I’m a big fan of creative (and especially sung) Communion liturgies. In our church, we alternate Communion liturgies each month – one month straight out of the United Methodist Hymnal, and one month a creative (often sung) liturgy. This past Sunday, we sang. Here it is, for those of you interested!
This week, I was blessed to spend a few days with Bishop Peter Storey. Peter Storey is a Methodist pastor and the former bishop in the Methodist Church of South Africa. He is most well-known for his work to end apartheid, the harsh system of racial segregation, in South Africa. And while his work is incredible and worth sharing, it wasn’t easy or safe work. He was briefly the prison chaplain on Robbin Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned and tortured, and was threatened with imprisonment himself if he shared what he saw within those walls. He was put on trial by the apartheid regime, along with Desmond Tutu, for their activism to end apartheid. The secret police in South Africa called his home regularly to threaten his life, and they followed two of his sons everywhere and threatened them, as well.
And here he was, in Green Lake, Wisconsin, talking to us about reconciliation.
One of my colleagues asked Bishop Storey how he had been so brave to face these things during his career. How he had been able to stand up to authorities and fight for what he knew was right.
He laughed and said “well, sometimes what you call bravery others call stupidity.” But then, he really answered. He said, “I wasn’t afraid, because I was doing what I knew God would do, too. I knew they were acting out of fear, and I wouldn’t do the same.”
Fear is powerful. But fear is also a liar. That’s today’s basic truth: Fear is a liar. Continue reading
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.”
Jesus was killed in the middle of everything –
not off and away in some “sacred” space.
He didn’t hang between two candles
in the sanctuary-
He hung between two thieves
in the city dump.
A city that was so diverse
his sign had to be written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek.
The sort of place where cynics doubt,
and soldiers gamble.
This isn’t an embarrassment –
or, at least, it shouldn’t be.
It’s a message about where Jesus belongs:
out in the world,
not fenced behind “proper” things.
Jesus knew about real life,
about grit, and shame, and fear, and didn’t shy away from it-
he wanted his followers to do the same.
Even while in the process of dying,
he spoke words of love and welcome
to a thief.
Two thousand years later,
the Church commemorates this day
by looking at Jesus
hung between two candles in the sanctuary.
It’s safer there.
It’s more honorable.
But God belongs in the world,
filled with its grit and doubts and cursing and gambling,
because God lived – and died
– and rose –
for the world.
On this day, of all days,
let us not ignore the horror
let us not ignore the shame
let us not ignore the reality
of what happened that day.
Let us not ignore the horror
let us not ignore the shame
Let us not ignore the reality
of what happens in our world today.
If we spend our whole time
Keeping Jesus between our two candles,
trying to make an execution proper and worship-able,
Glorious and gorgeous and honorable,
we’ll forget where Jesus belongs –
with everyone else,
not just those of us who care about his honor.
After all, it was the religious people
who cared about honor
who killed Jesus the first time.
“I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”
Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another.
On that Thursday, that meant:
Feeding his friends
Protecting the reputation of his betrayer
Supporting the one who would deny him
Encouraging people to trust in God
Speaking words of peace
Speaking against vengeance
Comforting friends in distress
Praying for God’s guidance
Praying for the rest of the world
Reprimanding the use of violence
Love looks like a whole lot of different things.
Love doesn’t mean doing any specific thing,
but rather the way it’s done.
It’s the way we put others’ well-being ahead of ourselves –
because we trust that someone else will do the same for us.
It’s the way we spend our time making sure others are safe
rather than proving we are strong.
It’s the way we see people as whole, flawed, and worthwhile people –
and support them (and not hurt them) on their journey.
It’s hard to do on our own –
but much easier to do together, in a community.
It’s why prayer is a part of this list, too.
It’s impossible to love –
fully and completely love –
without trusting in God’s love of us.
If we don’t trust in God’s love,
none of this makes sense.
But when we see Jesus – the embodiment of God –
go willingly into that dark night,
care for those who would turn on him,
pray to the God he will fear abandoned him,
and speak against the very same violence he will suffer…
How could we dare do anything else?
This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.
Then one of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I turn Jesus over to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver. From that time on he was looking for an opportunity to turn him in.(Matthew 26:14-16)
It’s amazing what we are capable of doing
when we don’t get what we want.
During Holy Week, we always seem to wonder what it was
that caused Judas to turn on Jesus like that.
The work of the Devil, some say.
He was evil from the start, others contend.
We’ll never really know.
What we do know, though, is that right before he went to the chief priests,
he didn’t get what he wanted.
They were staying in Bethany, at Simon’s house,
when a woman came in with a pricy perfume and anointed Jesus.
