Homer Simpson, My Teenage Girlfriend, & the Last Male White Rhino: Maybe the Cross Changes Everything

Why did Jesus die?  I’ve been asking people this question this week, and I’ve gotten some great answers.  My favourite, though was when someone sent me this picture:  hoer 

Homer Simpson.  I definitely would have put that on the bulletin cover, but alas, our church bought these fancy printed ones with palms on the front.

Why did Jesus die?  

The most common answer I received was along these lines:

Jesus died to save us from our sins.   Jesus died for our sins. 

Now I generally don’t like religious clichés, so I asked another question.

But what does that mean?  How does that work?               

There was a bit more wondering and pondering about that.

Which, there should be.   No example, no illustration, no sermon, no metaphor, no article shared on Facebook, can fully capture the whole picture of Jesus dying on the cross.

It’s like our church building project.  If we describe what we’re seeing through my office window, that’s a good and true and necessary perspective.  But if we open that side door over there and look, well, we’ll see another perspective. (Plus we’d fall into a hole, so don’t do that).  We need to look through multiple windows to see the whole picture.

So, I’m going to give you a glimpse through one of the windows that I see the cross, but if you see it through a different window, that’s great.  We need all the windows.


So we’ll start with a story of when I was a teenager.

I had a crush on a girl.  Before I was dating Ashley.  And, some of us are getting a little old to remember what it was like being a teenager and having a crush on someone, but you know, you’re always asking and wondering… Does she like me?  Does she not?  Did she just look at me and smile?  Or was that for the person behind me?

So anyhow… I had a crush on a girl.  And then one day, she came up to me.  And she said, “Hey Kyle.  I just wanted to let you know that I don’t just like you.  I am smitten with you.  I love you. And I’ve loved you for a long time.  We’re going to have a wonderful life together.  I want to be with you forever.”

So teenager Kyle at this point is quite excited.  But you know… play it cool.  All smiles, I respond, “This is great!  I like you too, and maybe one day it’ll grow into love!”

She looks at me.  And with smile, she says, “That’s great.  Because if you didn’t love me, I’d make your life a living hell forever.  You will never get away from me.   My wrath will be fierce, and I might even torture you.  Forever.  But since you love me, it’ll all be fine, right?”

“No!  This is not okay! This is unacceptable behavior, and you are a monster.  And I’m going to call the cops.”

Okay, so this really isn’t a true story.   Sorry about that.  (But thanks to Michael Hardin for the story.  I read it in Executing God by Sharon Baker) Maybe a different day I’ll share about my teenage relationships. But only if you share about your teenage relationships too.  Unless they involve my parents. Then I don’t want to hear them.

But I don’t think it’s a bad comparison to some of our understandings of God.  God says to humanity, “I made you.  I love you.  I want to be in relationships with you.  And if you don’t love me back the way that I want, there will be hell to pay.”

That God sounds a bit like my fake girlfriend.  A monster.

Is God a monster?

What is God like?

Take a moment and sit with this question.  What is God like?

Maybe today, since today is Palm Sunday, the Sunday where we celebrate Jesus as King we can say that Jesus is like a king.

But what kind of King is Jesus like?  A nice king?  And harsh king?  A king who kills those who oppose him, or, one who runs attack ads against him?  Is Jesus a triumphant king?  Does Jesus hold post-election victory parties?

Pontius Pilate made a sign for Jesus.  It said,  “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

And he had it nailed to the cross where Jesus was crucified.

Our king was crucified.

What is God like?

Crucified.

We worship a crucified God.

But what does it mean that we worship a crucified God?  What does it mean that our king was killed?  What does it mean that our king allowed himself to be killed? Why is this significant?

Us worshipping a crucified God, I think, gives us a lens, a perspective, on what God is like.  The crucifixion is one of the windows that we get to try to see and understand who God is.

The cross is not us trying to avoid an angry, monster God.

Because the crucifixion of Jesus is not about God changing God’s mind about humanity.  The crucifixion is about humanity changing its mind about God.

To explain this, I’m going to explain some concepts with how Christianity has traditionally explained them, and then compare them with how I see them.  And then I’m going to show some famous pictures that point to what I’m getting at.

And, remember… We are deep in the world of images and metaphors here.  We’re doing our best to describe a mystery.

