Tag Archives: Sermon

Doubting Thomas is not a scientist looking for evidence

John 20:19-31

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

Every year we get Thomas. Every year, on the 2nd Sunday in the season of Easter we hear his story. And it can be a little tiresome, especially as the preacher. It can be tiresome to think of something new to say about this skeptic and his disbelief. And maybe for you hearing about Thomas year after year is boring or frustrating, hearing a message about believing despite evidence, or about having faith in the witness of those who tell you the story.

But this year the Thomas story seems different. In fact, this year the whole story, the story of Jesus from beginning to end, feels different. Maybe it started last fall with the Paris attacks and the shadow they cast over Advent and Christmas. Perhaps it is the shooting and violence we hear about non-stop, or maybe it is the racism and sexism that seems to hit the airwaves daily with people like Donald Trump and Jian Ghomeshi making the headlines.

The Thomas story seems different because it feels harder to care about the evidence like he seems to. We are used to doubting everything these days, including the evidence. There was a time before the World Trade Centre Towers fell on 9/11, back when Jean Chretien was Prime Minister, only one Bush had been president, the internet was only for computer nerds and Canadian teams had recently won the Stanley cup. Back then the world was relaxed enough and people had enough time to question whether or not Jesus even existed, Thomas’ question seemed like a legitimate challenge to faith and the church.

But not so these days. It is hard these days to worry about such frivolous objections to Christianity, when much bigger ones are out there, like politicians who use faith for political gain, along with racism and sexism. When the church has endured sex scandals, the fallout from residential schools, discriminatory policies about LGBT people and so on.

So it is hard to make the energy to be invested in Thomas’ desire for evidence, for evidence that the risen Christ was actually risen. Or least, it is hard to make the energy for this story in the way that we have become used to telling it.

But as usual, just because we are used to a story being told in one way, doesn’t mean we have it right.

On this second Sunday of Easter, we are transported back to the first Easter evening. That morning, the women had gone and reported that the tomb was empty (just as we heard last week). The disciples didn’t believe the reports, because they never believed what women had to say. And instead they are hiding away. Hiding because they are frightened of those in power and the authorities. Those same authorities, the temple priests, King Herod, Pontius Pilate… the ones that killed Jesus and who might be coming for his followers next.

And then Jesus appears among them. He offers them his peace, and breathes on them the holy spirit and goes on his merry way. But Thomas misses the whole thing. And when he does re-join the others, he will have none of their story. He wants to see Jesus himself, to touch his hands and side. Thomas seems to want evidence.

Or at least we think.

The world that Thomas lives in is less like the world of 20 years ago and more like our world today. We used to have trust for those in power and authority. We used to feel safe and protected, we use to trust that politicians had our best interests at heart, that our employers wanted to see use succeed, that our neighbours were trustworthy, that churches were places that proclaimed truth.

For Thomas, the powers and authorities of his world were dangerous, the governors and rulers were not only untrustworthy but likely wouldn’t hesitate to kill any one they found inconvenient. The market places were full of cheaters and jobs were hard to come by. People living under oppression wouldn’t hesitate to get in good with the Romans by betraying this silly band of Jesus followers. And religious rulers – well they orchestrated Jesus’ death in the first place.

Like Thomas, we feel less and less sure of our political leaders – especially with the Donald Trumps of the world vying for power. We know employers are trying to make the most profit, which means cutting costs at every corner. We don’t trust our neighbours because they are too different, they speak different languages, worship in different ways, they don’t seem to hold our values. And of course even though we are attending a church and seeking truth today, we know that churches and religious leaders often have agendas.

And so living in a world much more like Thomas’s than we ever have before, maybe we can see Thomas’ objection in a new way.

Maybe Thomas isn’t asking about the evidence, about scientific proof.

When Thomas says that he need to put his hands on Jesus’ hands, in Jesus’ side, in order to believe – ‘believe’ isn’t the best word to use for the greek. The best word would be trust.

And having problems with trust is something we know well.

Thomas wants to know who he can trust. In his world full of dangerous powers and authorities, full of people he isn’t sure care for him…. Thomas wants to know if he can trust Jesus.

