We Gather to Eat and Remember

Maundy Thursday, March 24th, 2016

Exodus 12:1-14, Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Meals are important.  And I don’t just mean in the literal “if you don’t eat you’ll starve to death” sense.  Meals are important on a psychological level, too, and on a social level.  Meals bring us together.  There’s a reason that pretty much every holiday is accompanied by a special, traditional meal.  Christmas?  It’s a religious holiday, but there are a lot of people (even a lot of Christians!) for whom Christmas dinner is more important than going to worship.  Easter?  Yup.  Thanksgiving?  That one is all about the meal.  Fourth of July?  It’s just not the same without a barbecue.  Birthdays?  Even if you don’t have a special birthday dinner, you gotta have cake and ice cream.  And it’s not just about the food itself.  While a wonderful holiday dinner with friends and family can be a joy and a heart-warming event you’ll remember for years to come, eating the same food by yourself can be just depressing.  We eat when we come together, but it’s not just about the food: it’s about the community, the family, the relationships that are built around that meal.

Those relationships are built partly through the act of eating together, and partly through memories.  The memories that get shared again and again—I’m sure there are some stories your family tells repeatedly at holiday dinners.  The time your brother fell asleep at his own birthday party.  The time your uncles got into a fight and everyone went home mad.  The great aunt who always brings that dish everyone hates.  The time your mom and dad got each other the same present.  There are some holiday stories that happened before I was born, that I know because they got told so often.  And those stories shape us!  They tell us “this is who we are, as a family; this is how we get along (or don’t get along); this is where we came from; these are the things that make us a family and not just a collection of people who happen to share genetics.”  The food brings us together, the food helps us remember our stories by giving us a tangible reminder of times past—smells, tastes, sights—all working together to help make the memories real and relevant to our current experiences.

Tonight we have heard two stories about meals in our readings.  Meals that were remembered.  Meals that were celebrated.  Meals that brought people together and built up relationships.  The first was the story of the first Passover meal, eaten on the last night the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt.  This is the night that changed things.  This is the night where God finally convinced Pharaoh to let his people go.  This is the night when they truly became his people, the night that was the foundation for all the rest of their experiences.  This is the night when they passed from slavery to freedom, from death to life.  This is the night when they learned that their God was a God who saves people, a God who frees people from bondage, a God who brings new life and new possibilities.  This meal, this Passover, which God told them to share every year together, is to reinforce those memories. It’s a night to remember who they are and where they come from.  A night to remember who God is, and what God has done.  A night to imagine, a night to contemplate what that means for their lives.  It’s not just about the past.  It’s about what that means for the future.

In the three thousand years since that first Passover, the Jews have faithfully gathered for a Passover meal and to remember God’s saving actions every year.  Two thousand years ago, a thousand years after the first Passover, Jesus and his disciples gathered to celebrate Passover and share a meal.  They told the story.  They remembered how God saved them from slavery and death.  They remembered what kind of a God they worshipped.  And then Jesus did something different—something that would, as time passed, become a new treasured memory for those Jews and Gentiles who followed him.  A memory that they—we—would tell and retell, that we would re-enact and think about, that would tell us what it means to follow Jesus.

He put on a towel and went to wash his disciples’ feet.  Now, that was a bold statement.  It’s not something a lord would do, or an ordinary citizen—it’s something that a slave would do.  Washing someone means serving them, and it’s an intimate form of service.  If you’re not doing it because it’s your job, you do it out of love, like a parent giving their child a bath or a friend coming over to take care of you when you’re weak and sick from chemo.  This is what it means to be a follower of God, Jesus says.  This is what should guide your life: love.  I love you, and I’ve put that love into action, so you, too, should love others, and put that love into action.

Then he returned to the meal.  And as they shared the Passover wine and bread, he added a new layer of meaning: this bread, the bread of affliction and freedom, is Jesus’ body.  Jesus’ body, that will be broken for us so that we might be freed from slavery and death.  This wine, the wine of God’s promise, is Jesus’ blood.  Jesus’ blood, which will be poured out for us and for all people to fulfill God’s promise of salvation.

