Saturday, March 17, 2018

Dying to Live.

John 12:20-33
March 18, 2018


Jesus uses the arrival of some Greek-speaking Jews from the diaspora as an indication that his ministry is coming to its final fulfillment.  He knows that this is the Passover that will be his last in this mortal existence.  He is ready to talk now about what is going to happen to him and what it means.  This will be his theme pretty much for the rest of the gospel.

The center and summary of this is an illustration: “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  When a grain of wheat is planted in the earth, it does not literally die in the sense of being annihilated or destroyed.  It dies in the sense of losing its existence as a single, individual, isolated seed.  It loses its identity.  It stops being a seed.  

But it becomes something else.  Through this figurative death it opens up into a new kind of life, a life that was embedded and encoded in it from the beginning.  It breaks apart, sprouts, and becomes a plant, pushing up through the soil.  It becomes a form of life that is structurally and apparently very different from the seed.  One is a closed unit encased in a shell; the other an expanding, tall, growing, green stalk with leaves.  But there is an essential continuity between the two.  We don’t have a plant without the seed, and the seed’s whole reason for being is to become a plant, which, when it matures, bears many new seeds.

Then the Lord rather bluntly and directly interprets the image. “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  It is phrased somewhat awkwardly because he is communicating a mystery beyond human language and reason.  But if this were easy to talk about people like me would be out of a job.

Jesus is saying that humans are like seeds.  We are self-contained, more or less independent individuals.  But if we are so dedicated to this existence we have and know now that we seek and connive at all costs to preserve and protect it, we are like a seed that refuses to be planted.  Seeds can stay seeds for a time; but eventually their potency wanes and they start to rot, or they get consumed by a bird or a squirrel.  If they do not “die” by being planted in the ground they do not achieve their purpose, which is to transform into a plant to make more seeds.  A seed that loves its own existence this much, loses it altogether.

But the seed that is not satisfied and is frustrated with being just a seed, and seeks instead to be buried alive in the soil and, in effect, die?  Well, that is the seed that changes, sprouts, grows, and explodes with more new seeds.

The Lord is saying that just as the Creator engineers the planet in such a way that death may become a way to change into a new and amazingly more productive form of life, so it is with us humans.  If we “die” by giving up and losing the life we know now, God has ordained that we not perish, but receive a whole new, different but continuous life.  He calls this “eternal life,” to distinguish it from the temporal existence we consciously currently know.


The seed is the person we think we are.  It is our ego-centric self that we have always thought was our whole and only self.  It is who we unconsciously take ourselves to be.  It is who everyone has always told us we are. It is the life we identify with and seek at all costs to preserve, protect, extend, enjoy, and make as comfortable as possible.

This is the mode of existence towards which Jesus recommends we act in a completely counter-intuitive way.  The word he uses is “hate.”  He means not so much emotional violence as he is underscoring our need to let this go.  We need to reject it as our idea of the sum total of who we are.  This self-image needs to die.  He is not recommending self-hatred so much as a recognition that this view of ourselves is wrong.  It is a kind of prison.  It limits us.  It deludes us into thinking we are small, disconnected, independent, vulnerable, and temporary.  And thinking that way about ourselves has terrible and destructive consequences.  It means we react to these perceived circumstances in fear, anger, and shame.

When we think of ourselves this way it doesn’t just hurt us, individually.  Because we all do this, it means that we are engineering our whole world according to a false and incomplete understanding of who we are.  We create institutions that serve and promote our fears.  We project our anger onto others.  We allow our shame to fester into hatred.  All of this spawns the classical sins like greed, gluttony, and lust.  And it all decays even further into evil catastrophes of injustice and violence, like war, torture, and slavery.  

Jesus is saying that this all happens because we forget who we truly are, and what is really inside of us.  We are unaware of what we are originally meant to be.  That is something that is not fully revealed to us until our little, fearful seed existence is recognized, and given up, and in some sense dies, so that our true and ultimate life may emerge.  The seed has to fall and be buried in the soil and crack open so it can become something new.  It has to die.

Much of Christianity is about bringing people to this realization.  This is what baptism is about.  Baptism is a figurative dying and being reborn.  We’re acting out the way a seed goes down into the soil by going down into the water.  We have lost the visual/experiential piece, since we don’t usually baptize by immersion like the early church.  But the point is the death of the old self and the emergence of the new.  It becomes the spiritual journey of the Christian to live into this realization. 

It is not about hating ourselves; it is about loving who we truly are so much that we are willing to relinquish the prison of who we only think we are. 


Then Jesus says, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.  Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.”  The eternal life he is talking about is a life of discipleship and service.  The more completely the old, small, false, ego-centric self dissolves, the more we see that who we truly are is at one with the God who becomes flesh to dwell among us in Jesus, the Son of Man, the One who shows us our true humanity.  In this realization we see that we are at the same time at one with everything and all people.  To serve Christ is to serve others which is to serve our Self, our deepest most original Self, the place where we and God and creation all come together.  God honors this kind of service.

This service is epitomized in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in which we also serve Christ and each other.  This as well is an image or representation of a larger Way of life in which we mutually give and receive.  We give what we have and receive what we need.  That is God’s economic model.  Take, bless, break, and give: those are the movements of the Sacrament.

The point of the new life of the seed as a plant is growth and multiplication.  If the seed dies, says Jesus, it bears much fruit.  A plant produces from one seed many, many seeds.  A head of a mature wheat plant has 20-50 grains of wheat on it.  From one apple seed grows a tree that can produce as many as 1000 apples a year.  One acorn can grow a tree producing 10,000 acorns in a season.