Okay… Three concepts that we have to talk about when talking about the cross.  We’re going to talk about God’s wrath, God’s justice, and sacrifice

1. God’s wrath.

When I say the phrase God’s wrath, we come up with images of God sending lightning bolts and floods and dropping pianos on us.  The Grapes of Wrath are being stored up for those who refuse to do God’s will.  We can imagine my imaginary teenage girlfriend who’s gonna make my life a living hell.

Or we can look at it as God allowing us to experience the consequences of our decisions. Central to any loving relationship is freedom. Otherwise it’s coercion, and coercion isn’t love.   We are free to be in a relationship or free to not be.  We are free to choose our own actions, or not.  But we are not free from are the consequences of any choices we make.

Examples.  If I were to speed on the highway, I can get a speeding ticket.  It’s not God angrily sending me a police officer to give me a ticket.  It’s God saying “You have the freedom to choose your actions.  There are consequences for our decisions.”

A good way to understand this is to ask,

Are we punished for our sins?  Or by our sins?

Another example: The other day I made a bonfire in my backyard.  And I told my kids “Don’t touch the metal.”  Now, if they go and touch the metal, did I do that to them?  Could they say “Dad burned me!”  Or is that just the consequence for their choice?

And when God chose to become human, God chose to live in our world, and was not immune to all the things going on in our world.

So, at the crucifixion, Jesus encounters violence, torture, betrayal, abandonment, anxiety, pain, and empire.  These are all real things.  And many of them are the natural consequences of simply being human, and many of them are the consequence of engaging (and enraging) the powers and authorities.   We’re all free to choose violence or not, to stick with our friends or not, to serve others or not, and no matter what we choose, there are consequences for those choices.  And they are real.  They can be bloody.  But they are not divinely orchestrated.   God is not pushing the “drop piano” button.

2.  God’s justice.

This one’s a little easier to understand.  When we think about justice, because of our time and place in history, it’s really hard for us not to think of a judge. judge-judy

Like Judge Judy.  You do bad, and there’s a punishment.

This type of justice is called retributive justice.  You speed, you get a ticket.  You murder someone, you go to jail.

But, God doesn’t treat us according to our sins.  God treats us differently.

The type of justice God is into is restorative justice.  It where we acknowledge that something bad has happened, and we work hard at restitution, we work hard at making it right, and we try to restore the relationship. This is a really simple definition, but it’s a really important important.

God hates sins, so does God punish it?  Banish it?

Or does God work at the relationships that are broken.  And work towards restoration?

I believe that God cares more about the restoration of relationships more than the punishment of sin.   If this is seems strange or unique or unfair, well, it’s kind of the definition of grace.  Small-g grace. Grace is a gift undeserved.

3.  Sacrifice

We can understand the cross as Jesus giving his life as a sacrifice for our sins.  Similar to how in the Old Testament you were supposed to kill a goat or something to atone for your sins.  Or by dying on the cross, Jesus took our place.  Someone has to die because of sin, so Jesus dies instead of us.  Like a substitute sacrifice.

But what I do with the word sacrifice is not that God demands it, or that someone HAS to suffer or die, but rather, when someone does suffer or die, they reveal to us the consequences of sin.  They reveal sin for what it is.  A sacrifice can expose evil, and hopefully prevents further suffering or death.

So if we call Jesus a sacrifice, it’s not God killing God’s own kid to make God happy.  It’s God allowing him to die in an effort to expose sin and evil and show us what they truly are, and also shows us how to live.


Okay.  To sum up, and before we start looking at some pictures, here’s where we’re at.

God’s wrath is less about God being angry and smiting humans, and more about there being very real consequences for our decisions.

God’s justice is less about punishment and more about restoration. 

Sacrifice is less about God demanding it, or something dying in our place, and more about revealing evil and sin in our world, and showing us how to respond.


I’m now going to show you some pictures.

1.  The man is Zacharia Mutai, moments before Sudan, sudan-white-rhino-DSC_4822.adapt.590.1the last male Northern White Rhino on the planet, died.

Did God’s wrath kill the rhino?  No.  But we did.  God allowed us to poach them, to encroach on their territory, to pollute the Earth, and the result is another extinct species.