The first Passover celebrated God’s saving work.  It taught them that their God was a God of salvation, a God who brought people from slavery into freedom, from death into life, from pain into joy.  It taught them what kind of a God they worshipped, and who they were as God’s people.  And that was a lesson they learned every time they shared that meal and told those storied.  When Jesus celebrated it with his disciples on the night before he was betrayed, before he was handed over to sin and death, it was a potent reminder to them: the God who saved their ancestors, who brought them out of slavery and death, was still saving people.  God was saving people from slavery to sin and death of body and soul.  And it wasn’t something that happened to other people, a long time ago, far away.  It was something that was happening right there and then.  Because saving people is God’s nature.  It’s what God does.  When God sees people in bondage, whether physical or mental, God acts to free them.  Sometimes it’s big showy acts, sometimes it’s little things, and often it’s through other people.  God saves people.

And God does it out of love.  That’s what Jesus washing their feet symbolized.  God loves people—even smelly, dirty, weak, sinful humans.  And that’s not just an abstract feeling; God acts that love out in many and various ways.  God loves people, and so God helps them, and saves them.  That’s who God is.  That’s what God does.  And that means that if we’re going to be God’s people, we can’t ever forget that.  We need to remember who God is, and what God calls us to do.  We need to look for the love and salvation and freedom that God gives us every day, and we need to let that love shape us and form us as God’s people.

That’s why we remember this night, every time we celebrate Communion and especially once a year on Maundy Thursday.  We remember who God is and what God has done.  And we know that God is present with us, here, now, giving us his love and salvation and strengthening us to be God’s people, to do God’s work in the world.  Because when Jesus said the bread and wine was his body and blood, he wasn’t being metaphorical.  Whenever we eat this bread and drink this wine, we proclaim his death until he comes again.  We know that he died for us, but that death was not the end of the story.  We know that he is here, with us, that in this bread and wine we can touch and taste and see and smell him, that in this bread and wine he is strengthening us and forming us as his people.  We remember, but we know there is more to this meal than memory.  It’s about who God is—the one who saves, the one who loves—and who we are as God’s people: the ones who are called to put that love into word and deed and action.  Even when it’s difficult.  Even when it’s smelly or unpleasant, like washing feet.  Even in the midst of betrayal like Judas’ betrayal, and anger like the Elders’ anger, and even when it’s in the middle of pain and sorrow and suffering.  Even when love seems like the hardest thing in the world.  We worship a God of salvation and freedom and love.  And so we love, as God first loved us.

May these memories, shared around this meal, form us as God’s people and help us to truly know God’s love and salvation, and follow his command to share that love with all the world.

Amen.

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A Matter of Life and Death

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 23), September 8, 2013

Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Psalm 1, Philemon, Luke 14:25-33

Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Today’s first lesson from Deuteronomy takes place after the Exodus.  The Hebrew people, who were slaves in Egypt, have been freed by God’s power and grace.  They followed God into the wilderness, but because of their own sinfulness and rebellion, they spent forty years wandering in the wilderness.  God used those forty years to teach them to rely on him—God gave them everything they needed, even though they didn’t get everything they wanted.  God gave them the Commandments, instructions on how to live their lives.  And most of all, God built a relationship with them that God hoped would last forever.  When they were ready, God led them out of the wilderness to the Promised Land, what we call Israel and Palestine today.  But before they entered the land, while they were standing on the banks of the Jordan River waiting to cross into the land God had promised to them, Moses stood up to give a speech.

It’s a long speech; it takes up most of Deuteronomy.  In it, Moses summarized all the commandments and rules that God had given them, all the ways they were supposed to live.  God had promised to be their God, and in return they were to live as God commanded.  To use Christian terminology, they were to be disciples: everything they said and did was to be guided by their relationship with God.  That would bring them the life God had promised them.  Living any other way would bring them misery and death.  Our reading today comes from the conclusion of the speech: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him.”

