Sunday, April 23, 2017

Breath of the Spirit -- Easter 2A


John 20:19-31

Seeing is believing. Mary Magdalene saw Jesus on Easter morning, and she believed, and then she told the rest of the disciples “I have seen the Lord.” Later that evening, Jesus appeared to the disciples who had locked themselves in out of fear of the authorities. He came to them in the darkness of night, which in the Gospel John serves as a symbol for unbelief. At the beginning of his Gospel, John declares that the Word of God “was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (Jn. 1:4-5). Jesus came to them that evening as light shining into their darkness of unbelief. 

Mary prepared them for what came next, but I’m not sure they were completely ready when Jesus suddenly appeared in the room. He said to them: “Peace be with you,” and then he showed them the wounds in his hands and side. Then the disciples “rejoiced when they saw the Lord,” moving them from darkness into the light. But that’s not the end of the story, because Jesus gives them a commission. He told them: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then he breathed on the disciples and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  

Sunday, April 16, 2017

I Have Seen the Lord -- Sermon for Easter A


John 20:1-18

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb” (Jn. 20:1). This morning as you come to the tomb, what do you see? Is it an empty tomb? What does an empty tomb say to you? As I read this passage, I noticed that the word “saw” kept appearing and wondered what this word says to us about the meaning of Easter morning?

When Mary came to the tomb, she saw that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. That’s not what she expected. When Peter and the Beloved Disciple, heard Mary’s report, they ran to the tomb, and looked inside. They saw the linens that had wrapped the body of Jesus neatly folded and lying on the bench where his body should be, along with the cloth that had covered his face. While, the Beloved Disciple let Peter enter the tomb first, when he finally went into the tomb “he saw and believed.” While we know what he saw, we don’t know what he believed, because the disciples still didn’t “understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Eating on the Run -- Meditation for Maundy Thursday


Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14

We gather tonight around the Lord’s Table to remember Jesus’ last meal with his disciples. During that meal Jesus took bread and wine, blessed them, and gave the elements to his disciples. He told them to continue sharing this meal in remembrance of him until he returned (1 Cor. 11:23-26). The roots of this meal of remembrance are found in the Passover celebration. The reading from Exodus 12 describes the origins of that meal, which celebrated God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. 

According to Exodus 12, this meal featured three items—roasted lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs. It’s a fairly simple meal, which took some time to prepare, but once the meat was cooked and the bread baked, it could be eaten on the run.

There is another part of the story that needs to be mentioned. Not only did God direct the people to prepare a meal, but God told them to take some of the blood from the slaughtered lamb and put it on their doorposts. This blood would serve as a sign to God, so that God would pass over that house when the angel of death struck down the first born of Egypt, because of the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart.    

The Lord’s Supper is similar to the Passover meal, because both meals invite us to remember that God has redeemed us from bondage, whether that bondage is slavery in Egypt, or the bondage of sin. Both involve the shedding of blood as a promissary note, guaranteeing that God will fulfill God’s promises. Both meals are meant to unite the community in a common purpose. Both are intended to be celebrated as a perpetual ordinance. 

As I read this passage, something caught my eye. It has to do with the instructions given in Exodus for eating the meal:
This is how you should eat it. You should be dressed, with your sandals on your feet and your walking stick in your hand. You should eat the meal in a hurry. (Ex. 12:11 CEB).
In other words, Passover isn’t a nice leisurely meal. It’s intended to be eaten on the run. It’s supposed to sustain a community that’s about to march toward Zion. There’s no time to waste, because Pharaoh might change his mind and chase after them. 

Jesus’ last meal has a sense of urgency as well. He knew that the days to come would be difficult, and that he needed to prepare them for what was to come. In preparing them for the future, he established a meal that would help them, and us, to remember God’s promise of redemption revealed in Jesus.

The meal we celebrate this evening speaks to the urgency and the danger involved in God’s mission. Walter Brueggemann put it this way: “leaving Egypt is a dangerous anxiety-ridden business” (NIB, 1:777). The same is true for us as Christians, as we head out into the world bearing the good news of Jesus. Brueggemann helps us understand the connection between the two meals and the urgency of these two missions. He writes: 
Christians like Jews are children of these marked doorposts, marked for safety in the midnight of chaos and crying. Christians like Jews, are Children of this hurried bread, postured to depart the empire, destined for freedom outside the norms and requirements of the empire. [NIB, p. 779] 

What does it mean to be “children of this hurried bread?” What does it mean to live outside the norms and requirements of the empire? Are we ready to take the journey to true freedom that God offers us and the world? Are we ready to eat on the run? 

By: Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
At: Northminster Presbyterian Church
Troy, Michigan
Maundy Thursday
April 13, 2017

Sunday, April 09, 2017

A Humble and Triumphant King -- A Sermon for Palm Sunday

Matthew 21:1-11

This is probably the most confusing day in the church year. Some churches celebrate Palm Sunday by waving palm branches and shouting hosanna to the king of kings. Other churches observe Passion Sunday, with its emphasis on Jesus’ death on the cross. But maybe these two emphases belong together, because they reflect the tension that exists between how humans view power and how Jesus viewed it.  The reading from Matthew describes Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which suggests that we’ll be focusing on the triumphal part of the story. But, there is a catch, because Jesus’ vision of triumph is different from the way most humans understand it. 

The story begins with Jesus and his disciples drawing near to Jerusalem, which will soon be celebrating Passover. When the group arrived at Bethphage, near the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent out his advance team to locate a donkey and her colt, and then bring the animals to him. When the animals arrived, Jesus mounted them and headed into the city. As he rode that donkey and her colt into the city, a crowd began to gather. Some of them spread out their cloaks on the road in front of him, while others cut down branches and laid them in front of him. The crowd began to shout “Hosanna to the Son of David!” And, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” It would seem that the crowd sensed that something special was afoot. Perhaps the promised Messiah had arrived to save them from their oppressors. 

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Dry Bones Live! -- Sermon for Lent 5A


Ezekiel 37:1-14 

God grabbed the prophet Ezekiel and dropped him into the middle of a valley filled with bones that had been bleached by the sun of any sign of life. They were so dry that even the marrow was gone. Then, as Ezekiel took in this sight, God posed this question: “Can these bones live?” How would you answer that question? 

I know that part of me would have answered with a tinge of sarcasm, “are you kidding?” But hopefully, I would follow Ezekiel’s example and simply say: “O Lord God, You  know.” That is a prayer of faith that allows for God to do what I may think is impossible. 

Each of the Lenten lectionary readings from the Old Testament, speak of acting in faith. Sometimes, the texts describe situations, like in the Garden, where the people  demonstrate a lack of faith in God, but there are other texts that tell a different story of faith, like the story of the call of Abram and Sarai to migrate to a strange land so that they and their descendants could be a blessing to all the families of the earth. This morning, scripture takes us into the exile so that we can hear a prophet bring a word of hope to these exiles.