Monday, April 13, 2009

Alleluia, We Sing Your Praises

Easter Sunday Year B

Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 118:1-2,14-24; Acts 10:34-43; Mark 16:1-8

“Where Jesus is, there is life,…life-before-death”

Not me, oh Lord, but you. Amen!

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
[The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia!]

Good Morning! It is a blessing to be here with you on this Easter Sunday Morning, the day of our Lord’s Resurrection. “This is the day Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

See, the word Alleluia means “praise God!” Praise be to God! We’ve been fasting from saying Alleluia in our worship these forty days of lent, preparing ourselves, being sanctified by God, to let our praise ring out today. To help our Alleluias ring out this morning, I want to do something a little different. I want to teach you a song. Our guest musician, Benhi Khabeb, is going help us as well.
So, here’s how it goes. I’ll sing a line and you’ll sing it back along with Benhi.

Alleluia, we sing your praises.
All our hearts are filled with gladness.

Alleluia, we sing your praises.
All our hearts are filled with gladness.

Christ the Lord, to us said,
“I am wine. I am bread.
I am wine. I am bread.
Give to all who thirst and hunger.”

Wonderful! Thank you for playing along!
I taught you that song this because I am haunted by the words of the theologian Jurgen Moltmann from his book, The Passion of Life. He writes,
Where Jesus is, there is life, there is abundant life, vigorous life, loved life and eternal life. There is life-before-death. I find it deeply disturbing and unsettling whenever I think about how we have become accustomed to death—to the death of the soul, to death on the street, to death through violence, to death-before-life.

I think Jurgen is on to something here. On this Resurrection Sunday we are reminded that where Jesus is there is life. Life-before-death. Life so abundant it can not be destroyed by death. Jesus gives us that life just like it says in the verse of the song we just learned. “I am wine. I am Bread. Give to all who thirst and hunger.” The abundant and vigorous life of Christ is given to us each and every time we come to God’s altar and receive the body and blood of Christ. Where Christ is there is life.

Now some folks, out there, might say that Christ is dead, that God is dead. That Jesus is not present here in North Omaha nor at the Church of the Resurrection. They could say that our Sunday Morning attendance is declining. They could say that our building has cracks in it, our parking lot has too few stalls, our priest is too young and our location is bad. My response is simple: Crap! That analysis is a grade A load of horse manure if I have heard it. Not 22 years ago this congregation didn’t exist, there was no church of the Resurrection. Yet over coming the weight of American racial separation two churches embarked on the long struggle to become one congregation. Here we stand over 20 years later still a diverse family united in God’s love.

I was telling a guy from North Carolina the other day about our church. He said, “y’all stayed together for over twenty years. How’d y’all pull that off?” I said, “We do it by eating together.” His reply, “Laws yes, y’all got that right.” Every time we come together at the Lord’s table, and every time we sit down together at a dinner table it is a symbol of Resurrection, a symbol of abundant life, of life-before-death.

Another piece of evidence that Christ is present and there is life in this congregation is our glorious choir. They’ve been working hard, and this morning they are going to sing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. It’s been tough, but no tougher then Jesus dying cross for us. And this morning when they bust that out, you will have no doubt they believe Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The Hallelujah Chorus at the church of the Resurrection. Just ten twelve years ago that could not have been imagined. If that ain’t a symbol of Resurrection I don’t know what is.

Now some might say, that these signs of life here are nice and all, but preacher have you looked a newspaper lately? Yeah, I have. I know when I look a paper, or see the news on TV, or the internet, that there are a whole lot people that just don’t give a damn about their neighbors near and far. Then I come here to the Church of the Resurrection, and I see folks caring for their fellow congregants like they were Christ himself. I come here to the Church of the Resurrection and see folks caring for perfect strangers like they were Christ himself. I see young adults formed for leadership in the church and world through Resurrection House. I see school children fed and taught to read at the Miller Park afterschool program. I see people housed at Maggie’s place. I see people’s stomachs fed and their homes heated through the 30th street ministry. I see the Good News of Jesus Christ being shared with the people of war torn Sudan by Fr. Daniel our Sudanese missioner.
I see these things. I rejoice in these things, but I do not pat us on the back. Let us not fall into the sin of complacency; for today I am reminded of the verse of that song we just learned. Jesus said, “I am wine. I am Bread. Give to ALL who thirst and hunger.” Give to All.