It sounds so simple when Moses says it.  There’s a good way, a way of life, and a bad way, a way of death.  It should be a no-brainer.  And yet, throughout the rest of the Old Testament, the people go astray regularly, so that God must come and bring them back to him and to his ways.  They had all manner of reasons to do so, some good and some bad.  Greed and corruption were common motivations, people trying to enrich themselves at the cost of their neighbors.  In some cases, through intermarriage with people who were not loyal to God, mixed loyalties were created that drew people away from God.  In some cases, people convinced themselves that God wanted what they did, instead of listening to God’s Word.  In some cases, people decided that they were rich and prosperous enough that they didn’t need God any more.  In still other cases, people just forgot about God, going through the motions and giving lip service to following God instead of genuine devotion.  These motivations should all be very familiar to us; you see them everywhere today, too.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus also talks about discipleship, too, and about making choices.  Only, when Jesus talks, discipleship sounds more like the way of death than the way of life.  To be a disciple, you must leave behind your family and friends and all your posessions.  In fact, Jesus’ words are harsher than that.  Jesus says to hate family and friends for his sake.  Now, in Hebrew, “to hate” can mean the emotion we would think of, but it can also mean “to separate” or “turn away from,” and given that Jesus’ spent so much time telling us to love one another, I’m pretty sure that’s what he meant.  But even so, that’s pretty strong language.  For Jesus, discipleship is not easy, and it means you have to make choices.  You have to be willing to put Christ first, above all the things that this world says are important, above everything else that you love.  And worse, you have to be willing to carry a cross—to be humiliated, to be persecuted, to be punished.  It sure sounds different from Moses’ exhortation to choose life.  It sounds like discipleship is choosing death.

But that depends on what kind of life you mean, and what kind of death.  In this world, death is everywhere.  Sin and brokenness are everywhere.  All the bad things people do to one another, all the natural disasters, all the illnesses and the injuries that we are afflicted with, all are symptoms of the brokenness of the world.  No one is spared.  Some people have more than their fair share; others are blessed with good luck and many good things in this life.  But even the luckiest person in the world is going to have trials.  Even the most self-reliant person in the world is going to have times when they simply can’t do it on their own, when they come to the end of their rope.  A life of independence from God—a life where you make your own priorities and follow your own goals—may be wonderful for a while.  It may bring you everything you think you want.  But it can’t last.  In this broken world, no good thing lasts forever.  And so, when things go wrong and you find yourself flat on your back, you learn that what looked like the easy path, the path that you thought would lead you to the kind of life you wanted to live, actually led to death.  It may have looked like the path you wanted, but in the end you find yourself alone and hopeless.

Jesus’ path will lead to death too, of course; today’s Gospel story comes from Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem to be crucified.  When Jesus starts talking about bearing crosses, it’s because in a very short time he’s going to be carrying one, himself, out to Golgotha beyond the Jerusalem city limits, where he’s going to be crucified and die a painful, lingering death.  The path of discipleship leads us to take up our crosses and follow Christ, into the valley of the shadow of death, for we are tied through our baptisms to Christ’s death and resurrection.

Because you see, there’s a difference between the death that Jesus offers and the death the world offers.  The death the world offers is the end, and it comes dressed up in all kinds of things to hide what it is.  The death the world offers comes dressed up in all the things we want—popularity, riches, power, love, anything to hide what it really is.  The death the world offers is empty; nothing can come out of it.  But Jesus’ death comes naked and bare, and it is the beginning of the story, not the end.

Jesus’ death brings with it the seeds of the resurrection.  Jesus’ death brings with it the seeds of the kingdom of God.  Jesus’ death brings with it the only kind of life worth living, the only kind of life that lasts: a life with God, who will be with us, sustaining us and guiding us no matter what, and who will never abandon us even in the darkest times this world can throw at us.  God’s life teaches us how to live the kind of life we’ll have in God’s kingdom, where there is no sin and no brokenness.  God’s life is the truest and best life, the life that leads us to be our truest and best selves, full of love for God and for one another.