God made life to grow, to produce, and to benefit all.  Christ is the original grain of wheat who dies and is lifted up in new life; he is the vine and we are the branches channeling his energy into new life.  He is the produce, the bread and the wine of the Sacrament, which represent his life, God’s love, poured out for us.  He, his love, is our produce; he is what we serve others; he is what we become together.  He is what we enable and encourage others to become.  

If we are not bearing fruit, could it be because we are like the seed that  doesn’t want to die?  Are we caught in that troubled place where we are avoiding what Jesus calls “this hour,” the hour of his death?  Are we just content to remain as seeds, unaware of our potential?  Unconscious of the truth that we are made for eternal life?  Are we by default therefore choosing eternal death?


Jesus says things like “Those who hate their life will keep it for eternal life” to shock us.  He is not advocating self-punishment or suicide.  He wants to disrupt our complacency and get us to think in a different way.  He wants us to envision a better world together, and start living in it.

He is saying that our real life is bigger and better than we can imagine, and that by following in his way of humility, generosity, forgiveness, and acceptance, it can be realized in us and among us.  But we have to give up the false way of selfishness, competition, injustice, suspicion, and acquisition.  We have to give up the idea that we are independent entities, and start to see and live in our connectedness in and with everyone and everything, and even in God.  

That starts here.  Eternal life starts in this gospel community, where we start living according to Jesus’ commandments of love and justice, peace and joy.  Eternal life starts at this table where we gather to remember how he gives his life for the life of the world.  As we share in the Lord’s Body and Blood, we become him, and, taking on his ministry of love and service become one with others and one with God.


Eternal Life Means Living Now.

John 3:13-21
March 11, 2018


“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”  It is the most famous and loved verse in the New Testament.  I learned it when I was about 4. For many if not most Christians, it is the gospel.

This verse tells us first of all that God’s relationship to the world is one of Lover.  God loves the whole world and everything in it.  God is love.  God cherishes and caresses and values everything that God has made.  God is this outpouring of joy and delight, fullness and peace, communion and welcome in which everyone and everything is included and integrated.  God is the Light that shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.  God’s energy infuses and charges everything.  

The world itself, the whole creation, is an overflowing of God’s love, spoken into being in the beginning.  God is the Giver who is ever pouring out light and love, goodness and blessing, which condenses into the matter and energy of creation: stars, planets, the Earth, life, and people; it is all an expression of divine generosity and abundance.  God is the Source, Guide, and Goal of all that is.  It is all very good.

God’s love for the world is fully and finally revealed and completed in the giving of God’s own Self in the form of the Son, the Word through whom all things were made, made flesh in Jesus Christ, the Truly Human One, the sacrificial Lamb who takes away all our human delusions of separation and independence, the One who is lifted up to show once and for all the Way of God, which is self-emptying, being sent, being given, being offered, in order to be raised up in eternal life.

God sends him into the world so that all may share in God’s life and be saved, so that all may see and know the truth of God’s love, so that all may be real and connected.  In this God sets the pattern for us to imitate and follow to participate in the fountain of love at the heart of all things, which is always a dying and a rising, always a release and an ascent, always a letting go and a rising up.  This is the dance of life itself.  

Real life means participating in this pattern and placing our whole- hearted trust in the only Son whom God gave to the world out of love.  This means that if we really want to live, then we need to follow the One who is lifted up — first on the cross, then in his resurrection and ascension.  If we do that, not only will we know what it is to live, but we will live forever.  We will never die.  

This is what we are about.  This is the good news we have for folks.  This is our invitation.  It is a paradox.  Some say it is a contradiction.  We are basically inviting people to die so that they will never die.  It doesn’t make any conventional logical sense.  It expresses a bigger and deeper truth beyond and beneath the things we think are true and the way we think the world is.  To follow him is to die to our false idea of the world and ourselves, and be reborn in the truth of God’s love. 


The church has always emphasized the word “believe” in this verse.  It says that the way we participate in what God is doing is by “believing” in the One in Whom God is doing it: Jesus Christ.  

But we have allowed that word to be completely neutralized and rendered utterly inert by reducing “believe” to a mere matter of having a cognitive opinion that at most means that we say some words.  As if we only need to say out-loud that you have this opinion and you’re done.  Jesus does everything else.

But “believe” means far more than this.  Having a conviction and being able to articulate it is not unimportant.  We do have to confess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  At the same time, believe means follow.  Having a “lord” means a relationship of obedience and submission.  You act differently.  This is not just something we think in our minds, but something we do with our bodies too.  Believing is participatory; it is immersive; we do it with our whole self.  We identify with and become the One in whom we believe.  

That’s why I prefer the word “trust.”  It is one thing to have an opinion about the safety of a rope bridge over a chasm, it is another to trust the bridge with our life by actually starting across it.  Jesus invites us on a journey.  The early church calls itself the Way because they sense they are going somewhere.  Jesus calls players onto the field, not fans to watch from the bleachers.    

This verse means that everyone who follows Jesus Christ, everyone who lives according to his life and commandments, everyone who participates in him and in this pattern he establishes of being sent, given, poured out, and lifted up through suffering and death into life, will not perish but will live forever.  Everyone who gives up their old, false, blind, lame existence will emerge with a new, true life in God’s light that starts now and lasts always.  Death becomes not an end, but a passage.     

The only way to prove this is to do it.  It is to realize that we are not our old self, and to separate ourself from it, and stop identifying with it, and identify instead with the love of God poured out for the world in Jesus Christ.  

That’s why Jesus uses that odd story from the Book of Numbers about the image of a snake that Moses puts on a pole so that the people were able to be healed from snakebite by looking at.  So also people are healed of their old selves’ addiction to death by integrating the lifting up of Jesus in his death and resurrection.  We become aware of both the murderous and ghastly consequences of our ego-centric, fearful violence, inflicted even upon the loving God, as we see in gory detail what we and our systems do to people.  This is what our fear and anger, our hatred and greed, our lust and gluttony do to life.  This is what we are however unconsciously spawning in the world by our participation in evil.  The cross ought to shock us into revulsion over what we have allowed ourselves to become.