And isn’t that what we want to know too. Not whether can we believe that someone was raised from the dead. But is Jesus someone we can trust? Is this message of the Kingdom of God coming near, of the call to go preach the good news, of resurrection and new life being given to us… are these things we can trust? Things we can stake our life and well being on? Are they safe?

We are coming to know what an unsafe world feels like more and more, and so maybe we now understand Thomas’s real objection better than we ever have before.

And so Thomas wants to know who he can trust in a world were there isn’t much trustworthiness to be found.

Yet in a world severely lacking in trust, Jesus shows up.

Jesus shows up to show God’s trustworthiness.

Jesus shows up and offers Thomas the very things that Thomas needs in order to trust.

Jesus shows up and offers the holes in the hands and in his side.

These wounds and scars are important details. It isn’t that just that Jesus has shown up. The wounds and scars tell the story of where Jesus has come from.

For Thomas the wounds and scars tell him that Jesus has encountered the dangerous powers and authorities. Jesus has been betrayed and killed.

But Jesus hasn’t been destroyed. The dangerous powers and the authorities did not overcome.

Jesus is trustworthy because all the untrustworthy things of the world did not have the final say.

Jesus is trustworthy because not only did he overcome the dangerous powers and authorities, but he came back for the disciples. He came back so that they, so that Thomas, so that all of us would be shown the way through – they way through the danger and peril. They way that is worth the risk and uncertainty. The way through that is not safe, but that ends with life.

Jesus shows that he is trustworthy, that all those things that he said about dying and rising on the third day, about the Kingdom of God coming near, about God’s love and forgiveness for sinners are worth the risk, worth trusting in a world where there is precious little to trust in.

And when he sees Jesus, when Jesus offers his hands and side, Thomas has his answer. Not the evidence we tend to think this story is about, but his answer to his fears and worries, to his uncertainty and insecurity.

Because Jesus shows that he knows the way to the other side of this messy and terrifying world we live in.

And today, when our world is so much like Thomas’s and our fears and questions and worries are like Thomas’s Jesus gives us our answer.

We too are shown the wounds and scars of the body of Christ. Jesus gives us a body, a community that has lived with the dangerous powers and authorities. The Body of Christ has been living its way through a world with precious little to trust for 2000 years. And the risen Christ comes to us again and again, week after week, year after year to show us that the wounds and scars of crucifixion, did not destroy us. That the Kingdom of God is always near to us, that God’s love and forgiveness are for given for us, that death will not be the end of our stories, but that Jesus’ resurrection is our resurrection too.

Every year we get Thomas, and it can feel a bit tiresome… until the world changes and we change… and all of sudden it is like hearing it again for the fist time… it is like being there with Thomas, as Jesus comes showing us hand and side, reminding us of God’s trustworthiness.

Amen. 

How the Risen Christ also Busts Sexism

Luke 24:1-12

I don’t know what pastors did before the internet, but this year a colleague asked a group of pastors on Facebook, “What gimmicks do you use to add that little extra something to Easter?”

Most of my life wasn’t spent in the pulpit, but in the pew, like you. So I’m here today to confess that there is something about Easter that makes pastors search for that little extra something. Pastors do the same thing at Christmas. I guess we pastors think those big church days need some help.

Maybe someone being raised from the dead isn’t enough, or maybe it’s the fact that pastors have to stand up at the front and try to explain in a way that makes sense this story of someone being raise from the dead… a story that, if you think about it too hard or too long doesn’t actually make all that much sense.

Now lucky me, I am the one at the front who gets to figure out what to say and how to make sense of all this.

But being uncomfortable with this story and who gets to preach it is not something new. In fact, Luke tells us that discomfort with the resurrection story and the ones telling it is as old as the story itself.

Three women have gone to the tomb early Sunday morning. It was only Friday, three days ago that they watched Jesus die on the cross. And because of the sabbath (on Saturday), his body hadn’t been properly prepared for burial. They were on their way to do this last thing, one final act of love for Jesus.

But they arrive at the tomb, and the stone is rolled away. Jesus’ body is gone. Luke says the women were perplexed, but perplexed hardly seems to describe what these women were probably feeling.

