Sunday, July 5, 2020

A Better Country, That Is, a Heavenly One

Sermon for Independence Day, transferred
Hebrews 11:8-16; Matthew 5:43-48

Fr. Jeff likes to note how he often assigns himself to preach when we have really tough readings, and that’s true.  Just for the record, I want to note that not only did I get the sacrifice of Isaac last week, but I’m also now preaching about Independence Day, and therefore American history, at a moment when people across the country are demanding that statues of national figures be taken down.  In fact, right here in Kansas City, we hear calls to remove the statues of President Andrew Jackson from the county courthouses,1 and the K.C. Parks and Recreation Commissioners last week voted to remove the name of J.C. Nichols from his fountain and street on the Plaza.2  I think all that should earn me some points on the tough-assignment scoreboard back in the office.
So – let’s start with our first reading for the Feast of Independence Day, from the Letter to the Hebrews.  “By faith, by faith, by faith,” it says, part of a longer section of Hebrews that traces the faithfulness of Israel’s heroes:  Abel, Noah, and Abraham, whose journey of faith we’ve been tracing for a few weeks now; and then later on to Moses, Gideon, Sampson, David, Samuel; as well as those who brought down “the walls of Jericho after [surrounding them] for seven days” (11:30).  More on that in a minute.
The writer of Hebrews looks to these heroes of Israelite history not just because of what they did but, even more, because of what they sought.  The letter says, “All these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them.”  They were “seeking a homeland … a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” (11:13-16)
So, here we are this Independence Day weekend, celebrating our history, and our heroes, and our hope.  As I said, this year it comes amid conflict over taking down monuments to men once lauded but now despised by some for their policies and beliefs about people they saw as less than human. That’s the critique of President Andrew Jackson.  Jackson did a lot to democratize our politics, but he also helped destroy Native people’s civilizations … and, by the way, held African people in slavery, as did so many of our leaders. 
So … removing statues, or renaming streets and fountains – that’s probably not what you tuned in for this morning as we celebrate the United States and pray for guidance to “use our liberty in accordance with [God’s] gracious will” (BCP 258).  I’d be happy to go have a beer with you and hear what you think, as well as sharing what I think, about the specifics of honoring Andrew Jackson, or J.C. Nichols, or Robert E. Lee.  But maybe the Church’s celebration of our country could be an opportunity to step back and see this controversy in a different light.
Among the heroes mentioned, at least indirectly, in the eleventh chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews are those who brought down the walls of Jericho after surrounding that city for seven days.  You may remember the story from Sunday School or from the old spiritual, “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho.”  It’s from the Book of Joshua, which tells of the conquest of the Promised Land by the people of Israel. 
Here’s a quick recap:  Moses led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and then into the desert wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula, where they wandered for a couple of generations.  God let Moses see the land of Canaan, the land God had promised to the Israelites; but Moses died just before they crossed the Jordan River.  With Moses’ death, his assistant, Joshua, takes command – literally.  This band of wilderness wanderers has now become an army.  As God parted the Red Sea to allow the Israelites to escape Egypt, so God stops the flow of the Jordan River to let them move into the Promised Land on dry ground.  And God directs them to conquer that land, giving very specific instructions how and where to fight and testing their faithfulness along the way.  The Israelite army is sometimes faithful to God’s directions, like when they surround Jericho and bring down its walls with just a trumpet blast.  But they sometimes ignore God’s directions, which eventually keeps the Israelites from taking all of Canaan as promised (Judges 2:1-5).  That’s the version of the Book of Joshua many of us have heard before.
And … if you step back from this story of a people striving to be faithful to God’s promises, you also have a story of a nation seeking to wipe out indigenous people and take their land.  And this is even more problematic than it sounds because, according to the Book of Joshua, they’re doing that because God tells them to.  “Proceed to cross the Jordan…,” God says.  “Every place that the sole of your feet will tread upon, I have given to you. …  No one shall be able to stand against you….” (1:2-3,5)  And Scripture doesn’t spare the gruesome details.  At Jericho, the story says, “they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys” and “burned down the city and everything in it” (6:21,24).   That’s not exactly the picture of loving your neighbor we usually like to hold up.  Even if the land was promised to the Israelites – Lord, was there really no way to put them there other than killing the people who were there first? 
This is not just a question of Biblical interpretation, though that’s significant enough.  The story of the Israelites doing God’s will by invading another country – that story was used as a paradigm for Manifest Destiny here, as our nation took over the lands of the Native peoples.  Preachers and politicians alike pointed to the Book of Joshua specifically to justify why it was OK to take the land of the people who were there first and kill them in the process.3
It probably won’t surprise you that the Book of Joshua is not my favorite in the Biblical canon.  I read those stories of conquest, and think about how they’ve been used in American history, and remember a mission trip to the Rosebud Sioux reservation we took here a few years ago, and think about the devastation of Native life – and I don’t really much want to read the Book of Joshua.  In fact, I wouldn’t mind if it weren’t in the Bible at all.
So, should I start a movement to drop Joshua from the Biblical canon?  (It wouldn’t be the first time such a thing has happened.  Martin Luther wanted to remove four books from the core of the Bible and turn them into an appendix.4)  Dropping the Book of Joshua might feel satisfying.  It might even be healing for the faithful people we met living on the Rosebud, and millions like them.
But then, I think about what we’d lose without the Book of Joshua.  It’s a cautionary tale that, even when we’re doing what we believe is God’s will, we can’t just do it any way we want.  Part of faithfulness is self-limitation, following God’s ways even when it’s inconvenient – and you find that in Joshua, as God limits the invading army’s right to pillage, for example.  Joshua is also a tale of courage, of trusting God even when the numbers are against you or when you’ve wandered in the wilderness and your trust is pretty well spent.  We need to hear those divine words when our backs are against the wall – as God tells Joshua, “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (1:9).  And, the Book of Joshua is a tale of commitment to God, with Joshua challenging the people to step up:  He says, serve the Lord “in sincerity and faithfulness….  [C]hoose this day whom you shall serve, whether the gods your ancestors served … or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (24:14-15).  That’s inspiring stuff.  So, if I don’t like the conquest of the Canaanites, and if I could take the Book of Joshua out of the Bible, what might I lose in the process?
Well, instead, we could deal with the Book of Joshua in all its messiness.  We could let ourselves be inspired by this study in faithfulness and make ourselves ask hard questions of a text that’s justified the taking of lands and extermination of peoples.  We could embrace the complexity of this story, and the complexity of our national story, and the complexity of our own stories – the need to look our own sinfulness in the eye and give thanks that God sees more to us than that.
Dealing with complexity … that doesn’t seem to be among our greatest strengths as a nation right now.  Too often, we want answers that boil down to slogans on signs or ballcaps, and we’d really prefer to hear from people who already carry the same sign or wear the same ballcap as we do. 
But I hear a different call from Jesus in today’s second reading – a call to harder and better work.  He tells us, “[L]ove your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).  Now, loving our enemies might take many shapes, but I think listening to our enemies might be the essential start to whatever would come next.  You cannot love a person whose heart and mind you will not hear.  Now, that’s hard work.  But it’s also the work I think our nation needs most right now.
And, it’s work that will lead us one step closer to the seemingly impossible call Jesus gives us at the end of today’s Gospel reading.  If we only love those who love us – if we only listen to the points of view that reinforce our existing narrative and pillory those who think differently – “what reward do you have?” Jesus asks.  “Do not even the tax collectors do the same?”  Instead, he says, “be perfect … as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) 
Well, perfection may not sound like a goal we can achieve, but we can’t hide behind the apparent impossibility of that call.  Jesus isn’t telling us we can’t make any mistakes.  That word in Greek we translate as “perfect” is about something more complex – it’s about becoming whole, becoming complete, becoming mature.5  It’s about a journey toward the mystery and complexity of God – a God, our stories say, who says and does things we just don’t get: testing the most faithful person ever, giving a land to one people but at devastating cost to another, asking us to give up all our possessions and rely on God alone.  That’s not a faithfulness of sound bites.  It’s a faithfulness of deep and prayerful engagement with points of view we only begin to understand.  It’s a faithfulness that leads us toward what we all want this Independence Day, whatever sign we carry or ballcap we wear – the faithfulness that strives for us to be “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16).

