April 25, 2011

Sermon Easter Sunday April 24, 2011

Sermon for Resurrection of our Lord A
April 24, 2011
Michael Coffey

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Alleluia! Because something happened, didn’t it?
I mean, something did happen.
No matter what you think about this resurrection business,
something happened.
Somewhere between Jesus’ last 24 hours
of Passover meal and footwashing,
rejection, humiliation, suffering, and death,
and then the Sunday morning turnaround,
something happened.

Something happened.
An empire flinched,
and crushed a small movement’s leader,
but the movement didn’t go away.
Something happened.
Some women went to a tomb looking for Jesus’ dead body,
and they ran away in fear and awe telling their friends
everything was beginning again in Galilee with him.
Something happened.
A posse of Jesus’ friends denied his friendship, scattered in fear,
abandoned him in his most vulnerable hour
and his lonely, shameful death,
and then they inexplicably found new courage,
awakened faith,
and energy to serve, love, heal, transform lives
and even die,
all just as Jesus had done.

Something happened,
and what happened was God, God happened.
God the creator of all things,
and the will of all things,
and the lover of all things,
did creation one better:
New creation!
New life out of death!
New reality out of old!
New hope out of rampant despair!

The big question today for us as we listen and wonder at this story,
is NOT: What exactly happened?
Even the biblical writers don’t try to answer that.
Something did happen.
But the big question for us today is:
Can anything happen among us, today,
in us, in our world,
our time, this life?
Can God happen?
Can we see and be open to and hope for
God to be God for us
and to do the things God does:
create, will, love, and renew?

It seems clear in the story
that back then, not unlike today,
no one actually expected anything to happen.
Even though Jesus had told all his followers
to expect that God would make something wonderful happen,
to see in his humble pathway, in his rejection and suffering and death,
the gate being opened for God to do God’s great something,
they still didn’t expect anything.

Pilate and the Roman power structure didn’t expect anything at all,
other than maybe the body might be stolen,
and a trick might be played on those who debunked Jesus.
But they didn’t expect
that anything more than their power to crush and control
and promote the Empire could happen.

The religious authorities didn’t expect anything to happen
except that the old order of things would be maintained,
and they could keep their status and privilege,
and keep God under wraps, doing little if anything.
But, alleluia, something happened.

Throughout the Gospel story one message comes through
loud and clear.
From the beginning when Joseph and Mary
are told to expect a baby,
right on through Jesus’ teaching on how to follow him
and to make the cross the true pathway to life,
right up to the mysterious encounter
with Jesus after crucifixion and death,
one message comes through: Do not be afraid!
Do not be afraid! Because God is happening!
And when something happens by God,
your fear keeps you from welcoming and embracing it.

That merry band of men and women
that followed Jesus,
and ran away in fear and failure,
returned to Galilee and encountered his very presence,
and mercy, and embrace, and teaching, and missional energy.
Their fear got turned into faith,
and they lived beyond all that held them back before,
they lived beyond all their low expectations
that nothing would ever happen.
Some of them even died doing it, because
Alleluia! Something happened.

Can anything happen today?
Can we live beyond our low expectations about what is actually possible?
Can we have any openness beyond our predictable rationality
and our need to understand and control even God?
Can we move beyond our fear,
and not only our fear of death
but our fear of life,
our fear of truly living and loving and being?
Can something happen today
that renews us to be the people
whose very lives show forth more and more
the unexpected love and mercy and generosity of God,
which Jesus himself made alive in the world and in us?

Can something happen today
so we can live, really live, finally live, freely live.
Because if something can happen,
and we can again be set free from our fear and doubt,
and new streams of love and care and forgiveness and mercy
can flow from us, then guess what?
Something happens!
God creates, wills, loves, and renews us!

Two poets capture beautifully this faith and trust
in the God who brings life out of death, who renews us:
The famous 20th century poet E. E. Cummings wrote:
i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of all nothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

And the great 16th century poet, Martin Luther, wrote:
Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection,
not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.

If something can happen,
if God will indeed act as God acts in Jesus
if God is the God of resurrection in Jesus,
in you and me, in springtime renewal,
in every mysterious recovery of joy and hope,
then what should we expect?

Notice in the story,
Jesus tells his friends to go on to Galilee,
meet him there, meet him back on that mountain,
the mountain of instruction.
Here’s your Easter exercise:
go and read Matthew chapters 5 to 7,
go back to the mountain where he taught how to live the new life.
This is where Jesus taught his friends
how to live out his way,
his radical way of trusting God in all of life,
of living without needing to prop yourself up
any higher than you are right now,
of living with love and integrity in all things and with all people,
of opening yourself up to the word of grace that renews you
when your way of living and loving falls short.
This is where the resurrection of Jesus
finds its potential and purpose and power:
In following, in loving, in risking, in sacrificing,
all of it done, he says,
with his risen, living presence empowering your life.

God happens, resurrection happens, Jesus happens
in every forgiveness offered,
in every family life renewed,
in every healing granted,
in every dollar sent to Japan
and every 10 dollars that buys a mosquito net to end Malaria,
in every injustice resisted,
in every choice for integrity,
in every acceptance of the hard path instead of the easy,
in every moment when we let go of our old selves,
and the new self in Christ shines through,
in every granting to yourself the same love and acceptance
granted to everyone else here.
To live with resurrection faith
is to live beyond your fear of death,
and live beyond your fear of life,
and know the freeing beautiful mystery of life with God in Christ.