And then a couple of guys in dazzling white clothes show up and tell these “perplexed” women that Jesus has been raised from the dead.

This isn’t an “Aha” moment. This is more of a “Holy (you fill in the blank)” moment.

And in that “holy” moment the women are snapped out of their grief, their perplexity, their terror and are reminded of what Jesus had been telling them the whole time.

And they go racing back to tell the other disciples.

And it is at this point that Luke really starts to get interesting.

The women go back to tell their news to the male disciples. But the men think it is nonsense. Now what the english translation says is that the men think it is an “idle tale.” You know, the kind of inane chit chat of no importance that men think they can just tune out because it’s the womenfolk talking. But that is not what the greek says. The greek says the men hear the story as nonsense or crazy or nuts. The kind of story you hear some one tell and you respond by saying, “No way, that’s not possible, that didn’t happen.”

And then the english translation says the men didn’t believe the women, as if the men considered the content of their story. But the greek says the men didn’t trust the women. The story wasn’t believable because of who was telling it.

And then there’s this last bit about Peter. Peter runs off to check the tomb for himself. Why would he do that if he didn’t trust the women to trust the women and their idle chit-chat in the first place? Well, in most bibles there is a little footnote that comes at the end of this verse about Peter’s “checking” on things at the tomb.

The footnote that explains that verse 12 (this whole bit about Peter verifying what the women had reported) is not included in other ancient manuscripts. Or in other words, the verse is likely an addition to the story.

So here we have this story of the resurrection that is hard enough to make sense of on its own but the real problem with this story seems to be not with the story itself, but with the people who have been chosen to tell it. The disciples think the women’s story is nonsense because they are untrustworthy women. Recent English translators, who still have a problem with the fact that women are the first ones to tell the story, try to turn the nonsensical report into an idle tale – something not even worth being listened to by the men.

And to top it off, the early Christian community added this bit about Peter verifying what the women reported so that somebody credible would be the one telling the story of the resurrection. Because Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Jesus’ own mother Mary weren’t credible witnesses on their own?

Oh how things haven’t changed.

As much as it’s hard to makes sense of somebody being raised from the dead, our real problem is still with who gets to tell the story.

Christians have spent a lot of time and energy in the past 2000 years telling people who can and who cannot tell the story of Jesus. And it’s not just women. Christians at various times have told people of colour, LGBT people, poor people, uneducated people, and even lay people that they are not among God’s chosen story tellers.

For some reason our issue has been less with the content of the resurrection story itself than character of the ones chosen to tell it.

Because it’s hard to believe that of all the people to find the empty tomb, God sends the very people who were considered untrustworthy, and unreliable as witnesses.

But how would this story have been different if the disciples simply trusted the women?

When the women arrive at the tomb, early on that Sunday morning they were expecting to find the body of Jesus. Mary’s son, Mary Magdalene’s and Joanna’s friend and teacher. They expected to be anointing a body with spices and oils. They were expecting to finish the Jesus story for good, one last goodbye to the one they loved.

They most certainly did not expect that all that crazy talk that Jesus had been going on about for 3 years to be true. Betrayal, trial, crucifixion… and now resurrection. They did not expect to find the living among the dead, that Jesus had been raised.

But even more so, they would not have expected that of all the disciples that they would be the ones called upon to deliver this news – Jesus has risen. They weren’t the leaders, the gifted ones, the talented ones, the respected ones. They weren’t even considered trustworthy by the disciples who knew them well. They were just women. They were forgotten, unimportant, unworthy. They were not the kind of people anybody would expect to be called upon to carry out such an important task. They were the wrong people.

But just like everyone else, they forgot that Jesus was going to be raised from the dead… they also forgot that the “wrong” people are exactly the kind of people that God likes to work through. They forgot that God has been constantly using the ill-suited, unexpected, unworthy, wrong people to do God’s work in the world. From cowardly Abraham and laughing Sarah to stuttering Moses and dancing Miriam, from lustful David and foreign Ruth to stubborn Mordecai and vain Esther, from unmarried teen mom Mary and Mary Magdalene to bull headed Peter and self-righteous Paul. Throughout the biblical narrative we have story after story where God calls the wrong person after the wrong person.