1.      Schwers, Kaitlyn. “Frank White calls for removal of Andrew Jackson statues in front of county courthouses.”  Kansas City Star.  Available at:  Accessed July 3, 2020.
2.      Adler, Eric.  “Kansas City parks board strikes J.C. Nichols’ name from Plaza fountain and street.”  Kansas City Star.  Available at:  Accessed July 3, 2020.
3.      For more information, see Hawk, L. Daniel. Joshua in 3-D: A Commentary on Biblical Conquest and Manifest Destiny.  Available at:
4.      Barton, John.  A History of the Bible: The Story of the World’s Most Influential Book.  New York: Viking, 2019.  395.
5.      HarperCollins Study Bible,  p. 1868 (note).

Offering Isaac

Sermon for June 20, 2020
Genesis 22:1-14
This morning, we’re continuing our summer sermon series: “What the Heck, Lord?  God’s Presence in Tough Times.”  Today’s reading may be the ultimate “what the heck, Lord?” story, one of the most challenging there is: God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac, Abraham’s promise for the future.
Even with the story’s straightforward style, you can’t miss the pathos and grief.  For no apparent reason, God tests Abraham, telling him, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love … and offer him … as a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:2).  So, Abraham does – just as obediently as he left his home and his tribe years before and set out for an unknown land.  Abraham and Isaac travel three days to get to the place God has in mind – which means Abraham has three days with his son to think about what God’s asking him to do.  Isaac himself carries the wood for the sacrifice, prefiguring Jesus bearing his cross.  And Isaac, in the innocence of childhood, asks the heart-rending question: Dad, we’ve brought wood, torches, and a knife; but where’s “the lamb for a burnt offering?” (22:7).  Abraham must be sobbing as he tries to explain what he can’t begin to understand, saying, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (22:8).  Then Abraham prepares the altar and the wood, and binds Isaac, and takes up the knife to kill him.  But at the last minute, God intervenes and stops Abraham.  God now trusts Abraham’s trust, knowing that he will withhold nothing of his heart.  And God does provide what Abraham needs, trapping a sacrificial animal in a nearby thicket and ensuring that Isaac will continue the promised line of Abraham’s descendants.
Honestly, this story will strike many of us as horrifying.  How tortured must Abraham have felt?  How traumatized must Isaac have been?  We don’t get to hear God’s side of the story, but God must have been uncertain about the depth of Abraham’s trust and needed to test it.  In addition, maybe Abraham didn’t know the depth of Abraham’s trust, and God needed to show it to him.  But whatever the divine motivation, we’re left knowing God is God, and we are not; and God doesn’t owe an explanation to Abraham or to us.  Though we may not like it, the story argues that God does use life to test people and see how faithfully we’ll respond.
I believe these past three and a half months have been a time of testing for us.  The coronavirus pandemic has kept us unnaturally isolated, anxious, and afraid as we’ve heard about illness, death, bankruptcy, unemployment – and no end in sight.  In this same time, our nation’s open wound of racism has continued to bleed; and we’re seeing more and more clearly just how wide the gap is between White and Black narratives of our nation.  All that may make us indignant, even angry.  But I think it also makes us afraid.  Maybe we’re afraid our nation will never be the same.  Maybe we’re afraid our nation will never heal its wounds.  Maybe we’re afraid of what others may seek from us in the name of justice.  Maybe we’re afraid that the promise of freedom for all people will simply be denied again.  Whatever our take on these past weeks and months, fear is a common denominator – and maybe an indicator that a test is underway.
I think we’re in a time of testing as a congregation, too.  At our June Vestry meeting, reflecting on the movement for racial justice, I asked the Vestry members to discuss a broader question:  How can St. Andrew’s embody a Big Tent approach to faith while also articulating the values of our Episcopal Church, like affirming that Black lives matter to God and that LGBTQ people are made in God’s image and likeness?  I wanted the group to reflect on that broader question because we’re going to find it in issue after issue.  But some Vestry members wanted to move from that general discussion to specific action, though it wasn’t part of the agenda.  One member offered a resolution that we should proclaim publicly, by raising a flag, that St. Andrew’s supports Pride Month, standing as an ally of LGBTQ people. 
I can only speak directly to the last 15 years or so, but I would say St. Andrew’s has taken a relatively quick journey toward LGBTQ inclusion.  Of course, we’ve had gay and lesbian members for a very long time, probably from the start; but it wasn’t long ago that the prospect of two men or two women getting married here would have been a non-starter.  It wasn’t long ago that our diocese didn’t ordain partnered or married LGBTQ people.  That journey has been way too slow for some of us and way too fast for others.  Now, at our June meeting, several Vestry members were asking to continue the journey, moving St. Andrew’s from inclusion to public alliance – hence, the proposal to put up a flag for Pride Month. 
This unplanned conversation was fraught, but it also was respectful and rich.  Wisely, we ended up tabling the resolution to allow more time for conversation, thought, and prayer.  We’ll return to the topic next month, but – at the end of the day, the decision about a Pride flag falls to me.  In the Church canons, our governing laws, ultimate responsibility for church property, including signs and flags, rests with a parish’s rector.  So, in the Vestry meeting, I could have simply called the resolution out of order and proceeded with the agenda.  Some of you might be thinking that’s exactly what I should have done, and maybe you’re right.  But if you know me, you know I typically don’t lead that way.  From the beginning of my time with you, I’ve been preaching Jesus’ call to love one another, manifested in a leadership culture of collaboration.  Still, the canons make it clear that, ultimately, the decision to put up a flag for Pride Month would be mine. 
