Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday Sermon

Aaron Conner
Grace Episcopal Church-Bakersfield, Ca
Good Friday Sermon
March 29, 2013
Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9
John 18:1-19:42
Psalm 62
Collect: Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Lord, you are in the midst of us and we are called by your name: Do not forsake us, O Lord, our God. Amen.
Religion grows and survives primarily on the commemoration or reinforcement of symbols.  The philosopher and historian Eliade writes that our human experience can be divided into two modes: the Profane, the physical, mundane, and yet chaotic would in which we live in, and Sacred, the reality of the Divine, set apart and out there somewhere in the ethereal.  The symbols where the Sacred has been manifested into the physical world for its creation to share and experience are called “heirophanies”; Jesus is the hierophany of the Christian tradition. The events in the life of Jesus have become the central points in the history of our faith as we look to those who have shared in Jesus and how Jesus is continued to be revealed to us. While Jesus is always made known to us in ways beyond Word and Sacrament, the Christian calendar commemorates the Incarnation of the Word made flesh, the Passion and crucifixion, and the Resurrection as the key revealers of who Jesus is.   On Good Friday, the Church commemorates the Passion of our Lord from his arrest, trial, execution, and burial.
 John writes a Christology which affirms the sacredness of Jesus’ divinity as the word made flesh, the Lamb of God, and God’s begotten Son. There is no such thing as a coincidence in John’s narrative of the Passion; symbols and heirophanies which have played a significant part in the faith history of our Jewish ancestors are now used to reinforce Christ’s divinity.  The actors who played their part in Act One have passed on, and now in the second act they have returned to haunt, seeking to be vindicated by the only one who can provide for them, and us, escape to the ultimate reality of God’s love.
After the Passover Supper, Jesus and his disciples retreat one last time across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives, a place where Jesus frequently retreats for rest and prayer, and where some of his miracles take place. In contrast to the Upper Room, where the Passover took place which was purposefully kept secret, Jesus chose the location of his arrest to be open. Judas, along with a group of priests and Roman Soldiers, bring torches expecting to look high and low for their perpetrator. They bring weapons expecting a fight. Yet arrest isn’t even necessary, and Jesus offers himself to those who seek him. They approach him; John takes the liberty to reiterate three times that Judas was with them.  Jesus asks, “Who are you looking for?” They reply, “Jesus of Nazareth”. Jesus responds, “I am he”. Now, whether Jesus has revealed his glory in revealing his identity, or there was some visible sign associated with that revelation which John fails to mention, or in their souls the group who was seeking Jesus was actually on his side, they respond to the revelation of his identity by bowing before him.  Jesus asks again, “Who are you looking for?” They respond, “Jesus of Nazareth”.  
There are four chapters missing between our Gospel reading last night on Maundy-Thursday and tonight. In these chapters Jesus finishes up the Passover by encouraging his disciples in what is about to come. These moments being the last final moments to himself, Jesus makes pilgrimage across the Valley of Kidron to pray and recollect himself for what is coming, and this is made more apparent in the Synoptic Gospels. 
The Valley of Kidron (located between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives) has a baggage of symbols attached it, and I think it’s safe to say the baggage outweighs the symbols from which it proceeds.  The valley itself is not so much a valley as it is a deep ravine and it is in this “valley” where the filth of the city has been washed out.  Centuries prior, Prophets called the people to repent of idolatry, and idols had been smashed to dust and washed out into the ravine. King David, the fulfillment of Jewish Covenant prior to Jesus, retreated across the Kidron to the Mount of Olives when his son Absalom was seizing the throne. After King David was reclaiming the throne, his closest advisor who betrayed him by aiding Absalom committed suicide, the only other person in the Christian Bible besides Judas to do so. It is here, where the blood of thousands of lambs which had been sacrificed earlier that day, and for centuries past, has ended painting the rocks and dust crimson, providing an eerie scene on the night of a full moon and a reminder to Jesus of his own sacrifice to come and his own lack of absolution in his innocence.  The “valley of the shadow of death” of Psalm 23 has competition with Kidron in the battle of worst profane places. Here in this valley, the sin of the people and atonement from the slaughter of the lambs are juxtaposed into a dry riverbed. It is here that David wrote Psalm 3 and 41 in his emotional anguish and it is here Jesus also perhaps prayed those Psalms written by his ancestor in asking God for this coming fate to Passover him, just as the firstborns were passed over on the Eve of the Exodus by the blood of lamb.  Among other things, the Kidron was pretty much the common sewer, the polar opposite of Kosher and profanity at its best. King David fled across Kidron, fleeing for his life. King Jesus processes across the Kidron to give his life up. And next to Kidron on the Mount of Olives was a Garden   It was in a Garden where the human race had its fall, and we’ve been trying to get back to paradise ever since. In this Garden, Jesus reveals to the soldiers and priests who were arresting him as the I Am, just as God was revealed to Moses.  And it is in this garden that Jesus, the New Adam, will make the move to bring reconciliation between God and humanity, and reconciliation to humanity with itself.