But to get to that kind of life, there’s a catch.  You have to go through death.  You have to go through Jesus’ death on the cross, and our own death with him.  You have to be willing to give up all the things that pull you away from God.  For some people, that’s money; for others, it’s the career you want to have or the place you want to live.  For still others, it’s family and friends that pull them away from God.  And that’s the choice we face, as Christians.  God has chosen us; God has died for our sake.  Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord we are saved; all we have to do is take the salvation that God offers us.  Are we willing to do what we have to do to follow Jesus from death into life?  Are we willing to be true disciples?  Are we willing to put our priority on the kind of life God wants us to have instead of the kind of life the world tells us we should want?

God has set before us life and death, blessings and curses.  May we choose life—God’s life—and live.

Amen.

On This Night

It’s a few days late, but here is my Maundy Thursday sermon.

Maundy Thursday, Year C, March 28th, 2013

Exodus 12:1-4, 11-14, Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19, John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND

 

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Over three thousand years ago, the Hebrew people gathered together.  They were slaves in Egypt, and God had heard their cries for freedom.  Despite the stubbornness of the Egyptian Pharaoh, God freed them.  On their last night in slavery, in between packing everything they owned to flee the land of their captivity, they ate one last meal.  A meal of lamb, and wine, and unleavened bread, and bitter herbs.  They called it Pesach—the Passover.  God commanded them to remember and celebrate that meal every year, to gather and eat the bread and wine and lamb and bitter herbs.  So every year to this day, faithful Jews celebrate the festival of Passover.  And Jesus and his disciples, being faithful Jews, celebrated the festival as well.  In fact, Jesus’ Last Supper, which we celebrate tonight, was during Passover.

Many things have changed over the three thousand years since the first Passover meal, but some things about the meal remain the same.  It isn’t a memorial, a remembrance of God’s actions.  When Jews celebrate the Passover, they are participating in God’s saving act.  They are participating in the same Passover meal shared by their ancestors.  To symbolize this, they ask a question: How is this night different from all other nights?  On this night, God led us out of slavery into freedom.  Not our ancestors; us.  On this night, all Jews, past, present, and future, gather around the table.  It’s not just a history lesson; for Jews, Passover is a present reality.

We are gathered here as Christians.  Our Lord was Jewish, but we are not.  So why do we remember Passover tonight?  Why was our first lesson the story of the first Passover meal?  Because tonight is not just a history lesson.  Tonight is not just a ritual meal.  Our Lord’s Supper is a present reality for us, just as Passover is a present reality for Jews.  How is this night different from all other nights?  On this night, our Lord Jesus took bread, broke it, and gave it for all.  On this night, our Lord Jesus took the cup, blessed it, and gave it for all to drink, saying “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people.”  On this night, and every time we celebrate communion, all Christians past, present, and future gather around our Lord’s Table.

Think about that, for a second.  When we celebrate Communion, when we gather here at the altar rail, there are more people present than we can see.  The Disciples are here—Peter, James, John, and all the rest.  Our ancestors in the faith are here with us, too, from the very earliest church fathers and mothers to the ones who taught us to pray and read the Bible.  We gather here at the altar rail with all Christians throughout the world, who become our brothers and sisters in Christ, and members with us in Christ’s body.  And all those people out there who aren’t yet Christians but will become Christians, they’re here too, along with all those who have yet to be born.  Our great-great-grandparents and our great-great-grandchildren receive Jesus’ body and blood together with us.  We may not see them, but they are here with us tonight and every time we gather around the table to worship and receive the gift of Christ’s body and blood.

Even more than that, Jesus Christ is present every time we eat the bread and drink from the cup in his name.  This bread becomes Christ’s body, and this wine becomes Christ’s blood, just as Jesus said.  It might not physically change form in any way science can measure, but Jesus Christ is truly present in it, and Jesus Christ becomes truly present in us.  Jesus is here, now, Immanuel, God With Us, in every bite that we eat and drink tonight and every time we receive the Lord’s Supper.  We eat and drink the body and blood of our Lord.  Jesus is the meal we are gathered here to share.