Is God punishing the rhino by killing him?  Is God punishing us by killing the rhino?   No.   But I think that even though the dead Rhino doesn’t make God happy, I think God cares more about our relationships with each other and the Earth than seeking punishment.  It’s not like God is saying “You let the Rhino die!  As punishment, two thousand of you humans will now be trampled by hippopotamuses.”

Was the rhino a needed sacrifice?  Well, on one hand no.  We can learn to take care of the Earth without an almost extinct species.  But on the other hand, does the Rhino’s death expose to us the evil we can inflict upon the world?  Yes.  And will its death hopefully prevent any other species from going extinct?  Well, that’s up to us, right?


2.  NEP3881386We’ll use a relevant example for us in Canada. This is our new $10 bill, coming out soon.  And that woman is Viola Desmond.  Her story is that she was in a movie theatre in Halifax, but she sat in the “whites only” section.   When told she couldn’t sit there because of her skin colour, she didn’t leave.  She was dragged out, arrested, thrown in jail for 12 hours, and fined.

Was God’s wrath poured out on her?  Oh gosh no.  She’s a hero.  But God allowed her to suffer the consequences of racism.  There are consequences for our sins, and they are real.

Did God care about punishing her for not following the rule of law?  Does God care about punishing us for our sins of racism?  Or does God care more about the restoration of relationships?  (I loved watching the news conference where Viola Desmond’s sister Wando Robson shared the stage with the Finance Minister.)

Was Viola’s sacrifice necessary? Well, on one hand, absolutely not.  We white people didn’t have to be racist, and could have just let her sit where she wanted.  But did her actions, did her suffering, prevent further suffering for others?  Did it reveal and expose the evils of racism?  Yes.  Will it help us work to end racism in 2018?  Well, that’s up to us, right


3.  (In my sermon, I showed a picture of Alan Kurdi on the beach, the two year old toddler from Syria who drowned and was found on in Turkey. I showed it for only 30 seconds, but I can’t bring myself to posting it here.  I’m sure you remember the picture, but I’m posting a picture of him happily playing instead.)

Alan_kurdi_smiling_playground.jpg

This is Alan Kurdi.  We’ve seen this picture before.

Was God’s wrath poured out on a two year old migrant from Syria who drowned and washed up on a beach?  No.   Does it show the consequences of sin?  Yes.  And there is a whole lot of sin wrapped up in this picture.  Violence and weapons manufacturing and barrel bombs and racism and religious bigotry and fear and anxiety and desire for control and the disregard for human life and profound, profound apathy.  The consequences of sin are real, my friends.  And God lets us choose.

Was this God’s punishment for sin?  No.  Is God going to send a foreign army to Canada and make us refugees as punishment for not taking in more folk?  C’mon.  I think God cares a heck a lot of more about the relationships between humans, and how we get along, more than punishing us for our sins.

Was his life a sacrifice?  On one hand, goodness no.  A sacrifice for what?   That someone has to die, and he drew the short straw?  That notion is ridiculous.  But on the other hand, does his death prevent the deaths of thousands of other kids?  Will his death ensure others will have a different fate?   If his death revealed and exposed the evils that we perpetuate, if his death shook the world into action, if this death shook our church into action, if his death shook me to action, if his death continues to affect me, then yes, his life then was a sacrifice.  Not God ordained.  Not God planned.  One that we wish didn’t happen.  But it did.  And will it help us work towards peace and welcoming more refugees into our lives?  Well, that’s up to us, isn’t it?


4.  Jesus on the cross.   jesus.jpg

Was this God’s wrath being poured out on his own kid?  No.  The cross reveals the consequences of violence, torture, betrayal, abandonment, anxiety, pain, fear, and empire.  The cross reveals that even in our efforts to be true and faithful and safe, we can even crucify the son of God.  The consequences of our sin are real.

Was it God punishing Jesus for our sins?  Well, a) what would that accomplish?  And b)  Does God care more about punishing people for our sins?  Or our relationships?  I would venture to say that the cross reveals how God views sinners… Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.  I mean, if God doesn’t punish the people who killed his own son, who does God punish?  