And at the same time we see that horror neutralized and disarmed in its subsequent resolution into glorious, resurrection life.  That life — eternal life — the life of the resurrection — is the ultimate realization of this passage and the center of Christian faith.  

Unfortunately, we have managed to distort and cripple this reality as well, reducing it to something that only happens either after we die or at the end of time.  The possibility of knowing eternal life now is discounted even though it is the whole point of Jesus’ ministry.  We have twisted it into merely our “heavenly reward” after death for our having the right theological opinion.  

But Jesus means much more than that by the term eternal life.  Eternal life is the way Jesus talks in John’s gospel about the Kingdom of God.  We don’t know it fully while we are in this mortal body, but in and through him by his Spirit we are able to see and participate in, and anticipate, eternal life even today on this side of death.  We begin to know it in the community of disciples we gather with in Jesus name to share in his Body and Blood, by which we ingest his life and become him.

Eternal life means living now in the consciousness of our integration into God and God’s creation.  It means identifying with Christ, and therefore with both God and with all people, as Christ is the Word made flesh, truly God and truly human.  Eternal life is an experience of holy oneness with everything God has made; it is profound joy in God’s goodness.  Eternal life is to fall on our knees in awestruck gratitude just for the privilege of being alive and conscious in a creation that is saturated with miracles.  It means that when our mortal frame finally does give out and return to its elements, we also merge into the light and love that is the deepest substance of everything, the Word by Whom all things were made, and we are free.

Eternal life means living now in this consciousness, and therefore in compassion and thanksgiving, unity and equality, joy and wonder, forgiveness and acceptance with everyone and everything, cultivating that kind of life with others in the gospel community.  It means being leaven that flavors all of human society and bends it however subtly ever more towards justice and non-violence, generosity and service.  It means walking lightly on the earth, seeing the humor in everything, and lifting up the lowest while gently bringing down those perched on pedestals.  It means dancing with laughter and delight in the light of God’s love.


We are living in what is called the “post-truth” world.  That means that the former consensus about what it true has broken down, and people are finding and inventing their own convenient truths to live by, most of which are just self-serving fantasies that will come crashing down when they hit the wall of reality.  

We know that the one truth that can be depended on is summed up in this verse.  This truth does not belong to us.  It does not exclude anyone — though many exclude themselves by choosing the darkness of fear and hatred.  And our response to them is always and only love.  Because if this verse is true, we have to be the proof.  We have to be the living proof of God’s love for the world, finally fulfilled in the giving of God’s only Son.  We have to be the living proof that in following, trusting, obeying, and believing together the self-expression of God in Jesus Christ, we begin now to live forever.


Saturday, March 3, 2018

"Stop Making My Father’s House a Market-place!"

John 2:13-25
March 4, 2018


Passover is the annual celebration of the Israelites’ liberation by God from slavery in Egypt.  One thing we can never forget is that both Jewish and Christian faith begins with a bunch of liberated slaves.  Passover remembers this and so does Easter, which is the Christian re-imagining and re-presenting of Passover.  Authentic spiritual life in general is a passage from bondage to freedom, from darkness to light, and from death to life.  It is a movement from one kind of existence to a new kind of life.  

God codifies this liberation movement in the Torah, which includes the laws about how to live in freedom, and the rituals designed to maintain that freedom.  All of which opens us to this new life in God, and forecloses on that old existence in slavery under Pharaoh.  

The central act of the Passover is a holy meal.  In Jesus’ time, this involves the slaughter of a lamb which is then eaten with unleavened bread, wine, and herbs, in family groups, with appropriate prayers and readings.  The point is to actively remember God’s liberating action in the exodus in such a way that the people would maintain that freedom in their present lives, generation after generation.  It was so they would not decline back into slavery.   

But over time people tend to lose sight of the real goal and purpose of stories and rituals; we forget why we’re keeping these laws and doing these ceremonies.  We still read them, but their meaning and purpose is not actualized in our real lives.  And if we’re not diligent and careful we slide back into bondage, darkness, ignorance, and death.  We gravitate back to the routine of making bricks for Pharaoh, only now we think we’re liberated.

In this story we hear about Jesus’ first trip during his ministry to Jerusalem for Passover.  He goes to the Temple, and he discovers there “people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables.” 

Everything they were doing in the Temple made perfect, logical, practical, religious, and economic sense.  It was all about helping this huge mass of people, many of whom had traveled great distances, keep the law and the rituals to the letter and have a positive Passover experience.  In order to get to the holy meal, people had to pass through several gauntlets of exchange.  First they had to change their foreign money into Temple currency, then they had to use that to pay their tax and buy an animal for their sacrifice.  And of course, sellers had to make a profit on this, that was only fair.

But what Jesus sees is that the holy meal of freedom at the core of the Passover, had been turned into a market.  Instead of liberation, what happened is what always happens when ownership and inequality, and supply and demand, are introduced: exploitation. 

Jesus’ response is to make a whip and start releasing the animals, perhaps so at least this Passover would be about liberating someone from bondage.  He also dumps over the cash boxes and overturns the tables of the money-changers.  And he says, “Get these things out of here!  Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!” fulfilling a prophecy of Zechariah about traders being cast out of the Temple.  


When interrogated by the authorities, Jesus offers a sign to them.  “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” he says.  But he is not talking about the magnificent, gleaming, white stone edifice that, they remind him, took two generations of workers to build.  He means his body.  For he is himself the new and true Temple, though nobody got that at the time.  He is himself the place where God and humanity, Creator and creation, come together.  