So, if I were following the model of the rector as king, what would I do?  I would put a Pride Month sign in the churchyard.  It probably doesn’t surprise you that my theology takes me there.  Eight years ago, as priest-in-charge, I stood here and told you I would preside at the marriages of LGBTQ people, if the Church and the state gave me authority to do that.  They both did, and we have.  I’ve always said we will hire the most qualified applicants for jobs here, and we have.  We’ve been blessed by the ministry and leadership of faithful LGBTQ people, lay and ordained.  I’m grateful for the journey we’ve taken to live into our Episcopal value that “all means all.”  So, if I were acting as king, we would communicate that value of “all means all” beyond the awareness of our St. Andrew’s family.
And … here’s where the testing comes.  “All means all” isn’t the only Episcopal value I hold dear or that we strive to practice here.  I also treasure the Big Tent – the vision that faithful people can disagree in their theology, politics, and social positions and still know they share something deeper.  This is part of our denominational DNA from the days of Queen Elizabeth I, who “settled” the bloody Protestant and Catholic disagreements in the 1500s by saying English people would worship in a common way, regardless of whether they agreed.  Common prayer is a big part of what it’s meant to be Episcopalian.  And because praying shapes believing, our history of common prayer has shaped us to be Christians who now choose to gather in difference, whether that’s gathering at this altar for Eucharist or gathering around a table for summertime BLTs. 
Well, I’ll tell you what:  Not gathering like that hasn’t done us any favors.  Part of the test we’re facing in this moment – one so obvious that we may miss it – has been our inability to gather around an altar or a table.  As Scripture says, “It is not good for humans to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).  We haven’t gathered as the Body of Christ since March 15.  And, of course, our disconnection doesn’t stop with the life of the church.  We’ve been stumbling through how to keep distance from each other for months now; and though some restrictions have eased, life just isn’t what it was.  Nor will it be, at least not until we find the Holy Grail of a coronavirus vaccine. 
So, I think this time is a test for us, and here’s the question I hear God asking:  How deeply will we trust that God will provide the wherewithal for us to hold onto our core values when the world wants to tear us apart?
In this period of testing, maybe we each have an “Isaac” that God is asking us to lay on the altar of sacrifice.  Maybe we each have something with which God has blessed us, nurtured us, inspired us – and now, we fear that forces beyond our control could take that blessing away.  Maybe it’s a son who’s at risk in a traffic stop.  Maybe it’s the sense of your full humanity that a single Supreme Court reversal could take down.  Maybe it’s the identity of our nation as a force for good.  Maybe it’s the safety of a polite church culture that’s protected us from disagreements.  Maybe it’s freedom you thought the Constitution guaranteed but now you sense is eroding.  What’s your Isaac?  Whether it’s about safety, or identity, or freedom, what do you fear may be taken away from you?  What would be the hardest thing for you to bring to the altar of sacrifice and trust that God will provide what you need anyway?     
I’ll tell you what I fear losing most, in terms of my life as your rector.  I fear losing this community as I’ve known it.  I fear losing people from both ends of the political and social spectrum because I love the people at both ends of the political and social spectrum.  I fear losing the Big Tent.  The Big Tent is my Isaac.  And now, I think God’s asking me to bind up the Big Tent, place it on the the altar, and allow God to do with it what God will.
The Big Tent is not an easy thing for me to offer up.  That approach to church has been a true blessing for centuries and one I’ve loved all my life; and God would not lightly ask for it back.  But I have to bind up and offer my Isaac to show whether I truly trust that God will provide.  And I’ll tell you, that’s frightening.    
Practically, what does that mean to put the Big Tent on the altar and see what God does with it?  Well, about the proposal to raise a Pride flag, I’m going to ask the Vestry to consider the broader question first: How can we live as the Big Tent in a day of deeper and deeper division?  I don’t mean that as an intellectual exercise but as a question to answer practically.  How do we proclaim the values of inclusion we embrace as The Episcopal Church, and pray together even when we disagree, and all the while follow this imperative: “First, love the person in front of you”?  What steps, what process, might that take, regardless of the presenting question?  As we journey in this boat that is St. Andrew’s Church, what will it look like when we see someone swimming toward us, looking for a hand to help him into the boat, and then see on his shirt whatever offends you most – maybe a Confederate flag or maybe an Antifa symbol?  Can we learn to extend a hand, and bring that person into the boat, and sit next to him anyway, and journey together toward heaven’s shore?
So, we’re going to build a process for being the Big Tent in a day when the world needs to know what our church does stand for.  Again, regardless of what process we create, a decision to take a public stance on something ultimately will be mine because the canons say so.  But I think, given the world in which we find ourselves, and the range of passion and giftedness among the people of this church, we’ll do a better job following Jesus if we have more opportunity to listen deeply to each other, not less, and if we do that through a process that’s dependable, fair, and clear. 
So, I ask your prayers as we move forward in that work.  The truth is, I don’t know exactly what the Big Tent will look like once we’ve trusted God enough to offer it up.  But I do know this: God makes good on divine promises.  Even when we’re frightened, even when we’re tested, even when God asks us to offer what we thought would root us forever – God keeps God’s word.  When we offer in sacrifice what we most hold dear, God doesn’t let the fire be lit.  Instead, we see blessing we couldn’t have seen otherwise in the midst of the crisis: What we treasure is strengthened for God’s purposes, and our trust just grows deeper as we see God does provide precisely what we need.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Trust Anyway