Was Jesus a sacrifice?  Well, on one hand no.  Does God really need blood to be satisfied?  Does God serve a higher power than Godself?  Does God get a kick of out animals and people dying?  Does something have to die?  No (Well, our egos need to die.  Maybe our addiction to power and our desire for control.  But here I actually mean “Does something need to physically die?)    But on the hand, does the death of Jesus reveal the evil in this world?  Does the death of Jesus reveal how God responds to violent sinners?  Yes.  Does the death of Jesus prevent further deaths?  Does the death of Jesus show us how to live?  Well, that’s up to us, isn’t it?


The crucifixion of Jesus is not about God changing God’s mind about humanity.  The crucifixion is about humanity changing its mind about God.

And the key word for me to understanding the cross is REVEAL.

The cross reveals our own sin and brokenness.

The cross reveals how destructive the power of sin can be.

The cross reveals how God treats sinners.

The cross reveals who God is.

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.  Colossians 2:15

Why does any of this matter? Why does us worshipping a crucified God matter?

Because us worshipping a crucified God means that the God we worship is a “loving God who  sacrificially gives up receiving payback for sin, who is satisfied by a justice that reconciles and restores relationships, who sees to it that mercy triumphs over judgement, and whose love for enemies works to win them over with grace, mercy, and compassion.” – Sharon Baker

We worship a crucified God, and that has the potential to change everything.

 

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Homicidal Maniacs, Seven Miracles, and Sociology

“What is truth?”  This is question Pilate asks Jesus.

The good news for us is that this morning we’re going to get an answer.  2000 years of wondering about truth is all going to be solved today.  Lucky us.   <smile>


To better understand what’s all going in today’s Scripture, we’re going to take a quick dive into history.  (I got most of this from the book The Upside Down Kingdom by Donald Kraybill, which continues to be one of the most influential books on Jesus I’ve ever read)

At the time of Jesus, the Roman Empire was busy sending their armies all over the world and conquering new territories.  And one of those territories was what is now modern day Israel and Palestine. The homeland of the Jewish people.

But… the Jewish people, for some reason or another, didn’t like being ruled by a foreign power.  I know, right?  I can’t imagine why.  And so, history tells us that they were notoriously difficult to rule.

When Jesus was born, the Roman Empire had set up a puppet king named Herod the Great.  He’s the one we read about at Christmastime when the magi went and visited him.    There were two important parts to Herod the Great’s job:  Make sure the locals pay their taxes, and maintain the peace.

Unfortunately, King Herod was a homicidal maniac.  So after the magi told him about Jesus being a new king, he was pretty sure a new king wasn’t ‘maintaining the peace’, so he ordered the murder of all the children 2 and under.

That one’s bad.  And there are lots more.  But to put an emphasis on what kind of king Herod was, here’s one more story.  Near the end of his life, he knew he was dying.  But he didn’t want people to celebrate his death.  So on his death bed he ordered Jewish leaders be put in jail.  And he gave the orders that when he died, they were all to be killed, so that the people of his kingdom would shed tears on the day that he died.

Homicidal maniac.  (Lucky for everyone, after he died, his orders were not followed, and the captives were released.)

After he died, his puppet kingdom was split up and given to 3 of his kids – Herod Antipas, Philip, and Archelaus.

These puppet kings had two main responsibilities:  Make sure the locals pay their taxes, and maintain the peace.

Philip did fairly well at managing his part of the kingdom, so the history books don’t have much to say about him.

Herod Antipas was a bit worse.  We read about him cutting off the head of John the Baptist after John called him a fox.  (Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me. Unless you call me a fox.  Then I’m going to cut off your head.)  After 42 years of ruling, the Romans put him into exile.

But Archelaus – What a disaster he was.  He was in charge of the kingdom that included Jerusalem.  At the start of his rule, he removed the high priest and installed his own.  And then a riot broke out.  And then soldiers were sent in to stop the riot. And then the soldiers were killed by the rioters.  And then Archelaus had 3000 people killed in retaliation for that.

But, that kicked up some more revolutionaries.  A former slave named Simon led a rebellion against all the palaces and estates of the wealthy.  A former shepherd named Athronges led a rebellion for a few more years.  And then there was another guy named Judas who became a flaming revolutionary and declared himself king and ruled for a few months.

But the Romans weren’t really okay with this, so they sent in a legion to stop all this nonsense.  They burned down the hometown of Judas, sold its population into slavery, and killed 2000 more people just to make sure they got the point.