The following year Jesus does not go to Jerusalem for Passover.  Instead he gathers a crowd of people around him on a hillside in Galilee.  When they get hungry he does not send them to buy food from sellers; how could he when the year before in the Temple he rejects the market-based approach?  No.  He feeds them himself.  And then talks at length about how he, his body and his blood, are the real bread of life; anyone who eats of this “bread” will live forever.  By “bread” he means his words, his teachings which “are spirit and life.”

The year after that he does go back to Jerusalem for Passover.  And this time he himself becomes, as John predicts, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” by giving up his life, shedding his own blood, and dying on the cross.  He becomes the sacrifice, which is what happens in temples, as his life is given for the life of the world.  And when he is resurrected in three days he breathes his Spirit upon his disciples, which in effect makes them temples as well.    

All of which tells us that Jesus is not just a Temple reformer, as if everything would be fine if they could just institute stricter regulations.  Jesus is a Temple replacer.  In chapter 4 he will proclaim that the worship of God does not happen on particular mountains, like the one in Jerusalem on which the Temple was built.  But worship will happen, he says, “in Spirit and in truth." 

What Jesus is getting at here is that we do not need to transport our bodies to particular earth coordinates to experience God’s liberating life.  That just turns it into an artificially scarce commodity that people will be tempted to regulate and sell access to.  If we want to know the freedom we have in God we will find it in Jesus Christ by keeping his commandments together.  His body is the new and real Temple.  And “we are the body of Christ,” Paul says, “and individually members of him.”  This new community that gathers in the Spirit that Jesus gives, this is the real Temple, this is the real place where God dwells, this is the real place of reconciliation.  This is the place of real liberation, forgiveness, healing, compassion, justice, and love.


The gathering of disciples in the Spirit of Jesus will not have the dynamics and structure of a marketplace, which too often is about artificial scarcity, false inequality, and exploitation of the haves over the have-nots.  It will have the dynamics and structure of a holy meal, the epitome of which perhaps is the Passover.  This is why Jesus often uses the image of a heavenly banquet when he talks about the Kingdom of God.  At this banquet God provides and the people share together and receive what they need.

What is the difference between a market and a meal?  In a market the food is on tables; on one side of the table is the buyer and on the other side is the seller, and one gives money to the other to receive the food.  In a meal the food is still on the table but there are no buyers or sellers.  Everyone sits around the table, taking food from the table and passing it around.  Everyone gets fed; no one stores up more than they need.  It is a sharing model.

This is why Christian worship has always been a meal: the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  We gather around a Table and share together in “the gifts of God for the people of God.”  This is why Christians have always had at the center of their congregational life something as ordinary and practical as the “potluck supper” in which everyone who can brings something and everyone who is hungry eats something… and there is always food left over!  This is why Christians, who pray “give us this day our daily bread” have from the beginning understood that “us” to include everyone, and so have always been involved in food distribution, and even extended it into wealth redistribution, in obedience of Jesus’ teachings and example.

The early church, and many subsequent monastic communities, took this to its moral consequence.  When you join the gathering of disciples you donate all your wealth to the group, which is then distributed to all, and even beyond the group, as needed.  Thus they extend the eucharistic/potluck principle beyond food to everything.  Everything is a gift from God to be shared.  The issue in stewardship is never one of “How much of my stuff should I give back to God?” but “How much of God’s stuff can I justify keeping to myself?”

Now, in the Spirit of Jesus Christ breathed upon the disciples, because he is the Temple of God, each one of us, and each congregation, and the whole body of disciples around the world in in every age, is the Temple of God.  We are the place where God and humanity, Creator and creation, come together.  We become by grace what Jesus is by nature: fully human, made in the Image of God.  Nothing less than that is what Jesus calls us to live into.


Now, I know what kind of a world we exist in.  I know that it is market-based to the extreme.  This has spawned breathtaking inequalities, sickening violence, and deep anxiety and depression.  I know that there is no avoiding participating in this.  

But our participation has to be… subversive.  It has to be mitigating.  It has to refuse to live by the greed and gluttony the system demands.

As the gathered disciples of Jesus Christ, we have to become the Temple; we have to be a living witness to God’s generosity and abundance, forgiveness, liberation, and deliverance.  We are his body in the world, witnessing to the freedom we are given from all ego-centric, selfish, exclusive, extractive, and consuming bondage.  May our life together be a manifestation of the open and “joyful feast of the people of God.”


Saturday, February 24, 2018

Death Therapy.

Mark 8:31-38
February 25, 2018


The spiritual life is not easy.  Nothing worth doing ever is.  That’s because anything worth doing is an aspect of the spiritual life.  Anything worth doing is a matter of growth, whether it be learning a skill, a language, a musical instrument….  If we haven’t grown in a given day, if we haven’t learned anything or gotten better at something…. If we haven’t become more open to wonder and compassion and joy….  Even while driving a car, even in just the mundane conversations we have at work or at home, even sleeping… if we haven’t used the time we have as an opportunity to learn and grow in gratitude and awareness, then that time was wasted.  To have value, everything we think, say, and do has to be an aspect of the spiritual life, which is to say, it has to be a part of our growing into who we truly are, and a letting go of the false self we only think we are.

That is the only journey that is important or significant in life.  That is why we are here on the earth; indeed it is why the earth itself is here.  It is that we may grow together in love, and in joy, peace, justice, and goodness, and see the unity of all things in God who made them and us.  It is to break down the barriers, screens, walls, curtains, and fences — in our hearts and minds, and then in our world —  that separate us from our true nature, that keep us from being the blessed and good beings God creates us to be. 