The poet might say that history repeats itself in ways which we don’t intend it to. The Hindu in this situation might say that Karma keeps us on the wheel of Samsara which turns over and over and over again until we find our escape from this chaotic would which we have been born into. What Jesus does is provide that escape for us with his opening words in tonight’s Passion reading.
“Who are you looking?”
We are truly products of our environment. We build, smash, and rebuild the idols which have kept us in contempt with God and our neighbors. We attempt to find atonement in the wrongs which we have done. We have those moments like David where we are trying to save our lives, and those moments like Judas when we just feel like giving up, and Jesus continues to ask, “Who are you looking for?”  Other variations in the Gospels include, “Who do you say I am?” or “What are you looking for?” Regardless of how it is asked, the answer is the same.
 In the messes of our own profaned gardens, where things have become overgrown by weeds or the soil has lost it fertility, and death is imminent in the things which we have planted, Jesus offers himself freely to us, offering the mercy in the amendment of life, and grace in our lives renewed. The funny thing about the Profane we live in is the fact that without it we are unable to seek the Sacred revealed to us. We all have reasons to seek Jesus; in fact, we are all seeking Jesus. Some have had the intentions like Saints and Prophets before us to seek Jesus for the purification of our minds and souls and to administer the justice and reconciliation and love of God due to all people. Others, like those who sought to kill Jesus, have sought Jesus for their own gain and twisting for the mistreatment of others. In our moments of confusion, illness, and whatever our lives will throw at us, and in the moments where we are most seeking God and doing the work God has given us, in the areas of our lives which we have profaned to the point where they have become sacred to our identities, Jesus is asking, “Who are you looking for?” Sometimes the answer might be a reality check on our part, or sometimes is might be the one word prayer we all need to pray. All we have to do is respond.  Amen.

Maundy-Thursday Sermon 2012

After finishing up the final-final Sermon for Good Friday I thought it would be fun to dig up my Maundy-Thursday sermon from last year. I'll admit that I was tempted to edit and revise the crap out of this before posting, but I'll leave it as is as one of my milestones.

April 5th, 2012 Maundy Thursday
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
"Hi, how can I help you?"
After working several minimum wage jobs, I know these words and their variants all too well. Customer or Guest Service, they call it. Those of us in this field have actually often called it hell. Webster's defines service as "The action of helping or doing work for someone". But that's pretty vague and ambiguous for me to go with. Customer service involves an act of engaging. It usually implies some sort of love/hate relationship between two parties, where the goal is for both parties to leave satisfied for whatever services at hand. You ever heard the phrase, "You just can't find good service these days"? I think that sums it up.
I think at times, either because of our inflated egos that get in the way, or just for the fact that the word tends to be too archaic, we are too put off by the word "servant". These days, the word is just as relatable as are the lives of the footmen and maids in the BBC show Downton Abbey. The work of a servant often entails the work which no else is eager to sign up for. Think of those who might be considered our present day servants: janitors, pest control, field workers, telemarketer's, movie theater employees.
I do not in any way intend to reduce the role of Jesus in John's Gospel to the guy at In-And-Out getting your burger and fries ready. Jesus is putting up with a lot more than I ever could, for free even!
Jesus excels at creatively blurring the lines of everything we have been acculturated with. He tells his disciples "You call me Teacher and Lord, for that is what I am. Servants are not greater than their Masters". Don't you wish you were there for the disciples' reaction? "Then pray tell Lord, you're the Master. What the heck were you doing on the floor with that towel and basin of water, the servants work! Where is that guy anyway?"
Jesus, doing his best to make a point, takes on a role which causes the disciples heads to do a double take. Typically, a slave would be the person who would take on the task washing the guest's feet after walking a ways on a dusty road in their sandals. Specifically, it would have been a gentile slave, perhaps the lowest of the social class at the time. No matter the context, the role of the servant has an implied sense of responsibility, if not intimacy with their masters on some level. A relationship. The Master has to be able to say "I trust you" to their servant. The servant also has to reciprocate those words to the Master.
Let's roll with a couple of observations.
Number one. John does not mention any servants present that would have washed their feet. There were no servants.
Number two. Jesus and the disciples would have started the ritual meal with unwashed feet.
I think it is safe to assume that the act of Jesus washing their feet was not spontaneous, but premeditated.