“What a waste of money!” Judas had said.
“Give it to me so we can…care for the poor.”
(He was the treasurer, after all)
“What’s wrong with you?” Jesus had responded.
“She’s done a good thing. Don’t belittle her gift.”
Was Judas right?
Yes, some would argue. It’s good to give our extra to the poor.
But Jesus was right, too – of course –
by letting this woman express her love and gratitude.
“From that time on he was looking for an opportunity to turn him in.”
It seems ridiculous, that not getting what you want
would lead to planning an execution.
(eventually Judas thought so, too, but that’s another story)
But it’s ignorant for us to think we’re not complicit in the same.
We don’t kill others explicitly.
We live our lives.
We wonder why there’s so much violence in the world
and then elect politicians who advocate for more bombs.
We buy clothes made in sweat shops and shop for the cheapest coffee
so our pennies can go further (and we can get more stuff).
We wear jewelry with sparkly blood diamonds mounted in them
and throw away last year’s technology because it’s outdated and replaceable
even if the resources and abused children who made it are not.
We know that today’s sorrowful story ends with Easter.
We also know that we are Christ’s only body on earth now.
We who are made in the image of God,
we who are the salt of the earth and the light of the world,
are the only hands and feet Jesus has.
And still we take one life after another after another
to keep ourselves comfortable and happy and self-righteous…
On Friday we wonder, “How can they kill Jesus?”
Today, I am compelled to ask, “How can WE?”
PS – This reflection is based, in part, on the news that a fellow alumnus of Boston University’s School of Theology (and former classmate of David’s), Fr. Vincent Machozi, was assassinated early Monday morning. He was targeted because he used his voice (and the internet) to document the human rights abuses against the Nande people in Congo, in large part to exploit the rich coltan deposits of the area (coltan is a required mineral in nearly every cell phone and “smart” technology we own).
“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and didn’t do anything to help you?’ Then he will answer, ‘I assure you that when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these, you haven’t done it for me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment. But the righteous ones will go into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:44-46)
On Tuesday, Jesus spent the whole day talking.
He debated with the Pharisees,
told a few more confusing parables,
and talked about the fate of the temple.
He ended the day with a judgment on all the nations.
It was a long day.
A long day in which he told people to avoid being too busy.
Don’t be too busy to notice other people.
Don’t be in such a rush that you end up missing out.
Don’t schedule God around your life
(because God doesn’t work that way).
In all his teachings on Holy Tuesday,
Jesus told people to Chill. Out.
Take your time.
Really notice what’s around you.
Notice the workings of the Spirit.
Catch the glimmers of the Holy.
When we convince ourselves that we’re too busy for (fill in the blank),
we’ve shut out the chance to be moved, to be changed.
We’ve proclaimed that our plans are most important –
even if something (or someone) else arises.
How willing are we to change our plans –
or even more, have no plans at all?
Today, at some point, pause.
Take a break, and see (really SEE) what’s around you.
What might God be telling you
through the people you’ve seen?
The noises you hear?
Where is the Spirit moving today?
As the great theologian Ferris Bueller said,
“Life moves pretty fast.
If you don’t slow down and look around, you might miss it.”
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You who kill the prophets and stone those who were sent to you. How often I wanted to gather your people together, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you didn’t want that. Look, your house is left to you deserted. I tell you, you won’t see me until you say, Blessings on the one who comes in the Lord’s name.” (Matthew 23:37-39)
It’s heartbreaking to have our hopes dashed,
our hearts broken,
our dreams shattered apart.
Though, perhaps it’s reassuring – in some way – to know Jesus felt the same.
He had entered Jerusalem just yesterday –
to celebrate the Holy Week (of Passover),
excited to be a part of his community,
to bring people together,
to remind them whose they are.
And then he saw reality:
the businesspeople in the temple,
who gouged the worshipping travelers
and economically blocked them from worshipping God;
who made the law work in their favor
instead of God’s;
who thought themselves more holy than everyone else,
and kept others farther away.
All Jesus wanted was to bring people together.
Closer to each other, closer to God.
And yet, they didn’t want that.
They wanted to separate themselves –
everyone to their own kind –
everyone to fend for themselves.
What’s wrong with them?!?
…What’s wrong with us?
“I tell you, you won’t see me until you say, Blessings on the one who comes in the Lord’s name.”
We won’t see God – experience God’s kingdom – really understand God
until we put others ahead of ourselves.
Until we wonder, “who’s not at the table?”
instead of “what’s in it for us?”
Until we listen to those who say that they’re hurting
instead of thinking they’re faking it.
Until we ask “what do you need?”
instead of saying “we’ve always done it that way.”
The God we worship seeks connection.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.