What we call the spiritual life is the process of becoming who we really are, which necessarily involves the death of who we just think we are.  Who we think we are is an illusion we maintain by a huge investment of our energy.  If we cut off the flow of that energy and let who we think we are go — indeed, die — then who we really are may emerge.

Faith starts with this vague and often irrational suspicion that there is something wrong.  Something isn’t right.  Something is off.  Something isn’t working.  The traditional language and story about this talks about the Fall and human sinfulness, right?  The world we know is not the world as God made it because something terrible happened that messed everything up.  We are born into existence only knowing the messed-up version of things, in which we fully and unconsciously participate.  Most of us remain for our entire time here completely unaware that the world could be any other way.

The first thing Jesus says when he starts his ministry is to plant in our souls the possibility of a different world called “the Kingdom of God,” which is very near, in fact it is already here within, among, around us.  He proceeds to spend his entire career trying to wake people up to this very present, but unknown to almost everybody, reality.  He preaches, he teaches, he heals, he feeds, he liberates… and it’s all about demonstrating to people that it doesn’t have to be the way we think it has to be.  He keeps poking holes in people’s delusions, allowing brief glimpses into a different reality.  He shows people how to live in tune with this reality.  He sets up communities where people live together according to his vision.  He gives us commandments by which we can at least fake it ’til we make it, because if we act according to the truth, we will eventually see the truth.


Finally, he goes up against our last and greatest enemy, death itself, the ultimate generator of all our fear and manufacturer of all our delusions.  By himself giving up his life and dying he neutralizes death, and he reveals this whole other life on the other side of it.  Which is the life he has been showing us all along, this Kingdom of God, and to which he has been inviting us, which is already here, available, and open.

He shows that death is not a barrier into which we crash and burn, snuffing our life forever.  It is a portal through which we finally pass into God’s Kingdom, to the extent that we have learned to see and live in that Kingdom, now.  That is, if we give up our old selves and in a sense die, we emerge as our new, original selves, and live forever.

The message of this passage, which is one of the core parts of Marks’ gospel, is that we have to take seriously the death of our old selves that is required to see and know who we truly are.  In verse 29, Peter recognizes and identifies Jesus as the Messiah, but when Jesus tells them in verse 31 that he is going to suffer and die when then get to Jerusalem, Peter shows that he didn’t really understand the Messiah thing at all.  Which is why Jesus instructs him to keep quiet about it, because if Peter didn’t get it, no one else certainly would.  Jesus goes so far as to identify Peter with no less than Satan!  It is the influence of the Evil One that deludes us into thinking that our old selves don’t have to die.  That is to set the mind on “human things,” which is to say, products of our old, ego-centric selves.

Then the Lord calls everyone over and lays it out in no uncertain terms.  “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”  To become who we truly are is not a matter of making a few technical adjustments here and there, and making a few course corrections.  Still less is it just confessing Jesus as your Savior, which Peter does and only gets called “Satan!” for it!

This is about discipleship, which is taking up a cross.  A cross of course is a device the Romans used to torture traitors to death.  It was excruciatingly painful and humiliating.  “Take up your cross” is a way of saying “Prepare to die.”  More than that, it is “Prepare to have everything you ever thought you were exposed, shredded, and extinguished.”  

Jesus doesn’t want anyone getting the wrong idea.  He doesn’t want people falling into the delusion Peter just fell into, of imagining that a mere verbal affirmation of Jesus as Messiah will exempt us from all discomfort and inconvenience and loss.  

This is about losing what we think of as our life.  Transformation doesn’t happen on this side of death.  The Way of Jesus is to die.  The point of new life is not the avoidance of death but the passage through it, something that starts to happen now.  

So, while we are still living in these mortal bodies we have to experience the very real death of our old, small, false ideas of ourselves, so that when our physical organisms do finally give out we will already know who and whose we are.  If we die now we won’t have to die later because we will be in contact with our true life which is beyond the power of death.


Jesus’ words here beg the question about, well, who would join such a faith community?  Who would sign up for what may appear to be a suicide cult?  Take up a cross?  Seriously?  Who does that?    

You don’t come to this place without some recognition that your old existence has become intolerable.  People do not change unless the pain of staying the same is judged to be less than the pain of changing.  If our current approach to life is working fine for us, this Jesus thing probably isn’t for you.  “You have received your reward,” Jesus says to such people quite ominously.  

If the good news of the Kingdom of God threatens rather than thrills you, because you’re perfectly fine with the world as it is, then the idea of giving up anything to get it is ridiculous.  But it also means that anyone who is wealthy, popular, and powerful now only got that way by feeding off the misery of others.  They are the beneficiaries of an unjust and violent system.  They have no use for the Kingdom of God.

But Jesus does not preach death, but life.  When he talks about his own prospects in Jerusalem, he indeed says he will suffer and die “and after three days rise again.”  He says, yes, we are called to lose our lives, but only to “save" them.  We yearn for when the Son of Man “comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”  Jesus is about opening us up to the true, good, eternal, and beautiful.  The only way to get there is for what is false, evil, temporal, and ugly in us to die.  It is the death of the unreal in us which opens us up to the real.

The Way of Jesus, so much of which has to do with the self-denial he talks about here, the losing, abstaining, renouncing, and giving up things, especially prevalent in this season of Lent, is really a profound form of self-love.  By self-denial he means saying no to whatever is keeping us trapped in our small, false, fearful, violent, sad, angry, selfish ways of thinking about ourselves.  He means saying no to whatever is making us enemies, rivals, and competitors of each other.  He means saying no to our prisons and addictions and cancers which we inflict on ourselves and therefore on others.  He means saying no to the hate throttling our souls.  

