Sunday, April 29, 2012

"I know my own"

Truth be told, the best moment of my Good Shepherd Sunday was not the well-crafted sermon on the John Gospel text, nor the carefully rehearsed and surprisingly successful performance of Randall Thompson's setting of Psalm 23 for choir and harp.

Nope. Those things were lovely, challenging, tasteful. They preached the dying and rising again of Jesus. Good enough, surely.

The living waters of the day came from something else: four eight-foot pieces of white cloth, held by eight young people standing across from one another in a circle, waving the eight-legged cross they made up and down, fanning the air, and seeing it spin rainbow pinwheels held by other young folk. It was the convocation at the end of the Dream Act Pilgrimage. The Dreamers presented their lives, the fears and dangers lurking in their undocumented status. But they also spoke of their faith in the Good Shepherd, who knows their names and their status and calls them to be witnesses and gifts to others.

Go in peace. Serve the Lord.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

What part will you play?

School chapel homily for Tuesday of Holy Week on John 12:20-36

When I was in second grade at St. John Lutheran School in Forest Park we acted out the story of Jesus dying on the cross. We had acted out other Bible stories, but we worked very hard on this one, because it was such an important story. And we performed it one evening for our parents.

Most of the kids in the class (probably all the girls) were part of the crowd. I was the narrator. I had a loud voice and could remember the whole story and tell it in my own words. A boy named Barry Prescott played Jesus. And when it was time for Jesus to walk through the streets of Jerusalem wearing the crown of thorns and carrying the heavy cross, he took off his shirt. It was very serious, very dramatic. He had to imagine what it was like to be Jesus. What was it like for Jesus to give up his life?

In today’s reading we heard Jesus explaining some things about his death:

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified….Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.”

Christians have been studying these words for a long time. We ask ourselves, why did Jesus, who was God, have to lose his life? And what does that mean for us? What part do we play in the story of Jesus’ suffering and death?

You might see yourself in the crowd, as one of the people who shout, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” They’re angry and mean and they was to be sure they don’t get into trouble themselves for following Jesus.

Are we like that sometimes? I know for myself that I do things that are angry and mean. I’m careless and cruel, unkind, wasteful, lazy. I’m a sinner, just like those people in the crowd. But I also know that Jesus died so that my sins could be forgiven.

But I think Jesus’ words about his death are also inviting you to play another part in this story. Jesus is inviting you to follow him, to lose life, like he did, and to be like him.

We get to play the part of Jesus. This means doing the things Jesus di, like helping people who are poor and going through a hard time. Mr. Mortensen reminded us yesterday of how we did that with our offerings earlier this year.

I want to tell you another story about acting the part of Jesus. This one is about some friends who graduated from Grace School three years. They are still very good friends, and they have another close friend whose name is Nate.

A week ago Saturday, Nate jumped into the pool at his water polo meet. When he got out of the water his legs felt funny. He sat down on a bench and fell off the bench onto the floor. His legs were completely numb. He couldn’t fell anything. He couldn’t move them. He was taken to the hospital in an ambulance, and it took the doctors a couple days to figure out what had happened to him. And when they did figure it out, it was very bad news. Nate may not ever be able to walk again.

All last week Nate was in the intensive care unit at a big hospital, lying flat on his back. And his friends went to visit him. Almost every day.

This wasn’t easy for them to do. It involved a trip downtown into the city. It’s scary going into an intensive care unit full of machines and tubes and monitors. They could have just sent a card of flowers. Or called on the phone. They could visit him and just say a quick hello and leave in ten or fifteen minutes. But that’s now what they did. They brought games and music and books. They stated and talked with him. They let him know that whatever happens, he’s still Nate, and he’s still their friend and people care about him. They shared his frustration and his worry and his hope.

When I talked about this with one of the girls, she said she’s been having a lot of questions about God lately. And she’s not sure what God is doing in all of this. But she is there for friend. She is being Jesus, even though it’s hard and frustrating. She and her other friends are losing something about their easy lives, to be Jesus for their friend.

How will you lose your life and play the part of Jesus today? You can help people who are wick and poor or frustrated and sad. You can stand up for kids who are being bullied, and you can be friends with kids that others are not being very nice to. You’ll have to do things that might not be easy to do. It’s not easy to lose your life. Our Bible reading says that Jesus “was troubled,” was fearful about what was about to happen to him. But Jesus knew that losing his life meant life and forgiveness for all the world. And that means a new life for you, too.