And this doesn’t include that time that people were chucking stones off the roof of the temple onto the heads of the Roman soldiers.  Or the assasins called “Daggermen” who hid in caves.  Or the Zealots who thought the only good Roman was a dead one.

After Rome came and “cleaned up the mess” of Archelaus, they installed a Roman governor to govern all of Judea.  And that governor had two main jobs:  Get the locals to pay their taxes, and maintain the peace.

Pontius-Pilate-202x300.jpg

Pontius Pilate

And at the time of Jesus’ death, the guy in charge was name Pontius Pilate. Pontius Pilate ruled for a few years, but was eventually removed from his position for massacring some Samaritans.  One Roman historian recorded Pilate’s rule as “marked by corruption, violence, degradation, ill treatment, offenses, numerous illegal executions and incessant, unbearable cruelty.”Are you noticing a pattern here?

If this all feels a bit like the TV show Game of Thrones, yes… That would be a very good comparison.

Another one of the dynamics here is that throughout all this violence, the religious leaders in Jerusalem were busy trying to lead their people.  They were trying to faithful to God.  They were trying to maintain some form of independence from the Roman Empire.  And they were also trying to ensure that their people wouldn’t kill the Romans so that the Romans wouldn’t come and obliterate them off the face of the Earth.   Let me tell you, when we have our staff meetings here at church, we do not have on our agenda “How to keep our church members from being massacred by a foreign army?”   We talk about who’s preaching next week.

So that brings us to today’s story.

As part of being under Roman rule, the religious leaders weren’t allowed to kill people.  That power laid with the Roman authorities.

But the religious leaders were probably afraid of a whole bunch of things… They were afraid that this Jesus character was going to mess up their gig.  They were afraid about their own of sense of identity and purpose, because nobody really likes changing jobs that they’re good at.  And… and this is key… They were afraid that the people are going to declare Jesus to be King.  And if there’s a new king in town, that will bring the wrath of the Roman armies, and dang it, that’s a lot of extra funerals to do on the weekend.

So they want Jesus gone. Done away with.  Killed.  They had a meeting, and they said “If we let him (Jesus) go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” The head priest Caiaphas said “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”  John 11:48, 50

So they bring Jesus to Pilate.

Now, Pilate doesn’t live in Jerusalem, as his palace was on the coast in Caesarea Maritima, about 120 km away.  So why is he in Jerusalem?

Well, we don’t know for sure, but we can take a pretty good guess.  What are Pilate’s two main responsibilities?  Make sure the locals pay their taxes, and maintain the peace.  And the weekend that Jesus died in Jerusalem was the Passover.   It’s the Jewish festival where they remember the Israelite slaves leaving Egypt… Which can also be told as a story of the Jewish people being freed from the shackles of an oppressive foreign government…

A festival celebrating freedom from an foreign oppressive regime in a region known for violent uprising against foreign oppressive regimes might make Pontius Pilate’s responsibility of “keeping the peace” at little bit difficult.  Jerusalem is like a tinderbox, ready to explode.

And so here we are.  Jesus is before Pilate.

Now, based on this text alone, I don’t think Pilate cares much about Jesus.  I think all he cares about are maintaining the peace and taxes.

So he asks Jesus if he is a king. Because, you know, having a rival king would be bad.

And pay attention to Jesus’ response:  “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

My kingdom is not of this world.  My kingdom is different.  It’s one you don’t understand.  You clearly understand violence, as that’s how both the Roman Empire and Jewish revolutionaries work.  But my kingdom is different.  It doesn’t need violence and taxes to govern it.  It’s about love… self-emptying love.  For everyone.  Even our enemies.  It’s about peace and forgiveness and kindness and gentleness.   And it doesn’t have borders. My kingdom is from a different place.

I don’t think Pilate really gets what Jesus is saying.  All Pilate hears is Jesus admitting to being a king:  “So you are a king, then! “


Okay, this is a big deal because this is the first time in the gospel of John that Jesus declares himself to be king.  This is the first time that he owns the title.

And why is this a big deal?

Because the gospel writer of John spends the first 11 chapters of his book describing 7 miracles, or signs of Jesus.  (We preached on some of them.  But Easter is early this year, so we ran out of Sundays to preach on all of them.)  These signs are:

Changing water into wine.

Healing the royal official’s son

Healing the paralytic at Bethesda

Feeding the 5000

Jesus walking on water

Healing the man blind from birth

The raising of Lazarus from the dead.