Jesus is the meal, but Jesus is also our host for this meal, too.  The altar we gather around is not our table, but God’s table.  Jesus is the host who invites us to the heavenly banquet.  Jesus is the one who brings us in, welcomes us, and makes us his own.  Jesus is the one who includes us, even when we are not worthy.  In the time of Jesus, it was customary for a host to offer his guests the chance to wash the dust of the road off their feet.  It was a sign that you were welcome to stay, take off your shoes and put up your feet, be comfortable and at home.  In a poor household, the host would offer his guests a bowl of water for them to wash their own feet.  In a rich household, a servant would do it.  You see, washing someone else’s feet was considered a demeaning task, fit only for a servant or a slave.  It’s not hard to understand why—feet are dirty, smelly things, particularly when you’ve been walking in the hot, dusty sun.  Clean feet may be a relief, but washing someone else’s feet is gross.  So a host would offer hospitality, but not at the expense of his own dignity and pride.  Not at the expense of his own comfort and repuation.  Yet Jesus himself takes the bowl and the towel and washed his disciples’ feet.    He washes their feet to show them the greatest hospitality possible: that he put their comfort and well-being above his dignity and pride.  He does it to show that his love for them—his love for us—is more important than his status.

And then he commands us to do the same for others.  Jesus tells his disciples to welcome others in with extravagant hospitality, to care for their needs and show them God’s love in word and deed.  A teacher’s students should follow his or her lead.  So if the teacher serves others, so to should the students.  And we, too, are Jesus’ disciples; we are students and followers of Jesus.  If Jesus, who was God in human flesh, would stoop so low as to wash our feet, we, too, should be willing to show hospitality and love to others even when it pulls us out of our comfort zone, even when it isn’t nice, or pleasant, or easy.  Even when it means putting our own reputation on the line.

How is this night different from all other nights?  On this night, we begin to see just how great and transforming God’s love for us is.  On this night, the God who brought our ancestors from slavery in Egypt into the freedom of the Promised Land begins to lead us from the slavery of sin to the freedom of forgiveness.  On this night, we begin to see how far Jesus is willing to go to save us, to make us clean and whole, to show us that he loves us.  On this night, Jesus invites us in, makes us welcome no matter how dirty we are, and feeds us with his own body and blood.  And on this night, after the meal, Jesus will go to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, where he will be arrested.  Tomorrow, he will be tried and executed, and on Sunday he will rise from the grave.  And all of that—Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection—will be for our sake.  Jesus does all of this because he loves us, because he would rather die than see us broken by sin and death.

On this night, Jesus gives us as an example for how we are to live our lives.  On this night, Jesus gives us one last command: to love as we have been loved.  Jesus shows us what love truly means, in his life, in his last actions, and in his death.  Love does not depend on being found worthy, for surely nothing we could ever do would make us worthy of what God has done for us.  Love is a gift we have been given by God, a gift freely given, with no strings.  And as we have been given that gift, so we should give to others what we have received.  Because we live in the light of God’s love, we should love others.  Because we have been fed with this heavenly food, we should feed those who are hungry in body or soul.  Because we have been welcomed and forgiven in Jesus’ name, we should love and forgive others.

As we gather around the table tonight, with all Christians past, present, and yet to come, may we experience the love that God gives us so abundantly, and may we be inspired to go and do the same.  Amen.

Remembrance

Maundy Thursday

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Exodus 12:1-14

Psalm 116

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Preached by Anna C. Haugen, Saint Luke Lutheran Church, Bloomsburg, PA

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

Have you ever wondered what the word “Maundy” means?  I know I did before I came to seminary, and someone asked me that question just a few weeks ago.  “Maundy” comes from the old Latin word “mandatum,” which has also provided another word in English—mandate.  Mandatum means command.  During the Last Supper, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, and said: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”  Remembering Jesus, remembering the Lord’s Supper, means remembering this commandment, as well.  Remembering means loving one another.  It means acting out that love—God’s love for us—in everything we say and do.