There is a large mass of hurting people all over the world, and right here in Omaha. There is a large mass of people that turn to violence to solve their problems all over the world, and right here in Omaha. There is a large mass of people that are physically and spiritually hungry all over the world and right here in Omaha. People who need to know that their redeemer lives. People who need to know that God loves them. People who need to know that Christ is risen and where Jesus is there is life-before-death.


The words of that song we just learned sum it all up. Christ gives us his vigorous abundant life. In turn, we are to share it.
My brothers and sisters, the time is now and the place it here. We are called not just to attend the Church of the Resurrection. We are called not just to walk this aisle and receive the body and blood of Christ. We are called not just to serve the word of God.

We are called to spread the word God around the world.
We are called to be the Body and Blood Christ broken, blessed, and shared with all.
We are called to be Resurrection to rise up in this forgotten part of empire and be a bright shining beacon of hope to a hurting world.
My brothers and sisters, I believe Christ is risen. I believe that where Christ is there is powerful life. I believe we are Resurrection. I believe we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
My Brothers and Sisters, today sing praise to God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Praise be to God. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise God who working in us can do infinitely more then we could ask or imagine. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! We sing your praises. All our hearts are filled with gladness! Alleluia, Alleluia, Amen!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Good Friday

“See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high.”

May only God’s word be spoken and may only God’s word be heard. Amen!

Once upon a time, on a Sunday afternoon deep in the bible belt, there was an old school preach off. Now, you might not know what preach off is. A preach off is where after the Sunday service is over and after you have had dinner on the grounds everybody goes back in the church and all the local preachers come and try to out preach each other. You do some singing and praising God, but mainly folks just want to see who can bring the word of God into God’s house.

Now at this particular preach off, on this hot summer day, there were three preachers lined up to give it a go. The first preacher approached the pulpit with utmost most dignity and reverence. He warmed the crowd up with a couple of jokes and then brought all the hell fire and brimstone he could muster. For forty-five minutes he exhorted, he cajoled, he proclaimed, and he exclaimed about all the sinful woes of this world. He enumerated all the ways the people of God had been lacking in their devotion and chastised with an ever deepening voice the lethargic faith he perceived in the people.

When he finished there was much lamenting and repentance, and more then a little posterior pew soreness as well. So they stood and sang some songs and got ready for the next contestant. The second preacher went for an hour and half in an even louder and deeper voice. He smacked pulpit to emphasize each of his 37 points in his diatribe. He picked up where the other preacher had left off, hit the ground running with castigation of the people and picked up speed with his denounciations. Again, when he had finished, there was much repenting and, you guessed it posterior pew soreness.

These were tough acts to follow, and quite honestly while they sang some songs after the second guy, the people in the pews wondered if the third guy could bring it at all in the wake of what they had just heard. The third preacher worried them something fierce.

See, first off he didn’t look like the other two. Where they had looked distinguished and wizened, he looked plain. Where his predecessors had looked commanding and powerful, he looked simple. Where the first two had looked larger then life, this guy was small.

Nevertheless, he approached the pulpit and the crowd settled down to hear what he had to say. He stood there for a moment in silence. After a moment when the silence started to move from profound to uncomfortable he simply said, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.” He paused and then said again, “My Brothers and Sisters, it’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.” And then finally he said, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming. If you believe that in the darkness of your Friday, God will act and Sunday will come, then walk this aisle and proclaim Jesus as your lord and savior from this point on.” Needless to say, not only did everybody walk the aisle, but he won the preach off.