Can anything happen today, now, with us?
The answer is a wide open unimaginable yes.
Do not be afraid!
Get on with the joyful mission of loving and serving this wonderful,
hurting, aching, dying world so new life can emerge.
This is Christ risen in you!
Fall head over heals in love with God
even as you fall into God’s arms in your own necessary journey
of life, death, and resurrection.
Can anything happen today?
The answer does not depend on our answering it
or believing it, or making it true.
It depends on God alone.
But our trusting in God and losing our fear
opens us up to live in the reality of what is happening with God.
Can anything happen?
It already has and is, right here and now.
God is here in Christ, happening,
and we are not the same as we were.
How could we be with such infinite joy
and profound mercy and all that is God’s yes.
Do not be afraid!
Alleuia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

April 22, 2011

April 21, 2011 Maundy Thursday Sermon

Sermon for Maundy Thursday
April 21, 2011
Michael Coffey

Jesus is making it all clear now.
Even in the sometimes confusing world of John’s Gospel,
you can’t miss it.
It is his great children’s sermon object lesson.
He is revealing word by word, act by act,
what God is about for the aching, lonely world,
for suffering humanity,
for individual persons feeling their way through the darkness.
In John’s Gospel,
Jesus reveals God to those who will see God in him,
because Jesus embodies the truth and love of God.
In the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet,
he now makes it all clear:
I have loved you with the very love of God.
Now love one another with the same love.

Jesus gives this new commandment, this new mandate,
this new Maundy:
Love one another as I have loved you.
The order of things in this commandment is revealing and grace filled:
I love you. Love one another with the loved by which you are loved.
Jesus says this same thing in two places in John’s Gospel.
He says it in the text we just heard, John 13,
and then a little later in John 15,
part of the same last night with his disciples,
he says it again: Love one another as I have loved you.

And this time, he says this:

12 "This is my commandment,
that you love one another as I have loved you.
13 No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one's life for one's friends.
14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.
15 I do not call you servants any longer,
because the servant does not know what the master is doing;
but I have called you friends,
because I have made known to you everything
that I have heard from my Father.

Jesus now takes his love for his disciples
to a wonderful, sacred, and holy relationship:
He calls them friends.
Jesus reveals the great depth of God’s connection to us and the whole world,
which we rarely see or trust or live by:
You are my friends if you do this:
Love one another.
Wash one another’s feet.
Take care of each other.
You are my friends if you befriend one another
because that is what I am:
God befriending you.
Jesus’ friendship is embodied
in washing his friend’s feet, taking care of them,
living in humility with them,
and in laying down his life for them,
friendship in the cross, the great foot washing,
where the Lord and Teacher and Messiah
befriends in a way we marvel at.

Yes, he is teacher and Lord.
Yes, he is the Messiah, the Christ, the chosen one.
So how humbling and startling and wonderful
that he says: You are my friends. Call me your friend.
Befriend one another, for God is befriending you.

What could be more startling and wonderful and healing
in our world today
than to hear this one, clear, powerful message:
You are befriended, friend of God, and my friend.
To be sure, it is a message that comes with the commandment:
Love with the same love of God that befriends.
Befriend one another, be friend of all others!

In this life where each of us
knows and yet longs for
the power of true friendship,
how great and life-giving it is to know the gift of
friends who take care of each other,
friends who embody love instead of only talking about it,
or romanticizing it, or watching it on TV,
friends who go through life and death with you,
friends who wash your feet and welcome you into their home,
friends who come to your bedside when you are sick,
friends who celebrate with you when joy visits your house,
friends who grieve with you when death comes, too.

I am a pretty big fan of Facebook,
and the ways that technology can enhance our fragmented society,
which in part, and ironically, is fragmented because of technology.
But let’s think for a minute
how we have come to think of the word “friend” today,
and how different that is from the friendship Jesus embodies,
and the kind of Jesus friends he commands us to be.
Let’s compare for a minute,
without getting too corny or carried away,
a Facebook friend with a Jesus friend:

A Facebook friend never has to be touched or looked at in the eye.
A Jesus friend has to wash feet and have their feet washed
and looked at another directly.

A Facebook friend can be ignored, skimmed past, or unfriended.
A Jesus friend is loved to the end.

A Facebook friend responds to your unfolding life story in status updates
with a few words typed into a box.
A Jesus friend responds with compassionate action, humility,
and sacrifice of time, energy, and self.

Could it be that the power of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection
is simply to draw us into friendship with God,
and so empower us to befriend one another, befriend all others,
until the whole lonely world is living in divine friendship together,
everyone’s feet washed and welcomed,
and everyone a footwasher?
Could it be that as we fret and worry
about the church today and what it is about
and how it will survive and thrive,
that all we should be doing
is loving one another with the humble love of Jesus,
and befriending a lonely world longing for divine friendship?
You want to understand how to share the good news with others today?
Love them! Love them with the love of God in Jesus!
To show forth the reality and presence of God in this life
Is to do the Jesus thing: love others as friend in the flesh.

Midweek Lent services – we met in homes, instead of feet we washed hands, showing hospitality, welcoming, befriending... a beautiful thing.

He says it today:
Love one another as I have loved you.
Jesus is the very real love of God.
No one else is that in the way that Jesus is.
And yet, Jesus says: Do it! Love with my own love,
which is the very love of God!

Jesus washes feet.
We wash feet.
Jesus loves as humble servant.
We love as humble servant.
Jesus befriends us.
We befriend one another.

It is all made clear now, in the footwashing today,
and in the cross tomorrow:
Love one another as I have loved you.
It is a commandment, but it is a commandment that comes
to those who are already befriended by God in Jesus,
those who have already been washed and welcomed.