“Do this in remembrance of me.”  “This day shall be a day of remembrance for you.”

In both our first and second readings, remembrance is a strong theme.  We are commanded to remember what God has done, both in the Exodus that freed the people of Israel from slavery and in the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  But what does it mean to remember?  Does remembering just mean to take ten minutes during Communion every Sunday morning to think about Jesus, before going back to our everyday lives?  Does it mean putting a few lines in our prayers and songs about God setting people free?  I don’t think so.  I think it means more than that.

For the Jews—and remember, Jesus and his disciples, everyone present at the Last Supper, were Jewish—remembering isn’t just a matter of thought.  Remembering is something you do, it’s how you act.  Remembering is how you respond to things that have happened.  Remembering means responding to God’s love and to all the things God has done for us.  Remembering means proclaiming the truth of what has happened for all the world to see and hear.  Remembering is how the past becomes a present reality.  Remembering is a way of life.

When God tells the Hebrew people to remember the Passover, the Exodus hasn’t happened yet—they were still in bondage, waiting for God’s saving actions.  And on the night of the first Passover, God bought their freedom in blood and pain and set in motion the actions that brought them out of slavery and into the freedom of the Promised Land.  So every year they celebrate the Passover and remember that God freed them, that God promised them new life and God kept that promise, that the God they worship is the God who brought them out of freedom and is still keeping promises to them.  The Exodus isn’t just something that happened three thousand years ago to their ancestors.  The Exodus is something that happens now, to them.

As Christians, we should understand that, because the Supper of Our Lord isn’t just something that happened two thousand years ago to twelve guys in Jerusalem, it’s something that is happening, now, to us.  In the night in which our Lord Jesus was betrayed, the crucifixion hadn’t happened yet, the resurrection hadn’t happened yet.  The whole world was still in bondage to sin, waiting for God’s saving actions.  And on the night of the Last Supper, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples and told them to remember him.  He was betrayed, he was crucified, and in his sacrifice God bought our freedom from sin with Jesus blood and pain.  Through Christ’s death and resurrection we are brought from slavery into freedom, from death into life, from brokenness into wholeness, from isolation into relationship with God and with one another.

So on Maundy Thursday, and every Sunday throughout the year, and at other occasions, we celebrate Communion and remember that God has freed us, that God has promised us new life and God has keep that promise.  We remember that the God who brought the Israelites out of slavery, the God who sets people free, is the God who has set us free, as well.  We remember that the God who promised freedom to the people of Israel, the God who promised us his love before we even knew him, is still keeping those promises today.  The Last Supper isn’t just something that happened two thousand years ago.  The Last Supper is something that is happening here, to us and to all of God’s people, tonight and every time we come together to celebrate Communion.  Christ is truly present with us now, in bread and wine, just as he said he would.  When we eat this bread and drink from this cup, we know that Christ is in them, just as he said he was.  Christ comes to us in bread and wine, something we can feel, taste, smell.  When we come together around the Lord’s Table, we know that we gather together with all Christians of every time and every place, those who have gone before us and those who will come after us.

Remembering Jesus isn’t just thinking about him every now and then.  Remembering affects everything we do and say.  Remembering is taking Christ’s presence here in this meal and in our lives seriously.  Remembering means taking Jesus’ last commandment seriously, too.  Love one another as Jesus has loved us.

Jesus showed us what that meant when he washed his disciples’ feet.  Think about that, for a minute.  You know how much sweat and dirt builds up on your feet over the course of a summer day when you’re wearing sandals?  Think about how much worse it must be, how much more filthy, when the only paved roads are just cobblestone—and even those are few and far between.  When even many indoor floors are made of packed dirt.  When your only mode of transportation is your own two feet.  When you’re in a desert area so there’s very little rainfall to wet everything down and everything is dry and dusty.  Think about just how gross those feet must have been.  Think about how nice it must feel to have had them cleaned.