For by saying no to what is killing us, we say yes to our true life, our deepest and best nature as beings created in the Image of God.  Communion with God and each other and all creation is our purpose which emerges in the immolation of the sour lies that dominate our existence.  The point is removing the blockages and obstacles in our hearts so that the love at the core of who we truly are may emerge and sprout and blossom and bear fruit in lives of compassion, forgiveness, acceptance, non-violence, and joy.


Jesus says, “Those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”  In other words, those who let go of their old, small, false existence for the sake of following the Way of Jesus, and for the sake of his good news that God’s Kingdom is here, will see their own true lives emerge in grace and glory.  They will live in love without fear, in peace without rage, and in joy without shame.  They will be a blessing to all, the light of the world, from whom truth and goodness radiates in all this broken world.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.  He said all this quite openly.  And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.  But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan!  For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.  For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?  Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?  Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Hopes' Liturgies for the Season of Lent 2018

The Service for the Lord’s Day 
The Season of Lent

2/18 1 Lent
2/25 2 Lent
3/4 3 Lent
3/11 4 Lent
3/18 5 Lent
3/25 Palm/Passion


2/18, 2/25, 3/4, 3/11, 3/18 (On 3/25 the service begins differently; see below)

Gathering Music:
(Welcome & Announcements) 
Entrance Song: “Kum Ba Yah” (verse 1) 338/472
Call to Worship 

Blessed is the Kingdom,
of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
both now and forever,
and unto the ages of ages.

Opening Prayer

God of grace:
unto whom all hearts are open,
from whom no secrets are hid,
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts 
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit
that we may perfectly love you
and worthily magnify your holy name.

Filling the Baptismal Font 

The celebrant fills the font with water and says one of the following.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus 
were baptized into his death? 
Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, 
so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, 
so we too might walk in newness of life. Romans 6:3, 4

Remember your baptism, and be thankful!


2/18 “Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days” 81/166
2/25 “Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley” 80/insert
3/4 “How Firm a Foundation” 361/463
3/11 “Hope of the World” 360/734
3/18 “Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me” 366/703
Prayer for Wholeness 


God of abundance:
you lead us into the desert.
Let our desire for always more
be satisfied by your Word alone.
Let our drive for more power
be released in our obedience to you.
Let our schemes for fame and approval
dissolve in our desire only to follow you.
In this season
turn our hearts away from what we may gain and acquire.
For our true worth is found in what we lose
so that, empty of distractions and obstructions,
your love may pour through us
in Jesus Christ.


God of silence:
in this season we confront ourselves.
We exist in a network of lies
of our own invention
separating us from you,
from others, and from our true selves.
We cower in fear, 
paralyzed by suspicion and dark fantasies.
We lash out in anger
with violent words and actions.
We hide in shame,
stoking hatreds over imagined assaults.
Let us turn our hearts to you
ever open to your saving love
revealed in Jesus.
Let your love, peace, and joy
overflow in our hearts.
May we be agents of your Truth.


Great God of power:
We admit to our anger
boiling in our bellies
in righteous indignation
pouring out in violence
of word and act.
We express it in unchained desire
that consumes and wastes
nature and people.
We deny it 
so it festers in our hearts
paralyzing us in silent rage.
We repress it in a self-righteous resentment
and condemning perfectionism.
We want to make a better world
by our own strength and will…
which only makes the world worse,
a wasteland of dashed hopes
and broken dreams. 
And we languish in the smoking ruin
of a world we destroyed in order to save.
O God, our Creator,
have mercy on us.


God of goodness and love:
We admit to our shame
twisting our hearts
in neediness and grief,
craving attention and affection
in which it is all about us.
We repress it by glomming on to others 
to make them need us.
We deny it by dedicating ourselves 
to success and distracting achievement.
We express it in a deluded individualism
aglow with our own specialness and independence.
Addicted to approval
we forget who we are,
becoming what we think will sell.
And our own emptiness
threatens to consume us. 
We corrupt love into a commodity,
and lose our own souls.
O God, our Creator,
have mercy on us.


God of light:
We admit that we are in darkness
and trapped in fear. 
We cower in an anxiety
causing us to placate and protect
against the unknown.
We express our fear by hoarding
and building unassailable walls of knowledge.
We repress it in schemes of insurance
and selling ourselves in loyalty to protectors.
We deny it by filling our time
with distracting new and better experiences.
Finally “safe” we dissolve in loneliness,
behind and within a thick and complex net,
choked and strangled
by what we can’t release.
We whimper in an impenetrable darkness
of our own making.
O God, our Creator,
have mercy on us.

(The service continues with the Kyrie, below.)


The people gather in the narthex with palm branches.

*Opening Prayer

We praise you, O God, 
for your redemption of the world through Jesus Christ. 
Today he entered the holy city of Jerusalem in triumph 
and was proclaimed Messiah and king 
by those who spread garments and branches along his way. 
Let these branches be signs of his victory, 
and grant that we who carry them 
may follow him in the way of the cross, 
that, dying and rising with him, 
we may enter into your kingdom; 
through Jesus Christ, 
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, 
now and forever.  Amen.

*Proclamation of the Entry Into Jerusalem  

The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
   the King of Israel!’ 
Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written: 
‘Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.
Look, your king is coming,
   sitting on a donkey’s colt!’ 
His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify. It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. The Pharisees then said to one another, ‘You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!’ John 12:12-19
*Procession with Palms:  “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” 88/196

The people process into the Sanctuary.

Welcome & Announcements

Filling the Baptismal Font

Do you not know that all of us 
who have been baptized into Christ Jesus 
were baptized into his death? 
Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, 
so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead 
by the glory of the Father, 
so we too might walk in newness of life. Romans 6:3, 4

Remember your baptism, and be thankful!