Sermon from May 10, 2020 (Mother's Day)
John 14:1-14

It’s Mother’s Day, so it won’t surprise you to know that I’ve had my mother on my mind.  She’s living in Jefferson City, in a senior living community.  And, like so many other people right now, she’s basically stuck in her apartment.  She goes to the store from time to time, or goes to see my sister who also lives in Jeff City; but she can’t interact with other people at her complex, and none of us can go inside to see her.  We talk on the phone, and she’s fine … at least as “fine” as anybody can be, in this situation.
But thinking about your mother also takes you back in time.  Yes, that tired and grumpy little boy is me, and the date stamp on the photo tells me I’m 20 months old.  At various points in her life, my mother was a teacher of English and speech, even travel geography later on; teaching is absolutely her passion.  But when my sisters and I were little, she spent most of her time working at home, raising us.  My memories of childhood are largely memories of my mother being there, guiding us, narrating life day by day.
I don’t know whether your parents used catch phrases as they raised you, but my mother certainly had one.  Whenever we kids would leave the house to go do something, my mother would smile and say, “Learn something, love somebody, and have a good time.”  That may seem precious as you hear it now, but for an impatient little boy, trying to get himself out of the house, it wasn’t precious; it was mostly annoying.  I couldn’t see what her phrase had to do with going to baseball practice.  Of course, she sent us out with that advice in other, harder times, too – when we’d leave to take a big test, or sing a solo, or sit on the bench at the basketball game … again.  Growing up, I didn’t always see how it applied or why it mattered.  But my mother was saying, “Trust in this.  Commit yourself to this.  In everything life brings, no matter how rough things seem, you will come out better if you use the situation to learn something, love somebody, and have a good time.”  
Fast-forward a few years, and Ann and I had our own kids.  I know I didn’t use my mother’s words exactly, but I think I passed on the same call to Kathryn and Daniel, inviting them to see everything as an chance to learn, to love, and to find the blessing in the moment.  So, I guess I’ve ended up practicing my mother’s mission statement.  Turns out, she was right even if I didn’t always understand why she said what she said.
Trusting even when we don’t understand – that’s a good way to capture what it means to be a follower of Jesus, too.  I hear that message in the Gospel reading this morning, even though the word “trust” never appears.  Instead, the word we hear is “believe.”  You know, like the word “love,” the Greek word for “believe” has a range of meanings in Scripture.  Sometimes, it just means affirming something to be true.  But more often, it means to trust – placing deep, abiding trust in a reality that guides your life, the thing you give yourself up to.
Today, we hear Jesus using “believe” that way at the Last Supper, his parting shot to his friends.  He’s trying to remind his friends of deep truths they’ve known and lived for years, and then commission them to carry on once he returns to the Father.  But first, he has to stop for a little remedial teaching along the way.
He starts off saying, don’t be afraid: “Believe in God, believe also in me” (John 14:1).  Trust this path we’ve been taking together.  Even though I’m about to leave, I’m leaving to prepare a place for you, with me, in my Father’s house.  I’ll bring you there, too, he says, because, after all, you know where we’re going and you know the way. 
The room falls silent until Thomas says what the rest of them are thinking:  Um … “we don’t know where you’re going; how can we know the way?” (14:5).  And Jesus assures him, yes, Thomas, you do know.  I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you know me, you know my Father also.” (14:6-7)  And Jesus is probably expecting some collective sighs of, “Oh, yeah, of course, that’s right.” 
But then Philip takes the risk to say what the others are thinking:  Look, he says, just “show us the Father, and we will be satisfied” (14:8).  And Jesus puts his farewell on hold again to go back to the basics:  He asks Philip, “How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”  Where is your trust?  “Have I been with you all this time …, and you still do not know me? …  Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? … Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me….  [Because, in fact,] the one who believes in me” – the one who trusts in me with everything he’s got, the one who gives herself up to follow this path – they “will also do the works I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these….” (14:9-12)
I imagine the disciples sitting there, dumbfounded.  Even after following him three years – even after watching him restore sight to the blind and raise the dead – even after all this, they’re still trying to understand what he’s talking about.
To me, here’s the importance of that word we translate as “believe,” the word that means staking your life on something:  You don’t have to understand truth completely in order to trust in it.  At some point, trust takes us beyond understanding – in fact, it gives us “the peace that surpasses all understanding,” as St. Paul wrote (Philippians 4:7).  Rather than answering every question to our satisfaction, Jesus plots our course and guides our hearts, showing us the way even when we wonder what it has to do with the life we’re living now.  When my mother would tell me to “learn something, love somebody, and have a good time” as I left the house for a baseball game, I thought she was crazy.  I was going off to hit a baseball and win a game.  But of course, with those words, she was guiding me wherever I was going – to the ballpark, or to school, or to my first job, or on a date, or to my first apartment, or to my wedding.  I didn’t have to understand the fullness of what she was saying in order for it to be true – or for it to guide the way I lived my life.
Now, hang with me a minute because I think there’s a connection here to the part of this morning’s reading that some of us may struggle with the most.  It’s John 14:6 – Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  That verse was my greatest stumbling block as I discerned a call to the priesthood.  Growing up, I’d heard too many folks use it to judge and exclude other people.  There was so much I loved about 99 percent of Jesus’ message, and I hoped seminary would explain how this particular verse fit with God’s call to love everyone.  Guess what?  Seminary didn’t help much.
Now, you can find all kinds of commentary to clarify and expand on what Jesus is saying here.  I particularly like reading this verse as poetry, where words mean what they say but also more than what they say.  When Jesus says, “I am” the way, he’s echoing God from Exodus, and the disciples are in the role of Moses before the burning bush.  Moses spoke to God directly, and asked God’s name, and learned it was, “I AM.”  So, Jesus is saying, I am “I AM,” and of course no one comes to I AM except through I AM.  He and the Father are one, so he is the way to God.
Cool.  But still, the verse says what it says about no one coming to the Father but through Jesus.  So … what about good, faithful non-Christians?  Where do they end up in eternal life?  It’s the question we always want to ask: Who’s in, and who’s out?
Here’s what I believe: Jesus Christ is the ultimate revelation of God for humanity.  Full stop.  No other revelation of God is as full, as complete, as God’s manifestation in Jesus Christ.  That’s what I believe to be true. 
And here’s what I trust: that Jesus, the ultimate revelation of God, asks me to follow along the path he marks out.  So, I try to do that, living in eternal life now as a warm-up for the rest of eternal life to come.  That’s what I trust, what I stake my life on. 
And, here’s what I don’t know: the answer to nearly every question that flows from that trust.  Will I get a mansion in heaven?  I don’t know.  Will I get to sit at the table with all my family and eat my mother’s boeuf bourguignon again?  I don’t know.  Will I experience “heaven” as soon as I die, or do I have to wait for Jesus to come again, or has that already happened and we just don’t see it yet?  I don’t know.  Will non-Christians eventually come to see what I see and trust in God the way I do, or does a different eternity await them?  I don’t know.  Instead, I trust that God is love and so God will act in love.  And I feel like that leaves room for God to be God and to work out the details as God sees fit.
Sometimes, our parents know more than we do.  Sometimes they say things that are hard to hear, or that seem inappropriate, or that don’t make any sense – but still, they know more than we do.  I didn’t know what my mother had in mind when she sent me off to the baseball game telling me to “learn something, love somebody, and have a good time” – but I tried to live that way anyhow.  Turns out, it wasn’t bad advice for the rest of life, too. 
By the same token, like the disciples, we won’t understand everything Jesus is trying to tell us.  And I think God’s OK with that, as long as we keep our hand on the plow, as the old spiritual says, and hold on to the words Jesus gives us every time we stop and listen.  It’s the divine version of my mother at the back door as I left the house – not so much giving advice as issuing a call: a call to remember, a call to trust, and a call to live that trust day to day.  For my mother, the call was to “learn something, love somebody, and have a good time.”  For Jesus, standing at the back door and calling to us as we head out each day, it’s this:  Love God, love neighbor, and love one another.  You may not be able to explain it, but that doesn’t make it any less true.  Just trust it, and it will lead you home.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Choosing the New Normal