Now, if someone turns water in wine and feeds the hungry and raises people from the dead, they would surely be made king.   I mean, who here in Canada wouldn’t vote for free healthcare, free food, and free alcohol?!?!

And Jesus knew this.

And he said…. No.

Here’s what we read after he feeds the 5000.

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”  Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”

When Jesus was the hero, he didn’t claim he was a king.  Even after all the miracles.

But it’s here, in front of Pilate, where Jesus is arrested, vulnerable, a prisoner, alone, betrayed, at the mercy of others, facing death… It is here where Jesus declares himself to be king.

What kind of king is that?  And what kind of kingdom is that?

We understand Roman armies and taxation.  We understand modern day armies and the CRA.  We understand aircraft carriers and strong borders and nuclear weapons.

But a kingdom of vulnerability and self-emptying love?  That’s ridiculous.

Pilate thought so too.  That’s why he didn’t order Jesus to be killed.  He probably thought Jesus was delusional. Any of us here could declare ourselves to be Prime Minister, but without an army, a show of force, some rules of engagement, nobody would take us seriously. We’re not a threat to Ottawa.  People would just say we’re delusional.

And so Pilate didn’t find any basis for charges, because Pilate was operating out of the the kingdom that he understood.

And Pilate gave the people a choice too.  They can have their vulnerable king Jesus, or they can have the violent revolutionary named Barabbas.

What’s interesting about Barabbas is that in some translations, he’s referred to as a bandit.

And the other time that the word bandit is used in the Gospel of John is in John 10, where the bandit is contrasted with the good shepherd.  The good shepherd loves his sheep, gives his live for his sheep, while the bandit steals and destroys.

 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.  All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them.  I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The bandit comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:7-10

Do the people want the good shepherd?  Or do they want the bandit?

They chose the bandit.  “Give us Barabbas!” the crowds shouted. They too, chose the kingdom that they could understand.  They chose to play the game of thrones, where you win or you die.


A quick aside – Like footwashing, self-emptying love like forgiveness, these are decisions that we make for ourselves, as individuals or communities.  We can’t force people to choose the Good Shepherd while we choose to be bandits to them.  A manifestation of this is the unholy alliance between church and state, especially related to the history of colonialism. The missionaries would show up, invite people to follow the good shepherd, and simultaneously the “Christian” state would show up and act like bandits.

If I am actively oppressing someone, I can’t tell them to choose the shepherd.  They are free to make that choice, but it cannot be forced.  Christianity is not about coercion.

Okay.  Moving quick aside is done.


 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate.  (Pilate sounds like he’s in a first year sociology course learning about postmodernism).

Maybe Pilate asked the wrong question.

Maybe Pilate should have asked “Who is truth?” Because that’s how Jesus answered him.

Jesus says that he is the truth.

And that’s a bold claim, isn’t it?  The arrested, vulnerable king facing death, is truth?  That’s the way of God?!?


This is where we let the artists speak for us.  A poet wrote in Isaiah 55:8-9,

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

            Nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

            So are my ways higher than your ways

            And my thoughts than your thoughts.

In my Lenten readings, Walter Brueggemann writes, “It is not your way.  You would not have imagined this alternative way nor been able to predict it, and you surely cannot control it.  There is a way into the future in your life, because God is at work doing strange, wondrous things for you and in spite of you.  And your job is to get your mind off your ways of need and control, to give your life over to God’s large, hidden way in your life…”

“The poet holds out to the exiles (and to us) an alternative way, the waters of baptism, the bread of the Eucharist, the wine of new covenant, the capacity to risk and trust and obey, and then to find ourselves safe and joyous, close to God, and enlisted for a very different life in the world.”

Let’s pray:

God of becoming, be with us as journey through Lent.  May we learn to relinquish our old ways to that we are ready to receive your newness.  Amen.   

The St. Lawrence River, Life Sentences, and Super Bowl Commercial Flops

Many of us here know about a river in Quebec called the St. Lawrence River.  But do any of us know why it’s called the St. Lawrence River?

Well, before Europeans settled Canada, the Iroquois lived on it and called it Kahnawáʼkye, which means “The Big River.”