*Hymn: “Ride On, Ride On In Majesty!     91/198

Prayer for Wholeness

Talk is cheap.
It is easy to placate you with promises, O God,
We agree to go,
But then we stay.
We promise to do as you say,
Then we do as we please.
We welcome you on Sunday,
And we abandon you by Friday.
We expect a reward for our fine, faithful words,
While we hope you don’t see our sorry, selfish actions.
Yet your arms reach out to embrace us, even on the cross,
Ready to receive us when we finally do turn to you.
When you send us into the world with good news:
Help us to trust in you and to obey.

Kyrie: “Lord, Have Mercy” ——/579

Invocation of the Trinity

O Holy God, you dwell among us, 
worshiped by all the heavenly powers. 
You have brought all things out of nothing into being. 
You have created man and woman in your image and likeness 
and adorned them with all the gifts of grace. 
You give wisdom and understanding to those who ask,
and have established repentance as the way of salvation. 
You have enabled us to offer to you due worship and praise. 
Master, accept our prayers  
and visit us in your goodness. 
Forgive our voluntary and involuntary transgressions, 
sanctify our souls and bodies, 
and grant that we may worship and serve you 
in holiness all the days of our lives.
Amen. Eastern Orthodox, alt.

*Gloria: “Holy God, We Praise Your Name” (verse 4) 460/4

TF *Procession of the Word

A child processes into the Sanctuary carrying a Bible, as the people sing the Gloria.
*The Peace

Christ is in the midst of us.
He is and ever shall be.
May the grace and peace of Christ our God be with all of you.
And also with you.

LW  Stewardship Talking Point 

2/18 Simplicity
2/25 Generosity
3/4 Honesty
3/11 Hospitality
3/18 Compassion
3/25 Receptivity

The people exchange words and signs of God’s peace.

*Spiritual: “I’m Gonna Live So God Can Use Me” (verse 1) 369/700


TF (Our young disciples continue worship and learning downstairs.)

Prayer for Understanding

Enlighten our hearts and minds by your Word, O God.
Open our eyes to the truth of your saving love, 
revealed in Scripture,
Move our legs to walk in your way of peace.
Open our hands to do your work,
and our arms to welcome others in your name.
For you are the enlightening of our souls and bodies, 
O Christ our God, 
and to you we give glory, now and forever.  

Hebrew Scriptures

2/18 Genesis 9:8-17
2/25 Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
3/4 Exodus 20:1-17
3/11 Numbers 21:4-9
3/18 Jeremiah 31:31-34
3/25 Isaiah 50:4-9a


2/18 “Lord, to You My Soul Is Lifted”  Psalm 25:1-10 178/420


You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
   stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! 
For he did not despise or abhor
   the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
   but heard when I cried to him. 
From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
   my vows I will pay before those who fear him. 
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
   those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
   May your hearts live for ever! 
All the ends of the earth shall remember
   and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
   shall worship before him. 
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
   and he rules over the nations. 
To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
   before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
   and I shall live for him. 
Posterity will serve him;
   future generations will be told about the Lord, 
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
   saying that he has done it.  Psalm 22:23-31

3/4 TF “God’s Law Is Perfect and Gives Life”  Psalm 19 167/——
LW “Your Law, O Lord, Is Perfect” Psalm 19 ——/61

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
   for his steadfast love endures for ever. 
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
   those he redeemed from trouble 
and gathered in from the lands,
   from the east and from the west,
   from the north and from the south. 
Some were sick through their sinful ways,
   and because of their iniquities endured affliction; 
they loathed any kind of food,
   and they drew near to the gates of death. 
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
   and he saved them from their distress; 
he sent out his word and healed them,
   and delivered them from destruction. 
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
   for his wonderful works to humankind.  
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-21

3/18 TF “Have Mercy on Us, Living Lord” (verses 1-4) Psalm 51:1-12 195/——
LW “Have Mercy, God, Upon My Life” Psalm 51:1-12 ——/421

3/25 “This Is the Day the Lord Has Made” Psalm 118 230/681


2/18 Mark 1:9-15
2/25 Mark 8:31-38
3/4 John 2:13-22
3/11 John 3:14-21
3/18 John 12:20-33
3/25 Mark 14:1-15:47*


Prayers of God’s Creation and People


O Great Healer:
let your Spirit swing 
around us and through us,
over us, under us, and among us,
with healing in her wings,
making us whole
and restoring us to our created goodness.


As the Lord Jesus walked among us, full of grace and truth,
he demonstrated a life of service, healing, and generosity.

Thus we also pray for…

O Deep Mystery:
Bless all of us here today, 
as we offer our worship and praise to you,
and for all those baptized into your Name of every time and place
who have sought to trust and follow you.
We pray especially for disciples chosen for leadership in your church….

And as we gather we also represent our whole community, especially: 
the aged and infirm…
the grieving and abandoned…
the sick and the addicted…
the poor and the oppressed…  
the unemployed and the destitute…
the undocumented, migrants, and refugees…
indigenous peoples…
victims of war and violence… 
victims of natural disasters…
victims of domestic abuse…
and all who remember and care for the needy among us…. 

As you commanded, O Lord,
we pray for our enemies and those who wish us harm.

And we gather the voices of your entire creation
giving words to the manifold sounds of birds,
animals, insects, and creatures of the waters,
whom you made to praise and glorify you….

We gather as well with all those who have died in the hope of resurrection,
and are now at rest….

Help, save, comfort, and defend us, gracious Lord.
In the communion of all the saints, 
we commend ourselves, one another, 
and our whole life to you, O Christ our God,
and to you we render glory
now and forever.