Sermon for April 26, 2020
1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35

In the news recently, we’ve seen and heard a lot about “flattening the curve” of COVID-19, with diagrams showing the rise and eventual fall of the disease’s incidence.  This morning, I’d like to share a different curve with you.  This one comes from Episcopal Relief and Development, the church’s disaster-response agency, and it gives us a picture of a disaster’s emotional lifecycle – whether it’s from a hurricane, or an earthquake … or a pandemic. 
So, what does a disaster’s emotional lifecycle look like? You begin with the “predisaster” period, of course, when life is normal.  Then, the event happens.  Right after that, emotionally, things are pretty good.  There’s a heroic period when people go above and beyond the call.  This heroism and sacrifice bring us to a point of community cohesion, a honeymoon time when we find our emotional footing again, and we cheer each other on as we rise up against the common threat.  You might notice that this stage of a disaster’s emotional lifecycle is pretty short. 
Then, the curve heads south.  That’s the stage of disillusionment, and I would say it’s  where we’re heading now in the coronavirus pandemic.  Thousands have died, and millions have lost their jobs, and the economy is tanking.  And in that pain and fear, old conflicts manifest in new ways.  Bitterness poisons the sweetness of honeymoon.  It’s a long journey to the bottom of that curve.  But eventually, we work through our grief, coming to terms with what’s happened.  And finally, a new normal arises.
 As I said in this week’s newsletter, more and more I’ve been getting the question, “When do you think church will return to normal?”  If that means, “When do you think we’ll worship together again,” I don’t know.  But if we ask the deeper question – “What will our new normal be?” – I think the answer is, “We get to choose.”  This crisis is an opportunity for us to choose to live in resurrection. 
That choice is where we find two of Jesus’ disciples in today’s Gospel reading.  We hear this story two weeks after Easter, which makes it seem like it must be two episodes later in a Netflix series.  But the Emmaus story happens on Easter day, just a little while after the women tell the other disciples that Jesus has been raised, which the guys write off as just “an idle tale” (Luke 24:11). 
So, these two disciples are walking to a nearby village later on Easter day when they meet a stranger.  The stranger asks them what they’ve been talking about – what’s their story; what’s their narrative of the events they’ve witnessed.  Well, the narrative they’ve chosen is a narrative of death: hopes raised but dashed; powers challenged but finally having their way.  Even though the women have seen angels who say Jesus is alive, that’s just an idle tale.  For these disciples, it seems pretty clear that death wins in the end.
And I imagine Jesus doing a head smack.  The Gospel writer probably cleans up his response, too, having him say, “Oh, how foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe…!” (24:25).  For years, Jesus has been teaching them how their tradition points to God coming to save them not through political victory or military might but through suffering and sacrifice.  Plus, at least three times in the Gospel story Jesus looked his friends in the eye and predicted precisely what would happen: that he’d be betrayed, and delivered to the authorities, and be killed – and then be raised.  And, by the way, that prediction was confirmed by angels standing by an empty tomb.
As the stranger gives them this new narrative, this narrative of life, the two disciples find their “hearts burning within” them (24:32).  But they don’t make the jump to actionable belief, belief that turns you in a new direction – and that’s what Jesus is looking for.  He’s shown them resurrected life in the flesh, but he wants them to want it, too.  Faith isn’t about divine spoon-feeding; it’s about God filling our deepest desires.  So, once the disciples and the stranger get to Emmaus, at the end of Easter day, Jesus says good-bye and heads off toward the next village.  But the two disciples do want more.  They’ve had their hearts strangely warmed, as John Wesley would have said.  So, they ask the stranger to stay – and that desire gives Jesus enough longing, enough hope, to work with. 
So, as they sit at dinner together, Jesus brings them an intervention – a moment of loving reality so vivid they can’t miss it.  He takes the bread, and blesses it, and breaks it, and gives it to them.  
Now, hit the pause button and take a moment to remember, because that’s precisely what Jesus is asking these two disciples, and all of us, to do – to remember.  When have we seen Jesus take bread, and bless it, and break it, and give it to people?  In two different but deeply related settings.  First, this is the storyline for his feeding miracles.  With thousands of people who have no food, Jesus takes some bread, and blesses it, and breaks it, and gives it – enough to feed everybody and leave 12 baskets of leftovers.  Second, this is the storyline for the Last Supper.  With his closest friends, Jesus takes the bread, and blesses it, and breaks it, and gives it – a small amount in their hands but enough to feed them with life that never ends. 