And yet, even with all these ill-suited and ill-equipped people God establishes a pattern for how God will act in the world: through unexpected people, doing often unexpected, unpredictable, nonsensical things.

Now these women at the empty tomb were witnesses to God using all the wrong things to completely change the world. Betrayal and angry mobs to usher in salvation. A cross to forgive sins. Death to bring new life into the world.

And these ill-suited and ill-equipped women were being called to tell that crazy, nonsense Jesus-has-been-raised story.

And now we are the people hearing the story and being sent to tell others. And maybe we feel ill-equipped or ill-suited. Maybe we ARE ill-equipped and ill-suited.

Maybe, just like the women at the tomb, we are the “wrong” people being called to tell the story of God.

The story of God that completely changes our world and our reality, the story of death and resurrection that turns everything and everyone upside down. Because this is the story that tells us that God’s love is just as much for the wrong people as it for the right people, just is much for us as it is for anyone. This is a story that isn’t for the right people or the wrong people – it’s for ALL people.

And maybe that is crazy nonsense in a world like ours.

But it is not crazy nonsense for the God of New life.

Amen


 

*This sermon was co-written with my wife, Rev. Courtenay Reedman Parker who you can follow on twitter: @ReedmanParker

Anointing Jesus’ Feet – The Smell of Death

John 12:1-8

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. (Read the whole passage)

Sermon

It must have been almost hard to breathe.

The smell of the perfume as it filled the room. It would have overwhelmed the noses of all present at the celebratory meal. We all know someone who wears too much perfume, whether its that strange aunt in the family, or lately it seems to be teenage boys wearing too much body spray cologne. Smells can overpower us like no other sense can. And certain scents can trigger memories like nothing else. They can remind us more powerfully than a picture of past events, places or persons. The smell of chlorine can take you right back to that first time swimming in an indoor pool. Or the smell of pine trees can take you back to beloved Christmas memories.

The smell today, the perfume that anoints Jesus’ feet cannot be taken lightly or be overlooked. A pound of perfume is not a delicate scent, and that seems to be Mary’s point. On this day, Jesus, his good friend Lazarus, and the disciples are being treated to a celebratory meal. Lazarus has been raised from the dead and this is the first time that Mary, Martha and Lazarus have seen Jesus since the miracle. Martha, as usual, is serving the dinner. She is giving thanks in her way. But Mary decides to give thanks in a different way. She wants to express her deep gratitude and her love for Jesus. Its the kind of emotional display that makes most of us uncomfortable, like two lovers passionately kissing in public. As Mary anoints Jesus feet, and then wipes them with her own hair, the rest of the guests at the party were probably feeling awkward. Washing feet was something that servants do. And using one’s hair as the cloth… well, that was just strange. Mary’s act is as extravagant and wild and passionate as it seems. Probably something that should have been saved for a private moment with Jesus.

In the midst of this beautiful moment, this act of love and gratitude that Mary is giving to Jesus, Judas pipes up. “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?”. The moment is ruined. Judas has re-interpreted this lovely scene to his own ends. Perhaps he was uncomfortable with the display of affection, or perhaps as John suggests, he has other intentions for the money. Whatever Judas’ reasons, he wants to disconnect from the intimate and personal moment. He tries to make it about the impersonal and distant and abstract idea of how money should be used. Judas tries to make the moment about practicality and he almost steals away Mary’s extravagant love, diminishing her by rebuking her feelings. Judas tries to dismiss Mary’s love and gratefulness with his distant and impersonal righteous indignation.

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We often attempt to distance ourselves from being too close or invested like Mary is today. Like Judas who seems to be using money or good intentions to create distance between himself and this powerful display of affection. Our fear of getting too close like Mary does, can prevent us from seeing and experiencing the love and beauty of the world.

And at the heart of our distancing, is our self-centred desire for control. We want to be control where we begin and end, to protect our feelings from risk and hurt. And we use whatever power we can. Money, judgement, shame. Mary’s act is not safe, its wild and untamed. Its extravagant and passionate. This is not the way we think the world should work. “Don’t waste the money” we declare because we are uncomfortable with risk. “Don’t be so emotional” we cry out because we know loving so deeply can lead us to getting hurt.

