every syllable) letter to Delta-Northwest regarding my horrid flight experience from Honolulu to Pittsburgh. Granted, the most pleasant choice would have been to simply stay in Hawaii.

Mmmm... Hawaii.....

A word to the airlines:

But I'm nothing if not adventurous, so along with my family (one of whom is three years old) I decided to try to fly home. Big mistake. We left this:

in order to be treated like garbage by a rude and uncaring Delta-Northwest Gate agent, no correction, by three of them and then be herded onto cattle class (with Richard twenty rows away from the rest of us) with no room to stretch our legs and a hideous TV screen that I couldn't control flickering in my face ALL NIGHT LONG. I slept none at all, neither did Isaac. We landed in Atlanta at six in the morning, where we were again herded onto cattle class, this time spread over only five rows, where I had to take care of someone else's kid because her dad was five rows ahead of us. As if my three were not enough, somebody else's five year old is not my idea of flying fun.

Clearly the new Delta-Northwest has no concern for the family unit. It is no longer a family-friendly airline. Passengers beware.

As for me, I'm making sure they hear about it. I'm not interested in being treated like an animal. I am a human being, made in the image of God, and I am not going to sit back and take this sort of treatment.

But then, therein lies the problem. If you don't have a fundamental belief in a God who created mankind by hand, then we're all just over-exhalted monkeys. If we all evolved from the same goo, I suppose there's nothing wrong with treating people like animals packed into cattle class. If we're all just luck of the draw, then there is no human dignity, we're all animals after all.

Or maybe this lament is just an excuse to make you all have to look at my vacation pictures...

13 April 2009

Easter Sermonizing!!! CPISTOS ANESTH!! (moved)

The Gospels tell us that Mary Magdalene, and the other women, have gotten up early in the morning, while it is still dark. Slowly, still grieving their tremendous loss, their crucified Lord, they make their way to the tomb. Laden with burial spices to anoint the body of Jesus, they intend to anoint Jesus’ body. It was an act of love, though by Jewish ceremonial law it would render them temporarily unclean. Bodies were anointed with spices to lessen the effects of natural decay. These women are wandering out in the dark towards a scene which would be so utterly gruesome that few of us would ever even consider coming along with them on such an errand.

And they’re worried… they’re worried about the stone that stood between them and entrance into the tomb. How would they move such a heavy barrier? It is a legitimate worry, a logistical concern that gives a sense of reality to this otherwise rather surreal moment. But as I read in John’s telling of the events, I learned something more. I read this week about how the final chapters of John’s Gospel share Jesus’ resurrection appearances in such a way as to show him overcoming a number of our common obstacles to faith in him. It is as if the stone that blocked the women’s path to Jesus is a physical symbol of something more, our fears, ignorance, grief, and doubt. If you take your faith seriously, you will recognize that these are indeed barriers to our relationship with Jesus, but how do we remove such stones? Fear is too much for us to roll away on our own, our ignorance is too great, our grief and doubt threaten to overshadow us at times too.

But early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene and her companions come to the tomb of Jesus, and discover that the barrier is removed. It’s an unexpected thing. Who would be about so early in the day? Who would have moved the stone? What has become of Jesus’ body? In their alarm they run to Peter and to John and summon them to the tomb. Someone, perhaps grave robbers, for there were so many in that era that one of the Caesars made it a capital offence to disturb a tomb. Perhaps it was someone who wished to heap further insult on Jesus. Perhaps it was one of Joseph’s gardeners, but where would they have put Jesus? How could they care for him if they couldn’t find him?

The women are frantic. Peter and John are anxious also and they run to the tomb. Outside the tomb, each of the people you meet is full of fear, worry, anxiety. There is a lot of rushing about in the dark. But inside the tomb, there is a sense of perfect calm. No, there were no grave robbers here, for the linens and spices in which the body had been wrapped, these remain undisturbed. There was no rushing about here, the cloth for Jesus’ head was neatly folded in a place of its own. Why would anyone who had moved Jesus leave these things behind? Why would anyone who had robbed the tomb leave the only items of any value or use?