There at the table in Emmaus, I believe Jesus is showing us eternal life in all its fullness:  life we live now, as God satisfies our hunger with overflowing blessing; and life we live forever, as God feeds us for eternity with divine love.  Don’t forget this, Jesus is saying to these two friends.  Don’t forget that eternal life is yours, now and forever.  The word for this in Greek is a word we usually define as “active remembering” – anamnesis, the way the Eucharist brings Jesus actively into our midst, and that’s exactly right.  But the word in Greek is more of an imperative than a description.  Anamnesis means “not amnesia” – not forgetting.  In the midst of “normal” life, be sure not to forget what our new normal is: resurrection, a new birth to life that never ends.
So, go back to that emotional-response curve I showed you a few minutes ago. In the time of initial response, we band together and rally to meet the challenge.  We honor healthcare workers, and first responders, and people keeping grocery stores stocked.  We reach out to each other, and think creatively, and take risks to try new things.  But once the crisis begins to subside, disillusionment sets in.  We long for what was normal because it’s comfortable and comforting.  But the curve shows us we’ve left the old normal behind.  And as we long to return to it, we also risk returning to our divisions.  We’re tempted to buy into those divisions because they’re comfortable, too.  But if we do, we’ll let uncertainty, exhaustion, and fear deepen wounds that already divide us.  Is that what we want to choose?  Is that the life of resurrection, the life Jesus tells us we must not forget?
Here’s another choice.  We could choose a new normal – the new normal of loving one another.  We heard it in the first reading this morning, from 1 Peter.  Jesus dying and rising for us gives us nothing less than a “new birth into a living hope” (1:3).  Because Christ was raised, we can trust that God wants to give us that same reality of new life, both now and eternally.  If that’s true – if life really is eternal, as we claim – we’d better be figuring out now how to live it for the long term.  And how do we learn to do that?  The reading gives us a simple answer:  “If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds … [if] your faith and hope are set on God … love one another deeply from the heart” (1:17,21,22).  Choosing to love the people around us now, in the practice round for eternity – this is what trains us to live with them forever.  Forever is a long time, after all; so, it’d be good if we got ready for it.
Here’s a case study from our descent into disillusionment on the disaster-response curve.  Not surprisingly, now that we’re in this stage, we’re disagreeing with each other about how and when to open our lives back up for business and social interaction.  Just yesterday, it seems, we were watching people take to the streets to cheer on healthcare workers.  Now, we’re watching people take to the streets to protest for and against getting the country back to work.  And – no surprise – here come the media, highlighting the conflict to serve their own agendas.  Welcome back to our old normal. 
Or, not.  I think this a time for anamnesis, a time for some intentional not-forgetting what eternal, resurrected life looks and feels like.  In our lives before COVID-19, where did we see people loving one another deeply from the heart?  Well, we came together to share bread and wine in restaurants, and in our homes, and at this altar.  We served people in need and tried to build relationships with people we didn’t know.  Some of us were learning to listen to people we disagree with, seeking to understand problems rather than yelling about them.  So, remember that, raise it up, and build on it. 
And now, in our lives with COVID-19, where do we see people loving one another deeply from the heart?  We see news reports of people serenading each other from their balconies.  We wave to neighbors we’ve always ignored.  We thank people for the work they do.  We wear masks to put others’ well-being ahead of our own inconvenience.  We drive by and honk in front of people’s homes to wish them happy birthday or happy graduation.  We see restaurateurs serving people who can’t afford food.  We see companies making hand sanitizer instead of whisky (only temporarily, thank God).  Think about it: What has left your heart strangely warmed in this peculiar time?  Remember that, raise it up, and build on it. 
It’s been said this is our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment.  Maybe it has been.  But now, we’re moving toward a different moment – perhaps our Marshall Plan moment.  Because out of the death and chaos of World War II, we chose not to return to the old normal.  We chose a new normal, one that both rebuilt Europeans’ lives and built up Western economies.  So now, in a time of disillusionment, we have the chance to think about which “normal” we will choose.  How will we answer Jesus’ call to love one another deeply from the heart? 
Like the disciples on Easter afternoon, we can either choose a narrative of isolation, fear, division, and death – or we can remember a different narrative, the story of resurrection.  We can live as though we actually believe life is eternal and already begun among us.  If the Easter story tells us nothing else, it makes us remember that God can take isolation, fear, division, and death, and use it to heal a world aching for hope and common purpose.  We must choose not to forget it.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Looking for Resurrection