Jesus knew that the next few days were going to be for the lack of a better term, a hot mess. Peter is going to deny that he knew him, Judas is going to regret his part in this whole drama, things might get a little bloody later in the garden, a whole mob is going to protest for Jesus to occupy the cross. This is going to be a long night. And the last thing the disciples want to do is break out the dice and cast lots to see who ought to be the one washing feet when they already have these tendencies to bicker about who gets the extra good stuff in the afterlife. The disciples don't have a clue. And even after his resurrection he foresees the trouble and danger which lay ahead. Jesus knows exactly what they need. A serious reality check.
Peter and Jesus are on two different realities. Peter, who is probably aware that he has a bit more clout than the other eleven, is against the whole idea. Jesus, the master, is not going to wash MY feet, he's thinking. Jesus responds, Peter if you want anything to do with me right now, just go with it. Well Lord, he says, it's all or nothing! From whence our Lord slaps his palm to his face sighing, Oye ve.
Here is where Jesus reprimands Peter's reality. Jesus says, Peter, you've already had your shower, just like everyone here, well…except for…Anyway, you're all clean. In fact right now, no one is cleaner than the other. So let me do what I need to do, and if you don't replicate this then how will you ever follow through with anything that I have taught you?
Now, this scenario of the disciples not having a clue isn't exactly new. But, one could argue what Jesus is doing isn't exactly new either. Jesus, who would have been properly dressed for the occasion and the one leading the supper, descends from his place at supper and strips himself down to his nickers, to do the dirty work, humbly just as he was born. At Christmas we celebrate "the word made flesh". Tonight, that flesh dwells among us. God becoming one of us. This picture of Jesus washing the feet has incarnation and theophany written all over it. Here, Jesus reveals something about himself, the great paradox which will save us all. Jesus, the Teacher; the disciples, students. Jesus, the proclamation; the disciples, messengers of that proclamation. Jesus, the Master; the disciples, servants. Jesus isn't beating around the bush; he is flat out saying that he himself is the central authority. And that is all the more reason for the disciples to follow Jesus' example. In washing their feet, Jesus is going out of his way to affirm his humanity. God, becoming one of us, to do the lowly work. Humility at this point is an understatement. It's one thing for God to become human, but for God to become human and not only put up with, but serve humanity? That just blows my mind.
And what is this putting up with and humanity? Its love. Just as Jesus takes the hand- on approach to show them how it's done, Jesus puts that action into a teaching. Just as the disciples ought to wash each other's feet, so should the disciples love each other.
In the whole Gospel up until now, Jesus has been setting the example of what we ought to do: Love. Jesus replicates this love when he became human. When he included the outcast .When He healed the sick. Feeds the hungry. And finally, on the night before he was handed over as a sacrifice to bring reconciliation into the world, knowing that they might not get it now, but they will later, he washed their feet. By examples of love, Jesus is preparing his disciples to take on his role after all is said and done.
Allow me to share a story. Five years ago when I was the ripe old age of 21 (yeah, yeah do the math), my buddy and I thought it would be friggin awesome to go on a road trip to Alberta, Canada. We packed my pick-up with sleeping bags, suitcases, tents, an ice chest, and my guitar. We were prepared for anything, except for the truck to breakdown in Idaho Falls, the middle point between Bakersfield and Edmonton. We ended up at a dealership. I'm sure the GM sized us up in 30 seconds. 21, from California, scared and stressed as all get out, financially unprepared for the fuel pump and fuel injector to go out. The first words he said, go take a nap in the lounge while we work on it, you're in good hands. Giving us top priority with his crew, he called us every few hours till 5 that evening. He informed us we could make it to our destination with the new fuel pump, but would need a new injector as they couldn't get a hold of the part. And there was a nice discount on the bill.
Customer Service is one of the job descriptions of the church. We can't fix all the problems in the world. We won't make everyone happy. But we do what we have to do in order to take care of each other, and go the extra mile to all we encounter. We are a people who should never say "No", when Jesus says "Yes".
Feet. There are so many metaphors. How many Psalms speak of the metaphorical path which we walk, how the enemy tries to trip us? Like the disciples, we all have been called from different walks of life. Like the disciples, we need our realities checked. Those of us who profess the Christian faith are only professing that we acknowledge the reconciling love of God which has come to the world through Jesus, and that there is still a work of reconciliation to be done. A few thousand years later we are still wearing sandals, along with shoes, flip-flops, and toe socks. But our feet still get dirty. Our feet still need washing. Our fuel pumps go out, and need to be replaced. And as long as this is the case, then there is always the need for someone to engage in the role of the servant. And here is the fallacy in my guest service rant from earlier. Jesus doesn't ask "How can I help you?". He just does it. If you will pardon the expression, we who try to walk in the way of Jesus have some big shoes to fill. Amen.