And the disciples believed, though they still did not understand. The barrier of ignorance is removed. Likewise as Mary remains, in her grief weeping outside the tomb, Jesus appears to hear. The barrier of grieving is removed as Jesus call’s Mary’s name and reveals to her that he is indeed alive. Fear is removed as the disciples, behind locked doors for fear of the Jews who had crucified Jesus, suddenly find the risen Lord in their midst. Doubt is removed as Thomas places his hands in Jesus wounds. Jesus systematically removes the barriers that stand between us and faith in him.

We modern people have a lot of barriers; sometimes we like even to try and set up our barriers ourselves. Some say that maybe Jesus didn’t really die on the cross, maybe he fainted. But the scriptures go to great lengths to assure us that indeed Jesus did die; "he breathed his last" "He gave up his spirit." The centurion saw that he was dead and did not break his legs, he was stabbed in the side and blood and water poured out. This was no living man, no mere faint. Some say that maybe the disciples made off with the body to try to fabricate a resurrection story, but the tomb was well guarded by Roman soldiers, and why would all of these disciples later prove so willing to die because they believe in the resurrected Jesus if this were all a hoax? The words we just read from the Gospel of John are an eye witness account, these are the observations of the beloved disciple himself, the beloved disciple who was the only one not martyred for his faith in Jesus and he lived out his final years in exile on the distant island of Patmos. How easy it would be to expose the hoax, recant, and go home free! If it were a hoax, if there were no truth in these words.

But Christ is indeed raised from the dead, the first fruits from the grave. The grave could not hold him, he has raised himself. By his death he destroyed death… or as John tells us outright in the beginning of his Gospel, Jesus was the light who shines in the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome him.

The resurrection of Jesus gives us two paths from which we must choose. We can run around in the darkness, in anxiety, ignorance, fear and grief. Or we can let Jesus remove the barriers to our faith, let the light which cannot be overcome shine in our darkest corners. This side of paradise our belief will never be perfect. We will still have moments where we set up our barriers, wallow in our doubts, run frantically about in our anxieties. In the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus insists that all things are possible to one who believes in him, to which the man with whom Jesus was speaking replied "I believe! Help my unbelief." This oft repeated prayer is what its all about! Jesus is willing and able to remove the barriers we’ve set up, to shine in our darkness, to help our unbelief.

Lord Jesus, we thank you and praise you that by your death you have destroyed death. By your rising to life again you have won for us eternal life. We ask you now to help our unbelief. We cast on your mercy all our barriers and obstacles, all our fears, anxieties, ignorance, doubt, and grief. Take these things from us, we pray, that we may be consecrated to you as a holy people, a living sacrifice, and a royal priesthood of those who believe.

11 April 2009

Maundy Thursday Sermon (moved)

Jesus, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The Gospel of John has a way with words. There in that tiny phrase, is the totality of the Gospel. Really, if you know nothing else, if you dig into no other words of Scripture, dig here. John himself says it would be impossible to write a complete biography of Jesus, that all the libraries of the world could not contain the volumes that could be written. Yet in those words, John writes the biography. Jesus, having loved his own who were in this world, he loved them to the end.

Let’s break down John’s statement. First Jesus loved his own. We use a similar term all the time, we say we look after our own. But the concept is a remarkable one here because Jesus is laying claim to the disciples. They’re not his biological family, they weren’t chosen based on any prior relationship. There really is nothing other than Jesus that would bring this ragtag band together from so many walks of life, from fishermen to a tax collector. What binds them together is only that they are no longer their own men, they are claimed by another, bought with a price. Jesus takes responsibility for this band of disciples, loves them with a sacrificial love.

Jesus does not wait until this band of followers is perfected in the kingdom, for he loves them while they were still in this world of sin and filth. Jesus loves a group of people who are essentially defined by their membership in a fallen world. But that phrase conveys more than just a definition of who these are who Jesus claims a his own. Jesus loves his own who are in this world at time when Jesus knows his hour is coming to depart out of this world. He returns to the father, to the glories of heaven. But he does not do so without looking back on those who remain in this world. These are men who are still grabbed at by sin, and a fallen nature. John tells us a few chapters later of Jesus’ prayer for these disciples, a passionate prayer that they may be guarded by God, bound together in God’s love, and be kept from evil.