Washing those feet couldn’t have been pleasant.  It’s not something anybody would want to do, normally.  But Jesus didn’t do it because he had to, he did it because he loved them, and because he wanted to show them what love is.  Love isn’t just thinking nice thoughts about someone.  Love is helping someone even when it’s not nice, or pleasant, or fun.  Love is being willing to serve not because you have to, or because you’re not worth anything better, but because you want to.

That’s how Jesus wants us to love one another.  That’s how Jesus wants us to remember him, and that’s how he wants us to show the world that we are his.  Jesus wants us to remember him by putting our money where our mouth is, so to speak—by loving one another as God has loved us, and putting that love into action.  Jesus wants us to remember him by knowing that when we share this meal, and when we put his love into action, he is there with us.  When we gather together for worship and communion, we proclaim our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, who died that we might have life and have it abundantly.  When we are sent out into the world to share God’s love through serving one another and all of God’s creation, we proclaim our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, who gave his life for us because he loves us, and wants us to truly love one another.

Amen.

Covenant

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

 

Exodus 34:1-9, 27-28

Preached by Anna C. Haugen

Saint Luke Lutheran Church, Bloomsburg, PA

 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Today’s reading begins just after the Golden Calf incident.  The people of Israel, having been freed from slavery in Egypt, had promised God to worship only him and follow God’s commandments.  God promised to be their God, and they promised to be God’s people.  This was a solemn promise, called a covenant—it was as binding and important as a marriage vow, or a treaty between nations.  But the people of Israel turned right around and made for themselves an idol, a statue made of gold, to worship, and in the resulting party ended up breaking just about every single one of the commandments they had just promised to obey.  God was understandably angry.  It seemed like there was no way back—the tablets on which the covenant and the commandments were written had been broken, the people had rejected their God and God had responded in kind.

But that is not the end of the story.  In fact, that is where today’s story begins.  God commanded Moses to make two new tablets, to replace the ones that had been broken.  Even though the people rejected God, God did not reject the people.  Even though the people had broken their promises to God, God did not break his promises to them.

And when God renewed his covenant—his commitment to be with the people of Israel—this is how he signed his name: the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty.  Those words resonate through all of Scripture, and they are the most common description of God.  Our God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

We are like the people of Israel.  Like them, we promise to be God’s people, to follow God’s word and to live as God calls us.  Yet we go astray.  We make idols out of our possessions and our leaders and our entertainers.  We choose to focus our lives on other things, and forget our relationship with God and our promises to him. We love ourselves but not our neighbor.  We are a stiff-necked people, unwilling to follow God’s commands, preferring our own way.  We are sinners, however much we like to pretend otherwise.

And yet God still loves us.  No matter how often we break our promises to God, God will never break his promises to us.  When we stray, God goes forth like a shepherd to find us.  When we confess our brokenness and return to the LORD our God, he is always waiting with open arms to embrace us.

That does not mean that our sins, our brokenness, our hurtful ways, don’t matter.  They do matter, and they do have consequences.  How often do our selfish actions come back to haunt us, or worse, to haunt other people?  How often does our stiff-necked insistence on following our own path instead of God’s path separate us from one another and from God?  But God’s faithfulness to us endures no matter how many times we turn away from him.  God is the only one in the world who can hate the sin and still truly, fully love the sinner.  And no matter how many times we turn away from God, God has promised to be faithful to us, and God keeps his promises.

God made a covenant—a deep, mutual promise of relationship—with the people of Israel at Sinai.  God made another covenant with us, in the blood of our lord and savior Jesus Christ, who died for us on the cross.  In Christ’s death, our sinful self dies as well, and Jesus bears the consequences of our sin.  In Christ’s resurrection, we are born to new life in him.  And all God asks is that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, and all our strength, and all our mind, and love our neighbors as ourselves.

We won’t always succeed.  Sometimes, we backslide into bad habits, or choose to go astray.  But God has promised to love us and save us no matter what.  Our God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  Our God loves us so much that he sent his only son to die for our sake, to save us from our sins.

Amen.