Our fear of being close, our need for control, can get in the way of seeing the beauty of faith. Our discomfort puts practicality or pragmatism before others, before people. Judas only sees dollars being poured on Jesus feet. We often get bogged down by the resources being expended on our family, on our neighbours, on the church, on ourselves. Judas doesn’t see that what Mary is doing for Jesus is worth more than any amount of money. Often we find it hard to see that the families, friends, neighbours and ministries that we give our time and passion to are worth more than any amount of money. It can be hard for us to see that risking being close can bring us the greatest reward, and staying distant will never bring real satisfaction or meaning.

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For five weeks we have been immersed in the season of Lent. Immersed in the sights, sounds, and smells. The feel and smell of Ashes marked our heads. We have kept from singing Alleluias, we have sung Lord have Mercy, Christ have Mercy, Lord have Mercy instead. And on this final Sunday before Palm Sunday, the smell of death enters into our sanctuary.

There is a pound of pure nard on Jesus feet. This perfume is one meant to keep the smell of death at bay. It is suppose to disguise the smell of a decaying body while it waits to be buried.

Yet, so often the thing meant to distance and disguise, to protect us from reality comes to symbolize the very thing it is trying to hide. The perfume becomes the smell of death.

Jesus does not miss the symbol. Mary has anointed his feet with the smell of Good Friday, the scent that is slowly building in our nostrils as we get closer to Holy Week.

Jesus does not see waste, Jesus doesn’t need to distance himself from Mary. Jesus sees love, lavish, wild and untamed love. Jesus sees the future. “Leave her alone” he says, ”She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial”. Mary is not anointing a king, or prophet. Mary is anointing a friend, teacher and son, who will be soon prepared for burial on Friday evening, and Jesus is reminding his disciples and friends one more time of all of this. The ministry, the parables, the miracles, the teaching in synagogues, the traveling the countryside. None of it is about the bottom line, none of it has been about being practical with money, none of it was about God staying distant and safe from creation. This moment is a foretaste of God’s imminent future.

When the time comes for Jesus the corpse to be put in the ground, God will be accomplishing something new, something never seen. Something glimpsed as Lazarus stepped out of his tomb. God is accomplishing something new before the women even have the chance to anoint Jesus’s body on that Easter morning. God is about to turn the world upside, to bring new meaning to creation. Preparing for burial will no longer be preparing for death, but preparing for New Life.

Here in this perfume filled room, where passionate and impulsive Mary has shown her love and given thanks in her way, Jesus gives the whole world a new sign. God’s future is now about us. Jesus burial is about us. On Good Friday Jesus will be anointing the world with New Life. And God is doing it all by coming as close and near as God possibly can.

What a contrast to our attempt to remain distant and safe. We try to protect ourselves by staying far away, by being uncomfortable with love. God risks it all, even death, to come close, to take on and wear our flesh, so that we will know love.

Judas is uncomfortable with the perfume filled house, he wants to step back and distance himself. Make things about money, or poor people, or whatever else that is safe to feel. But Jesus stays present and near for Mary’s gesture of love, and then Jesus tells us that God is only coming closer. Coming in the familiar smells of Holy Week.

Like any powerful perfume, there is no distancing ourselves from God’s love after this. Today God’s Love comes near to us in perfume that anoints Jesus feet, it will come on palms branches next week, come in the bread and wine of Maundy Thursday. And it will comes so close on Good Friday, we will nail it to the cross to distance ourselves from it.

But after three days, God’s love will burst forth, uncontrolled, untamed, wild, passionate, extravagant. And it will be love that we can see, touch, taste and of course, love that we can smell.

Amen.

Growing a Fig By Your Own Bootstraps

Luke 13:1-9

We have all been part of the conversation. Sitting on those plastic chairs bolted to the floor at Tim Hortons. Did you hear who is sick? Did you know who lost their job? Have you heard that they are splitting up? Did you know that they have a drinking problem? Community news like this travels fast because we need something to talk about over coffee, and what better to talk about than the misfortunes of others… the struggles and trials of others. We spread the news as a way or caring, or so we think. But along with the news comes judgement. Along with the news, comes interpretation and explanation. Well, maybe they got sick because they didn’t care for themselves. They lost their job because they were uncommitted. They are splitting up because they didn’t work at it. They have that addiction problem because they just can’t get their life together.