And Jesus loved them to the end. There’s an ambiguity in the Greek text that is worth examining here. The words are "

eiV teloV agaphsen autouV ." To the end he loved them. In Greek, usually the first words in the sentence are where the emphasis is. The emphasis here is on "to the end." It’s not as important to know that Jesus loved the disciples. We know that, anyway. What is important is to know the extent of his love. Jesus loved them to the very end, not only of his life, but to the ends of the earth. He loved them to the cross. He loves them to the end of ages. He loves them to the end of everything. That sounds pretty clear, right? And I said there was an ambiguity. The ambiguity is this; "eiV teloV " not only means "to the end"… it has a secondary meaning of "to completion" or totally. Jesus loved the disciples with a perfect love. The writer of the gospel surely chose his words carefully, for Jesus does love the disciples with a perfect love which endures to the end. There is no conflict in the meanings, one adds to the other.
So what does that love look like? The remainder of the reading today is the description of how that love is put into action. The remainder of Holy Week is the description of that love at work, but we’re given one example today, the washing of the feet, so let us take a look in that direction.

First we see that Jesus loves them such that he casts off the glory of heaven to serve them. At the point of his incarnation, Jesus emptied himself of all the glories of heaven. No longer was he surrounded by angels and archangels, the glories of the infinite realm. Instead he was surrounded by sinners and sickness, taking on the limited nature of humanity. And he does not come even as a great and powerful human, for he does not choose to be incarnated as a king. Instead he is a seemingly common man. And yet, he comes to meet their needs, not to be served but to serve.

Jesus sees a need here. The disciples must learn to serve one another, even to die to themselves in order to serve the world. These men who so recently had argued with one another about which of them would take the places of honor in Jesus’ kingdom needed to learn to practice humility and service. They didn’t understand Jesus’ message to them when he said he the last would be first, and so Jesus demonstrated this in a powerful way.

As you know, the washing of feet was the work of the lowest slave in a household. And not Jewish slaves, but Gentile slaves were given this work. Jewish slaves were above footwashing. On a more intimate, familial level, a child might wash his father’s feet as a duty and token of intimate love and humility, or a wife might likewise wash her husband’s feet. The master, the father, the rabbi, would never wash the feet of the servants, the children and the disciples. And yet, Jesus loves them such that he casts off the titles of "Rabbi" and "Lord" as he casts off his outer garments to wash their feet.

Jesus has taught the disciples that they must be willing to die to themselves, to cast off their own needs and desires, in order to serve him. Here he begins to demonstrate for them what he means. They cannot fathom what it was for Jesus to abandon heaven for their salvation, but the can see him take on the humiliation of lowly service for their benefit. Later they will see him take on the humiliation of the cross and the agony of death for their benefit, but on this night, they are given only a glimpse of the whole.

There is another need here. They need to be washed. Jesus loves his own who are in the world, and those in the world are tainted by it. Jesus brings cleansing and healing. Yet one, despite physical washing, remains unclean. That brings us to what is for me, the most remarkable aspect of this passage: Jesus loves them such that serves his betrayer.

Betrayal is perhaps the worst thing a person can experience. Someone we love, someone who has shown love to us, turns against us and sets his heart on our destruction. How many of you have been betrayed? We all understand a little of this. And we all understand the struggle to forgive the ones who betray us. When someone has betrayed us, even on a small scale, it is almost impossible to be in a room with that person, to look at them and not be angry. And yet Jesus, in his perfect love, loves enough to kneel down in humility and take his betrayer’s feet lovingly in his hands, and wash him knowing that the washing still will not make Judas clean. Judas will not turn his heart from his plan and Jesus knows it. Yet he washes him anyway.