Minute for Mission, One Great Hour of Sharing


The Earth is the Lords and the fullness thereof,
the world and all that dwell therein.            Psalm 24:1 

Offertory Music: “” 

TF The bread and wine for communion are carried to the Table as the congregation sings:

*Doxology: “O What Shall I Render?” (verse 1) 557/insert

Invitation to the Lord’s Table

This is the meal of paradise!
The foretaste of the blessings coming to us,
a sign of abundance and generosity,
forgiveness and deliverance. PfR 

This is the Lord’s table.
Our Savior invites those who trust in him
to share in the feast
which he has prepared.

Opening Dialogue

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.

Communion Preface

We need not hide ourselves from you, 
before whose justice no one can stand. 
Your mercy was proclaimed by the apostles and the prophets, 
and shown forth to us in Jesus Christ. 
You give your law to guide us, 
and you promise new life for all, 
that we may live to serve you among our neighbors 
in all we do and say. BCW


And so we join our voices 
with those of all your people
in every time and place,
in the angels’ song of praise to you:

Holy, holy, holy Lord
God of power and might.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is he, O blessed is he 
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest,
Hosanna in the highest! “St. Anne Sanctus”

Eucharistic Prayer

We give you thanks, O God,
through your beloved Servant, Jesus Christ, 
whom you have sent in these last times
as savior and redeemer,
and messenger of your will.
He is your Word,
inseparable from you,
through whom you made all things
and in whom you take delight. 
You sent him from heaven into the Virgin’s womb, 
where he was conceived, and took flesh.
Born of the Virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit, 
he was revealed as your Son. 
In fulfillment of your will
he stretched out his hands in suffering
to release from suffering those who place their trust in you, 
and so won for you a holy people. 
He freely accepted the death to which he was handed over, 
in order to destroy death
and to shatter the chains of the evil one;
to trample underfoot the powers of hell 
and to lead the righteous into light; 
to fix the boundaries of death
and to manifest the resurrection. 

And so he took bread, gave thanks to you, 
and said: “Take, and eat;
this is my body, broken for you.”
In the same way he took the cup, saying: 
“This is my blood, shed for you.
When you do this, do it for the remembrance of me.” 

Remembering therefore his death and resurrection, 
we set before you this bread and cup,
thankful that you have counted us worthy
to stand in your presence 
and serve you as your priestly people. 
We ask you to send your Holy Spirit
upon the offering of the holy church.
Gather into one all who share these holy mysteries, 
filling them with the Holy Spirit
and confirming their faith in the truth,
that together we may praise you and give you glory, 
through your Servant, Jesus Christ. 
Through him all glory and honor are yours, almighty Father, 
with the Holy Spirit in the holy church, 
now and forever. 
Amen. Hippolytus of Rome


O God,
like a woman searching for a lost coin,
so do you seek us.

And so we are bold to pray in the words Jesus taught us,
saying: Our Father….
The Breaking of Bread

The Lamb of God is broken and distributed.
He is broken but he is not divided.
He is forever eaten, but he is never consumed.
And he restores and makes holy
all who participate in him. Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom

Agnus Dei

Lamb of God:
you take away the sins of the world.
Have mercy on us.
Lamb of God:
you take away the sins of the world.
Have mercy on us.
Lamb of God:
you take away the sins of the world.
Grant us your peace.


“Lamb of God” ——/604

The Holy Communion of the People of God

With hearts trusting in an awesome God, 
come to the Table.  
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
Receive the Body of Christ:
taste the fountain of immortality.
Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia! Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom

The people come to the Table to share in Christ’s body and blood by intinction:
taking a piece of bread, dipping it into the cup, and eating it.
Those who wish to pray with the pastor before or after communion may meet with him to the side.

May the Body and Blood of Christ our God 
bring you to everlasting life.

Communion Music: “Just as I Am” 370/442 

Closing Prayer/Prayer of Thanksgiving

Gracious God,
we give you thanks
that in Jesus Christ,
who is your Word,
you have emptied yourself,
becoming flesh to dwell among us
full of grace and truth.
He brings good news to the poor,
proclaims release to the captives,
gives sight to the blind,
liberates the oppressed,
makes the lame walk,
welcomes sinners, 
and even raises the dead.
In giving his life for the life of the world
he sets us free from sin and death.
And he gives us your Holy Spirit
by whom he is present with us even now,
gathering us into one beloved community.
and sending us into the world
with the good news of your love.


O God,
like a woman searching for a lost coin,
so do you seek us.

And so we are bold to pray in the words Jesus taught us,
saying: Our Father….

*Hymn: a

2/18 “Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us with Your Love” 367/203
2/25 “Be Thou My Vision” 339/450
3/4 “Blessed Assurance” 341/839
3/11 “Christ of the Upward Way” 344/insert
3/18 “Forgive Our Sins as We Forgive” 347/444
3/25 “Lamb of God” ——/518




God spoke all these words, saying, I am the Lord your God.
You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol....
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.
Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.
Honor your father and your mother.
You shall not kill.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet... anything that belongs to your neighbor.         From Exodus 20:1-17

2/18, 2/25, 3/11, 3/18

Blessed are the poor in spirit, 
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  
Blessed are those who mourn, 
for they will be comforted.  
Blessed are the meek, 
for they will inherit the earth.  
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 
for they will be filled.  
Blessed are the merciful, 
for they will receive mercy.  
Blessed are the pure in heart, 
for they will see God.  
Blessed are the peacemakers, 
for they will be called children of God.  
Blessed are those who are persecuted 
for righteousness' sake, 
for theirs is the kingdom of  heaven.  
Blessed are you 
when people revile you and persecute you 
and utter all kinds of evil against you 
falsely on my account.  
Rejoice and be glad, 
for your reward is great in heaven, 
for in the same way 
they persecuted the prophets who were before you.             Matthew 5:3-12                                                                                                    



And now may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit
be with you all. 2 Corinthians 13:13

*Choral Benediction: “Jesus, Remember Me” (3x) 599/227



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