Sermon for Easter Day, April 12, 2020
John 20:1-18

You know, I think we’d be forgiven if today doesn’t feel much like Easter.  Here at St. Andrew’s, there are no kids with Easter baskets running through the churchyard.  There are just the four of us here in the room this morning, appropriately distanced.  You know, just in case you were wondering, seeing the pews empty on Easter morning is right up there on the top-10 list of a priest’s recurring nightmares.
It’s hard to see new life when you feel afraid and alone.  So far in this Holy Week, we’ve traveled with Jesus to betrayal, arrest, torture, crucifixion, and burial.  And at the same time, as cosmic timing would have it, we’ve watched coronavirus cases perhaps reach their peak – so far, about 20,000 deaths in our nation.  Last Sunday, the surgeon general described this as our generation’s “Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment,” and so it feels.1  As morbidity and mortality reach their peak, and as those of us here in Kansas City begin our 20th day under stay-at-home orders, and as we don masks just to enter the grocery store – we know more about fear and isolation than we’ve ever known before. 
In that fear and isolation, we are not alone.  Try to imagine how the disciples felt after that first Holy Week.  We know the story’s Easter ending even as we walk the way of the cross, but they didn’t.  For Mary Magdalene and Peter and James and John and Andrew and the rest, Sunday was just day 3 since all hell broke loose.  They’d been locking themselves away, deeply fearful of what might happen if they stepped out into the world around them.  Maybe the plot was bigger than Judas.  They didn’t know whom to trust; the same authorities who killed their Lord were probably looking for them, too.  Anyone shopping in the market could be a threat.  So, they were staying put – hiding out, hunkered down, isolated, and afraid.
That is, except for Mary Magdalene, the disciple on the front lines.  She can’t stay inside, in relative safety, because she has essential work to do.  Now that the sabbath day is past, Mary gets up early on Sunday morning; and under the cover of darkness, she goes to finish preparing Jesus’ body for burial.  She figures she’ll do her work as quickly as she can and then get back to hiding out.
But as soon as she gets to the tomb, she sees events have gone from bad to worse.  They only thing more awful than having to bury someone you love is seeing that his body’s been stolen – and God only knows what’s been done to it.  “Really?” Mary is thinking.  “It’s not enough to kill him and lock us all away?”
So, Mary goes back to get Peter and John.  They run through the dark streets, avoiding the people in the market setting up for the day’s work; and they see what Mary saw.  But Peter and John are paralyzed with fear.  And figuring they can’t do anything about this now, they creep back to their hideout in the half-light of dawn.
So, Mary is left there, weeping.  Unable to solve the problem, she sticks her head into the cave tomb – and there she sees the last thing she expects to see: “two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying” (John 20:12).  The angels ask her why she’s weeping, and she chokes back tears to tell the awful story. 
Then Mary turns around in the half-light, and she sees someone standing behind her.  She hears him asking what’s wrong; but in her fear and grief, she doesn’t really hear him.  She thinks it’s the gardener, and she’s hoping against hope he knows something – maybe he moved the body from this new, clean tomb to some common pauper’s tomb, someplace fitting for a murdered political prisoner.  She just wants to finish her work and get back into hiding before something else awful happens.  But – as she stumbles through her explanation and tries to find out what the heck’s going on – the man interrupts her. 
And in Mary’s world, everything changes.  It’s not the gardener, it’s Jesus – himself, but not exactly like himself.  She tries to hold him, but now’s not the time, he says.  Instead, she’s got new work to do – not scuttling through dark streets and hiding out, but the work of witnessing.  Mary finds her voice, and she goes back to the hideout to say the only words that could have made dawn break for Jesus’ friends that day.  She tells them, “I have seen the Lord!” (20:18).  Her message of resurrection boils down to the one thing the disciples most needed to hear: that they are not alone.
We might wonder why Mary didn’t recognize Jesus as soon as he appeared.  Part of it has to do with the new life of resurrection itself.  There’s a difference between resuscitation and resurrection.  Earlier in the Gospel story, the dead man Lazarus had been resuscitated – absolutely a miracle, but Lazarus’ earthly body eventually would die again.  Resurrection is different.  The resurrected Jesus is completely himself, but he’s also different than the man his friends had known.  The resurrected Jesus can pass through locked doors yet still enjoy a good fish dinner.  The resurrected Jesus can be in Jerusalem, appearing to the disciples, but also on the road to Emmaus, appearing to some of the story’s minor characters.  In resurrected life, we are ourselves, but different. 
So, that’s one reason Mary doesn’t recognize Jesus, but I think there’s more to it than that.  It’s also about Mary.  Remember, in that moment, Mary is a case study in what happens to us in isolation and fear.  She’s figuring the authorities will come after her, too.  Since Friday afternoon, she and the other disciples probably haven’t set foot outside.  Now, when she has to go out, she finds her leader’s body is missing.  She’s frustrated and angry … and even more alone than she already felt.  Not only is he dead, but he’s gone.  So, I’m thinking part of the reason Mary doesn’t recognize Jesus is that she feels too afraid and too alone even to conceive of new life being possible.
That is, she doesn’t recognize Jesus until he speaks to her.  This is a stunning part of the story of new life:  In his triumph, having defeated the cosmic powers of sin and death, Jesus doesn’t go to the crowd and perform a miracle.  He doesn’t drive the chief priests and scribes out of the Temple.  He doesn’t take over Pilate’s royal palace.  He shows up in the last way Mary would have expected – as someone like her, someone who gets up early and goes to work, a nobody, a gardener.  Jesus defies everything Mary knew to be true that morning: her isolation, her fear, her own place in God’s heart.  He upends her reality; and, simply by speaking to her, he tells the truth she most needed to hear:  Do not fear, for you’re not alone.
Do not fear, for you’re not alone.  That goes for us, too.  That goes for you, too. 
If we listen, we can hear the risen Christ speaking to us through nothing more special than the stuff of daily life.  That’s because, typically, God doesn’t come to us in thunderous proclamations as much as in a word from the gardener, some unlikely herald of God’s power and presence when we feel weak and alone.  But the thing is, like Mary Magdalene, we have to set aside our fear and loneliness long enough to see and hear God breaking in with life made new.
Like an artist who excels at every medium, God reaches each of us in the forms we can best appreciate.  I see divine life in the beauty and majesty of creation – God’s best work all around us now in spring, the reawakening of earth.  I see divine life in the daily commitment of the young woman across the street from me who drives off in her scrubs each morning to serve others at her own risk.  I hear divine life in the phone calls people don’t have to make but make anyway, just to check and see how someone’s doing.  I see divine life in safely distanced driveway lunches or happy hours with friends on Zoom – moments that remind you how much you love those faces you’ve missed seeing up close.
For me, in the past two weeks, I’ve also seen divine life in the gift of sidewalk art from kids down the street.  I told you last Sunday about the beautiful work I came across walking my dog, concrete squares bearing panels of what looked like stained glass, with this divine imperative:  “You are loved; don’t give up,” a stunning proclamation of hope in the darkness of isolation.  Well, soon after these panels appeared, the rains came – no surprise in a Midwest springtime.  And honestly, that took some wind out of my sails.  Through a few dark days, those chalk panels had felt like God’s Word, reminders that what we see in any moment is not all there is.  And then, the rain washed them away.
But this divine artist was not to be denied.  A few days ago, on that same patch of sidewalk, I found a new message, like flowers tenaciously growing out of rock.  Here it is:  “April distance brings May existence.”  At the top of this image, proclaiming life from a dead concrete slab, there’s a cross against a sunrise.
And you know, if I hadn’t been looking, I’d have walked right over it.
That’s how God brings us resurrection – in the places and the moments we’d least expect.  In normal people’s normal lives.  In health-care workers, and delivery drivers, and custodians … and gardeners.  In flowers that rise up from ground you’d swear was dead.  In gratitude that wells up from deep within us when we see that life and love go on, no matter what. 
We have to open our eyes and our ears and our hearts to find him, but he’s there.  Look and listen in the most unlikely places, and you’ll meet the risen Lord.  That’s true even in days like these.  That’s true even when we feel entombed.  Do not fear, Jesus says, for you are not alone.  And with him, you will rise.   