Now, he was preaching in a place and time when community was a stronger force. The congregation that day knew what he meant by Friday. They knew he was talking of Good Friday, the day our God is crucified, the day when darkness seems to triumph over light. Good Friday is when the itinerant homeless teacher Jesus of Nazareth is crucified, executed by the Roman Empire in a public and grotesque manner on a garbage heap outside of Jerusalem. This is the day when it seems that Jesus’ message of love, his theology of peace through justice, seems to be defeated by the Roman Imperial theology of peace through victory, Roman peace provided by the violent conquest and oppression of the vanquished.

The scriptures tell the story that the death of Jesus was such a blow, such a defeating event for his followers that darkness fell in the middle of the day. Jesus the Christ was crucified. God was dead. It was Friday, but Sunday was coming.

See, over and over in scripture when things are at there bleakest, when hope is in the least, God acts. Indeed it is only the act of God that overcomes darkness and despair. It is the gracious act of God that brings Israel out of Egypt, it is the gracious act of God that restores the people from exile, and it is the gracious act of God to become one of us; to live amongst us preaching good news to the poor, sight to the blind, freedom for the captive, and justice for the oppressed. It was a gracious act of God to refuse to become the violence of this world; rather to die on a cross this day, this Friday.

Some might say that we are in a Friday era of our world’s existence. War is nonstop at this point, economies are crashing, and here in America it is hard to tell if we are a city on a hill or just another empire. But if it’s Friday, Sunday’s coming.
When our personal tragedies threaten to overcome us, when the darkness of pain, disease, and death are at hand…it’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.

When our community bleeds from violence, when our institutions fail to respond with justice, when it is easier for our children to get their hands on a gun then on a text book…it’s Friday but Sunday’s coming.

When the church is more interested in building shiny edifices then fertilizing the roots of justice, when the church is more interested in fighting over who we can exclude then how we can open the doors of the kingdom wider for all to walk through…it’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.

When our own numbers decrease on Sunday morning, when the walls crack and carpet fades, when we wonder if there will be another generation of this congregation to share the Love of God in this place…it’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.
My brothers and sisters, make no doubt about it, it’s Friday, but Suday’s coming. Amen!

Easter Sunday service at the Church of the Resurrection is at 10:30 April 12th, with brunch and an Easter Egg hunt to follow.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

From a dude named Francis

Web Meditation 7 April 2009

A Prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen!

I triple dawg dare you to pray this prayer--by pray I mean say it with a desire for it to be true--three to five times a day for a month. I dare you! Just see what happens.

This meditation is also posted on the website of the Church of the Resurrection.

Monday, April 06, 2009

A personal Reminder

Web Meditation 6 April 2009

Last night I went to the Beggars Society, a monthly gathering hosted by the mission organization Word Made Flesh. The speaker was Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove a member of the new monasticism movement. Jonathan doesn't really fit what the words "monk" or "monastic" normally connote. He does not wear a robe. He and his wife have a son. He isn't even Roman Catholic. He's a Protestant Evangelical. Now you might be wondering what my self-proclaimed liberal self was doing hanging out with an Evangelical. Well Jonathan does not really fit in the common perception of that word either. He does, however, love Jesus and take scripture very seriously.

He lives in the Rutba House in Durham, North Carolina, which he and his wife helped found. The 12 people in the community share a common rhythm of life, common resources, and common prayer. Living together in two houses in Durham, they gather for prayers at 7:00 a.m., go off to their respective jobs, and then gather for a common meal and prayers at the end of the day as well. There are married folks and single folks in the community. They are actively trying to live out the community descriptions of the books of Acts. Like I said they take scripture very seriously. He told the story last night of when they formed the community some members thought it was the Christian thing to do to be vegetarian. This stance conflicted with the members of the community who liked eating the southern delicacy known as fired chicken. The community did a SIX MONTH bible study on every single mention of food in the bible as deep and as researched as they could. They decided in the end that the important thing when Christians eat together is that they EAT TOGETHER!