That’s a lot! And yet, there is more. This passage does not exist by itself; it points to the Crucifixion which would happen the following day. Jesus demonstrates that he loves them such that he follows through this course of events, not happily but nonetheless willingly, so that they may understand all mysteries and be brought at last into the Kingdom of God. He knows what events have been set in motion. He knows that Judas is to betray him. He knows that Peter, who he also washes, is to deny him. He knows that the others to whom he offers such intimate and humble service, will abandon him. He knows he will be tried, mocked, tortured, crucified and killed. He knows that he could call on legions of angels to stop these events, and yet, he sets his face towards the cross and proceeds forward. Greater love has no man than this.

This is an amazing love and an awesome service. But this is not a new thing. Jesus only does what he sees God the Father doing. The almighty creator of the universe, loves in this way. God, who is unchanging and holy, loves in this way now, as he did at the beginning of time and will forever more. Do you want evidence? Think of the Hebrews who railed against God in the wilderness, who denied God’s authority and holiness, "rebelling in the desert against the Most High." This is a betrayal, too. "They tested God in their hearts," says Psalm 78. They made demands. They railed against God. They doubted his ability to provide for them, though he had consistently filled their needs in miraculous ways. And in response? "He commanded the clouds above and opened the doors of heaven. He rained down manna upon them to eat and gave them grain from heaven. So mortals ate the bread of angels. He provided for them food enough."

Again, God is weaving a wonderful image here. Not only is Jesus providing the bread of heaven for his people in the Eucharist as God provided the manna in the wilderness, but he is providing for them in their sin and abandonment and betrayal, also as God did in the wilderness. Jesus is doing exactly as the Father does; he gives the bread of life (even eternal life) to those who are his own, though they continue to rebel against him.

And thus God loved the people of Israel. And thus Jesus loved the disciples. And God is unchanging, and Jesus does only as he sees God the Father doing. So it is clear that there is something in here for us. We who could never imagine forgiving a betrayer, see Jesus forgiving us for our betrayals and rebellion against him. Despite our sin and uncleanness, our broken-ness and rebellion, he takes us intimately in his hands and washes us. Then he sets us at his own table and offers us the bread of life. Yes, he makes a demand on us, that we should do as we see him doing; "If I, then, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet." But he also equips us for the task, prays for us, casts off heaven and glory and honor… for us. Jesus offers us cleansing and the bread of life, without regard to what our past looks like. He doesn’t offer to wash what is already clean. He comes to us, in our filth, to take us intimately in his hands and offer us cleansing so that we may have a part in him, a seat at his table, and a share in his kingdom. Will you, like Peter and the other disciples, submit to be washed?

08 April 2009

"Reproductive Choice" and Obamacare

The old argument promoting a woman’s supposed right to destroy her own vulnerable children while they remain in the womb is an interesting one in this modern age. Once upon a time frenetic pro-abortion women would rant that the government needed to keep its hands out of their wombs. The womb, they felt, was the ultimate privacy and the government should have no say over what procedures were inflicted upon their bodies. “My body, my choice” was a mantra, a rallying cry.

If there were no helpless human life at stake in this, I would agree with them. For that reason, I have to take note of a disturbing fallacy. For now, under the proposed government controlled health care plan, the state will have a right to refuse care to patients who they deem to be too expensive to treat. Mothers carrying Downs Syndrome children, those whose genetic risks are deemed too high, those who cannot sustain a pregnancy without medical intervention could be easily denied coverage or care. They would simply be denied their reproductive choice to continue a pregnancy. Why then, under a national health care plan, would a woman who has a correctable infertility problem believe that a country that thinks (wrongly) that the world is overpopulated already want to assist her? Would the government be as willing to provide care for a third pregnancy as for a first?

Already Americans are beginning to say that women don’t have the right to have as many children as they desire. People talk as if forced abortions and forced sterilizations China-style cannot happen in America. Forced abortions don’t have to happen. Already the government is attempting to gain control over every American woman’s womb, to place a dollar value on human life, and to take control of the most personal aspects of our daily living.

Liberals and conservatives alike should stand up against this invasion. If feminists mean what they say, stand shoulder to shoulder with conservatives and say no to government control over our reproductive care.