1.      Cummings, William. “‘This is going to be our Pearl Harbor’: Surgeon general warns USA faces worst week of coronavirus outbreak.” USA Today, April 5, 2020. Available at: Accessed April 10, 2020.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

A Message of Hope in Code

Sermon for Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020
Psalm 22:1-11; Matthew 27:1-54

Welcome to Palm Sunday – but certainly a different experience of Palm Sunday than usual.  Typically, we’d begin outside in joy, blessing palms and processing around the building, shouting “Hosanna!” and proclaiming Jesus as our king.  Then, once the procession arrived at the door and we entered the church, the service would shift abruptly, almost like whiplash, as we moved toward trial and crucifixion instead.  Today, as we worship under such strange circumstances, with just Dr. Tom and me in the room, we get fewer joyful “hosannas”; and we move even more abruptly than usual to the cross, watching the king gasp for breath.
Maybe that fits this moment in which we find ourselves, that sense of whiplash from joy to sorrow.  A few weeks ago, things were OK for most of us, right up until they weren’t.  And now I hear so many people feeling cut off, frightened, and alone.  The news each day tells the story of a downward spiral, with bodies being loaded into refrigerated trucks as makeshift morgues, states competing for personal protective equipment for their health-care workers, business shutdowns sending millions of people into unemployment.  As we wait for the pandemic to peak, we literally can’t say what the immediate future will hold.  And that can be kind of terrifying.  It can shake our assurance of God’s presence with us, making us wonder, along with the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, whether God is there with us or not. 
But this Palm Sunday story, especially as Matthew tells it, is a story of witness to the truth that God is there, no matter what – in fact, that the man on the cross isn’t just a king but God in the flesh.  This is the truth that cannot be denied, despite the story’s downward spiral.  
All through the story, even those who try to take Jesus down can’t help but lift him up.  Pilate, the embodiment of Roman imperial power, argues for Jesus’ innocence and even declares the kingship of his rival on a sign above his head.  Soldiers torturing Jesus also hail him as king.  The crowd accepts the blame for lynching the one God sent to save them.  The chief priests, scribes, and elders come by to mock Jesus on the cross, but even they name him as the king.  And in the end, even silent witnesses speak volumes.  In the Temple, until now God’s dwelling place on earth, the curtain before the holy of holies rips in two.  The earth shakes and the rocks split, the creation itself bearing witness that the one who’s just breathed his last is the same One through whom all things were made.  The truth that it’s God who’s there on the cross – that truth will be proclaimed.
Something similar is going on for us, in our own moment.  God is present in this hard time, a truth that even the worst news can’t deny.  For every death, for every job loss, for every person who can’t pay her rent, there are a hundred stories of the love that unites us.  Kids are handing thank-you letters to sanitation workers.  People are cheering exhausted health-care workers in the street.  Closer to home, parishioners and staff and clergy and Vestry members are calling the people of this church family just to see how they’re holding up.  Sometimes those calls result in voicemail messages, sometimes a quick thank-you, sometimes a need for prayer or more tangible help – and, in at least in one case I know of, the beginning of healing and forgiveness years deferred.  
And these stories of love include serving those beyond us.  Several of you have made gifts to support meals at home for students at Gordon Parks Elementary.  Yesterday, parishioners brought sacks of food and hygiene products for the families of Benjamin Banneker Elementary, many of those bags not just bearing peanut butter and toothpaste but inscribed with messages of love. 
And those stories of love include silent witnesses, too.  Walking my dog, Petey, I saw art from kids down the street who use sidewalk chalk like a painter’s brush, leaving behind an image that to me looks for all the world like stained glass, along with these six words: “You are loved.  Don’t give up!”  Even a walk with the dog testifies to the truth that cannot be denied, the truth of God’s presence with us even in the depths.  And in witness to that truth – on this holy day when we can’t come together and carry palms and shout “Hosanna!” to our Lord – some of us have cut branches from our own yards and hung them as makeshift palms on our front doors to honor the king who has come to love sin and death into submission, despite the cost. 
That power of divine love doesn’t crash into the scene, and fight a decisive battle, and make everything OK again overnight.  At least not yet.  For now, as we await the king’s coming again in the fullness of time, that divine love plays the long game, persisting in the midst of what seems insurmountable evil, aching through it for the opportune time, poised to blossom in victory on the other side. 
We cannot deny our present reality, the downward spiral of the Holy Week story we’re now living – the foolhardiness and failures we see; the weight of our own isolation; the darkness that lurches at us from the shadows, knocking us off balance and making us flee.  All that fear is real, absolutely; and we must not shame ourselves for feeling it.  Instead, we should hold it, and look at it, and see it in relation to the power that will overcome it.  For even in deepest despair, God opens the door to hope. 
I want to leave you with some scripture that might seem like the very last thing you’d want to have in your head and your heart in such a time as this: Psalm 22.  We prayed part of it a few minutes ago.  It’s the source for Jesus’ cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (22:1).  He speaks those words, and we hear terror and abandonment – the human Jesus at the end of his rope.  But like most deeply powerful theological moments, this one is complex.  I think a part of him must have felt terrified and abandoned.  That’s how we’d feel, certainly.  But even from the cross, Jesus leads us to keep looking deeper into the story.  To point us toward hope, he’s sending us a message in code – a code that the enemy, the power of sin and death, can’t break.  It’s a message that God has not abandoned us, despite what we may see and feel; a reminder that even the worst moment is a time to affirm the love that plays the long game.  For when Jesus quotes the start of Psalm 22, I believe he’s pointing to the end of that psalm, as well, the part we didn’t pray earlier.  Like God’s power and love, Psalm 22 doesn’t stop in the moment of dread; it points to the end of the story.  So, I’ll leave you with the verses I believe were in Jesus’ mind as he cried out from the cross, the end of Psalm 22 – that:

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, *
     and all the families of the nations shall bow
     before him. 
For kingship belongs to the Lord; *
     he rules over the nations. … 
My soul shall live for him; my descendants shall serve him; *
     they shall be known as the Lord’s forever. 
They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn *
     the saving deeds that he has done.  (Psalm 22:27,29-30 BCP)