Jesus sounds like he is sitting in a Tim Hortons today having coffee talk. Luke doesn’t tell us who, but some people are telling Jesus about the group of Galilean pilgrims who were arbitrarily murdered by Pontius Pilate’s soldiers in a show of force. And then their blood was mixed with the blood of sacrifices… making these poor people unclean in the eyes of the law, even in death. What sin did they commit to earn this kind of fate, some wonder to Jesus.

This group of some people shows us just what the culture of the time thought about the good things and bad things that happened to people. As it is so easy to do, the group of some believed that an individual was to blame for any calamity, any curse, any tragedy that befell them. They must have done something to deserve what they got. Likewise, an individual was to be lauded for any blessing, any good fortune or any good thing that befell them. Clearly they did something to earn their rewards. It is classic pull yourself up by your bootstraps thinking.

And Jesus doesn’t like it one bit. 

And we get what Jesus is talking about. It seems harsh and uncaring to blame the victim. The Galileans were simple pilgrims… why blame them for what the Roman Governor ordered? We know that this is not a compassionate way to see this kind of violence.

And Jesus gives another example. A tragedy that lived deep in the memories of the people of Jerusalem, like a plane crash or terrorist attack. The tower of Siloam, a good building project ended up collapsing on 18 workers. It would’t make sense to blame the victims for such a thing.

We get what Jesus is railing against. Blaming victims of tragedy is cruel way to see the world… even if it can make some surface level sense of complex and difficult situations.

And yet, yet… our world is full of the same kind of thinking. We might not apply the logic the same way, but our world believes that an individual is mostly responsible for the good things or things that happen to them. In our coffee talk, we can be quick to blame someone for their misfortunes or to applaud someone for their luck.

And a part of us, the old sinner part of us, likes the idea. We like the idea that we are in control of our destiny. We like the idea that our lives our dictated solely by the strength of our actions. Whether is good or bad, we like the idea that we are responsible for what happens to us. We hate the idea that there are forces in the world beyond our control, forces bringing us fortune or misfortune completely outside of anything we have done. We would rather be in control, even if our control leads to tragedy and curse. We would rather tragically be God in God’s place, than admit that there might be forces beyond our control.

Like the ideas of the group of some gathered around Jesus, our ideas about our own power to control our lives doesn’t sit well with Jesus either.

As Jesus hears about the murdered he Galileans, instead of sympathetically nodding along and wringing his hands, he jumps down the throats of the messengers.

He challenges the ideas of the this group of some. He warns them. If you don’t repent of this thinking, you too might perish like the Galileans. If you don’t repent you might find yourself under a collapsing tower too.

Repent or die, Jesus seems to be saying.

Or, wait, that’s not what Jesus means. 

Jesus isn’t reinforcing the idea that we are in control, that we are the masters and commanders of our own fate. Jesus trying to challenge that idea. Repent or die isn’t the message.

Instead, Jesus has a parable for this group of some. Jesus has a parable for coffee talk at Tim Horton’s.

barrenfigtreeA landowner goes out to his vineyard. To his vineyard where he has inexplicably planted a fig tree which would have too big a root system, take too much ground water, produce too much shade for grape eating birds. And this landowner is annoyed that this fig tree doesn’t produce fruit. And with classic group of some thinking, coffee talk at Tim Horton’s thinking, he condemns the tree for its failure. The tree hasn’t seized upon its fate. It hasn’t pulled itself up by its boot straps. It is a poor, scraggly, unfruitful tree deserving of what it gets. In fact, it isn’t really the land owner condemning the tree, the tree is condemning itself.

But wait, says the Gardener.

Wait, there is more to this story.

Give it another year. Give the tree a second chance. The tree is not an individual living in isolation. The Gardener sees the big picture. The Gardener sees that the tree is not solely a product of its own power to control its own fate. The Gardener knows that the soil, the weather, the pruning, the fertilizer… the circumstances that surround the tree have as much to do with its fruit bearing ability as the tree itself.