I must admit I was both charmed and humbled by this man. His demeanor was so relaxed and comfortable in his own skin it mesmerized me. He simply loves Jesus, thinks about what that means, and changes his life accordingly. This profoundly simple, but authentic and rich faith, humbled me. I too often get caught in my own head and start worrying about whether I can preach the hard teachings of Jesus and my congregation still like me. Now, I'm not the only clergy person who wonders what people will think if we preach the truth. Shoot, we as group tend to get worked up about what people will think and whether they'll still come to church if we change a light bulb, not to mention the hard teachings of Jesus (for example Matt. 18 and 24:40). I was reminded last night that "it's hard to be Christian in America (New Monasticism P.11)." However the abundance of life, of rich and deep relationships, of happiness, are worth the challenge. I pray that I remain humble and listening to Jesus, to not worry about this world, and focus on building the Kingdom.

This meditation is also posted on the website of the Church of the Resurrection

Friday, April 03, 2009

Collect (prayer) for the fifth week of Lent

O Lord, you relieve our necessity out of the abundance of your great riches: Grant that we may accept with joy the salvation you bestow, and manifest it to all the world by the quality of our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever. Amen.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

A quote from St. Teresa of Avila

Christ has no body now but yours
No hands, no feet on earth but yours
Yours are the eyes through which He looks
compassion on this world
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

This quote is also posted on the website of the Church of the Resurrection

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Great Vigil of Easter

Web Meditation 1 April 2009

The Church of the Resurrection isn't doing a Great Vigil this year, and hasn't for several years. However, I hope for us to grow into this tradition soon. It's an important liturgy because in its drama, theology, and form it is literally the mother of all Eucharists. It is the most dramatic ritual the church performs all year because we do spectacular things. We light fire. We read up to nine pieces of the most dramatic stories from scripture, and there is freedom to be creative with these readings. I've experienced James Weldon Johnson's Creation poem from God's Trombones used as the creation reading. Abstract paintings depicting the creation unveiled during the creation reading. Water poured into a metal bowl, intentionally loud, during the parting of the waters reading from exodus. The dry bones of Ezkiel come alive with a dramatic reading by a woman as God and a man as Ezekiel with percussion playing the back ground. All this happens in a darkened church. It is symbolic and mimetic. We remember the story, the history of God's salvation that comes to us while we are still in the darkness of sin in the darkened church. Then the lights come up suddenly inaugurating the new life of Easter, the new life available to us in the risen Christ.

The new life in Christ is the theological statement of the service. Dr. Jim Farewell writes in his book This is the Night, "The Great Vigil begins in the darkness of Easter eve, sometime between sunset on Saturday and sunrise on Easter morning. The celebrant initiates the liturgy with this address to the people, in which the gathering is caught up in the mystery of the passing over into freedom of the people of Israel and the passing over of Jesus from Death to Life:(61)"

Dear friends in Christ: On this most holy night, in which our Lord Jesus passed over from death to life, the Church invites her members, dispersed throughout the world, to gather in vigil and prayer. For this is the Passover of the Lord, in which, by hearing his Word and celebrating his Sacraments, we share in his victory over death.(BCP 1979)

By immersing ourselves liturgically in the salvation history and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus we are caught up in that new life, that new creation of which scripture tells us the Risen Lord is the first born. Our regular Sunday Eucharists are an extension of this active participation in salvation history. The Vigil births the regular Sunday Eucharistic celebration. The form of the service has four parts: the Lighting of the New Fire and Exsultet; the Vigil Readings; Holy Baptism; and the Holy Eucharist. Our regular Sunday Eucharists are intentionally similar in form though scaled down somewhat. The procession and entrance rite on Sunday morning relates to the New Fire and Exsultat; the service of the word and sermon are a reflection on the Salvation history like the Vigil Readings; when we say the Creed on Sundays it is a remembrance of our Baptism; and the Eucharist is always a re-membrance, a putting back together of the body of Christ just as it is on Easter eve.

The drama, the theology, and the form of the Easter Vigil make it a bold pronouncement of God's Grace and an overwhelming experience for God's people. Therefore I hope that the Church of the Resurrection will start a tradition of the Great Vigil of Easter in the future.

The meditation is also posted on the website of the Church of the Resurrection.