The judgement of the landowner is all about power, the power of the tree to bear fruit. But the Gardener sees the big picture and the big picture is about love. Love sees that fruit is born not just by the tree, but by the soil, by the fertilizer, by the gardener. Love sees that fruit is born in community.

The gardener offers another year, the gardener offers grace. Instead of judging whether the tree produces by its own power, the gardener wants to see now if the tree will produce by grace. The grace of love and care, the grace of tending to the big picture.

Jesus the gardener knows that it is the same with us. That we cannot blame the victim for tragedy. The good and the bad things, the curses and the rewards, the tragedy and blessings of life do not happen solely by our own power. Instead, love bears the ups and down of life. And the curses and rewards are born by the community. The blessings and tragedy are carried by the same community that gathers around coffee to talk.

Jesus the gardener says, one more year. One more year, one more chance, one more offer of grace because none of us is solely responsible for the good and bad in our lives. Rather we bear these things together, and we bear these things with God.

This is the grace of seeing the big picture. This is the love of gardening Jesus, the love of a gardening God.

Our logic of power would blame the victim for the tragedies we endure. We would hold the individual accountable for the good and bad. But love that sees the big picture offers grace and mercy, the loving gardening God says one more year.

God the gardener says, let me care for you, let me tend to your roots, nourish your soil and help you grow fruit. Don’t worry about producing fruit on your own power, but together we will grow because of love.

This Lenten season, we have seen again and again how in the relationship between love and power, God comes to meet us. And today, despite our coffee talk that says its our power that matters, it is our power that controls our fate, that rewards us or curses us… God steps back to see the big picture. God steps back to shown us that our power is not in control. But rather, love is at work in our lives. God the Gardener says, one more year, because of love the fruit will grow.

How’s that for Tim Horton’s coffee talk.

Amen

Being Threatened by Jesus

Luke 13:31-35

King Herod was not a well liked King.

He was a puppet King for the Romans… who probably didn’t really care about who was King over the backwater province of the empire, Judea. The people of Israel didn’t care for Herod, knowing that he was all about power. But like most people in power, Herod made the right allegiances. With Rome and with the religious authorities.

So when the Pharisees come to Jesus with a Message, he knows they too are puppet authorities, doing the puppet King’s dirty work in order to hold on to their own power and privilege.

Today, on the second Sunday of Lent we continue with Jesus who can’t help but be confronted by people who think they have power. Last week it was the Devil tempting Jesus to misuse the power of incarnation, the power that comes along with being God, and being God in flesh. The Devil’s temptations set the stage for the recurring theme that Luke’s gospel holds up for us this Lenten season. The Devil tries to offer Jesus power. And now the Pharisees come to Jesus with a warning. They sound sympathetic, maybe even concerned for Jesus. Herod is out to get you, they warn. And it just so happens that getting rid of Jesus might also be convenient for them too.

Herod, the unpopular King and the righteous yet conspiring Pharisees, are concerned about their power. They are concerned about Jesus’s impact on their power and privilege. They have worked to build alliances, with their unpalatable overlord Romans, and with each other. Their power is tenuously held and only maintained by fear and division. With soldiers who intimidate, with control over money, over the temple, over the city of Jerusalem.

Yet, no matter their work to maintain their power, they cannot gain the confidence and support of the people. Yet, Jesus who doesn’t seem to be looking for any power, is wandering the countryside, living off the generosity of others. Jesus is popular and therefore powerful in the eyes of Herod and the Pharisees. And while he hasn’t made a play for their power yer, they know it will come. And so they conspire. They will frighten Jesus off. Just as they frighten the people with soldiers or unrighteousness. They only see Jesus as a threat who must be dealt with.

Power in our time looks much different. It is not so much based in the ability to control God’s forgiveness like the Pharisees did, nor is it based in political allegiances with foreign occupiers. Politicians and corporations don’t rule over us, but pander to us. The days of religion holding damnation and judgement over the head of society may be recent enough to remember, but fewer and fewer people seem to care. And even those of us who who still do participate in organized religion, probably feel like religious leaders have little power to dictate the terms of our salvation.

Yet, there is something we do hold in common with Herod and the Pharisees.

Feeling threatened by Jesus.

There is a something inside of all of us that gets anxious and concerned when Jesus starts talking about what God wants for us. For those who have been coming to adult study, you will recognize the language of the tangled, twisted thing inside of us. That thought in the back our minds, that feeling that makes our blood pressure rise. It is the thing inside of us that makes us fearful of our different skinned neighbours. It it the thing that makes us resentful of the poorest and most vulnerable in our communities for being dependant on government welfare. It is the thing that inside of us that closes us off to people who think differently than we do. The twisted tangled thing makes us want to hoard more and more for ourself, makes us fear difference, makes us angry when we think we haven’t received our fair share.

The twisted, tangled thing is what Martin Luther called the Old Adam, the Old Sinner.

It is sin.

And the sinner inside of us bristles when Jesus starts talking about the first being last, and losing our lives to save them. The sinner doesn’t like the idea that God’s forgiveness isn’t earned, but instead given away freely.

The twisted tangled sinner is the part of us that thinks power will save us. That controlling the world around us will keep us from being hurt. That protecting ourselves from anyone different from us is the way to be safe.

And when Jesus starts talking about giving up power, the old sinner feels threatened. And when Jesus starts talking about prophets being stoned and hinting at crucifixion, the old sinner will have none of it. Like the Devil who thought power was the purpose last week, the old sinner thinks power is our salvation.

The pharisees warn Jesus that Herod is willing to kill Jesus for the sake of power.

Herod is worried that his power could be taken by the popular preacher Jesus.

How wrong can Herod and the Pharisees be?

How completely off the mark can the twisted, tangled sinner inside of us get?

Jesus has come in weakness, not power.

Jesus has come to be open, not closed off.

Jesus has come to be vulnerable, not fearful.

Jesus has come to show love.

Love that will change us.

Love that will undo the twisted, tangled thing inside of us.

Love that risks being hurt, being unsafe, being weak in order to come close and near. Love that gathers and holds us together under its wings.

Love that couldn’t care less for power.

Herod and the Pharisees don’t live in a world of love. They don’t know how to let go of the little power that they have. They can’t see that Jesus hasn’t come for power, they cannot see how Jesus is trying to show God’s love to the world.

And Jesus knows this. Jesus knows that the same crowds will chant “Blessed is He who comes in the same of the Lord” on Sunday, will shout crucify by Friday because they want a King of power, not a King of love.

Jesus knows that the Pharisees who are warning him to get away will cry to Pilate to do their dirty work.

Jesus knows that the King Herod will defer to the power of Rome to finally rid his Kingdom of this popular preacher.

Jesus knows that their desire for power will lead to death.

It is the way of the Old Sinner.

Herod and the Pharisees don’t know that Jesus is willingness to die for the sake of love, will save the world.

But we do.

And still this Jesus who saves the world, who endures our greatest power of death to show love, still threatens us.

Because the old sinner within us who pushes us to fear, to resent, to be closed off, to hoard and to control… this old sinner, this twisted and tangled thing knows that the love of Jesus will change us. That love will untwist and untangle. That love will forgive and show grace.

And Jesus knows that love makes us anxious, that old sinner, the twisted and tangled thing doesn’t want to be loved. Jesus knows that loving us will transform us. Jesus knows that loving us will make us care less about ourselves and more about others. Jesus knows that love will make us less afraid, less closed off, hoard less, control less, worry less. Jesus knows love will makes us let go of power…

Herod wasn’t a well-liked King and the Pharisees weren’t well-liked religious rulers. We are people threatened by love.

And Jesus isn’t either of these things either. Not puppet King, nor religious overlord, nor symbol of power and influence.

Jesus is a mother hen with nothing but love to give. Love for sinners who feel threatened. Love for tangled and twisted people who get anxious.

And just like stubborn chicks who need their mother hen, Jesus love will gather and change us too.


 

*Thanks to Nadia Bolz-Weber for the “twisted-tangled” language for sin