220px-St._Stephen_the_Martyr_(Omaha),_chapel_window_4,_St_Lawrence

But it’s still referred to as the St. Lawrence River today because Jacques Cartier, who was the first European to see the river, entered the estuary of Kahnawáʼkye on St. Lawrence’s Feast Day.

But do any of us know who St. Lawrence is?

This is a picture of him.

And do you see what’s behind him there, that metal square like thing?

It’s a griddle.  Like an actual griddle.  Just like the ones we put over campfires for our bacon and eggs in the morning.

But, of course have to ask, “Why in the world is St. Lawrence depicted with a griddle?”

Well, the year was 258, less than 200 years after the gospel of John was written, and before Christianity was the official religion of the Roman Empire.

And since Christians kept declaring that Jesus was Lord (and thus that Cesar wasn’t), they were viewed as a threat to the Empire, as people whose patriotism was suspect. So at the time Emperor Valerian declared that any bishop, priest, or deacon should immediately be put the death and all their wealth be confiscated by the state.  And so relatively quickly, Pope St. Sixtus II was captured and executed in Rome.

At the time, St. Lawrence was a deacon of the church, and he was in charge of the treasury.  And so the prefect of Rome summoned St. Lawrence and demanded that he turn over the riches of the church to the Roman Empire.

Upon this request, St. Lawrence asked for 3 days to gather all the riches of the church.  And he was granted those 3 days.

And do you know what he did?  During those 3 days, he took all the riches of the church, and he gave every penny away to the poor and homeless.  He gave it all away.

And then, on the third day, he gathered up those whom he had given the money to, and they all walked to the prefect of Rome.  The prefect was expecting gold and silver, and when he saw St. Lawrence leading his unique band of followers, the prefect asked:  “Where are the riches of the church that I demanded?”

St. Lawrence replied “Here are the riches of the church!  And you will never be as rich as they are!”

Yeah, well that didn’t go well with the authorities. I can’t imagine why not.  So they made a big bed of hot coals, and put a big griddle over those coals, and placed St. Lawrence on them until he died.

Legend goes on to suggest that after a while of laying on the griddle, St. Lawrence lifted his head and yelled “I am well done.  Turn me over!”

And this why he is the patron saint of cooks and chefs.

St. Lawrence died on August 10.  And that is the day that Jacques Cartier sailed into the St. Lawrence River.


Deep within our Christian tradition we have the image of a towel and a basin, the story of Jesus washing his disciple’s feet, of Jesus serving, of Jesus inviting us to serve.

At the time of Jesus, do you know who did the foot washing?

Slaves.  Some scholars point out that it probably was primarily women slaves who did the foot washing.  So for Jesus to do what he did and get on his hands and knees and wash the feet of his disciples, finding a good 2018 comparison is difficult.

I asked on Facebook for some modern day examples, and some people suggested it would be like CEOs cleaning toilets (like undercoverboss!), or like us cleaning up at hotels and the movie theatres instead of us leaving our garbage for the staff.

pope-francis-1

Pope Francis tries to model this.  Two years ago he got down on his hands and knees and not only washed and dried the feet of 12 Muslim migrants, but he also kissed them.  And last year he went to a prison and washed the feet of inmates, some of whom were serving life sentences.

In my Lent readings this year, Watler Brueggemann has offered this:

“Get your mind off yourself long enough to care;  be so concerned about the well-being of the human community that you don’t have to worry about your place, your church, your class, your values, your vested interests.”  – Walter Brueggemann

The image of the master getting down on their hands and knees to wash someone’s feet, is profound.


But it’s not only profound in how counter-cultural it is.    It’s also profound because it foreshadows the self-emptying love of Jesus.

It’s the embodiment of one of the oldest hymns we have as found in Philippians 2.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

The Greek word for this is kenosis – Self-Emptying Love. It’s the renunciation of one’s own status in the world to love others, and treat others better than ourselves. Kenosis is the way of Jesus.


A quick aside, but an important one. Foot washing. Kenosis.  Self-Emptying Love.  Serving.  These are voluntary acts on our part. They cannot be used as tools of manipulation. “I served you, and now you need to serve me!” Kenosis is not about people owing you favours.  Nope.  It’s about love freely given.

For example, in today’s story, it takes place the night before Jesus is crucified.  And we read that Jesus washed the feet of all 12 disciples… Including Judas.  And that very night Judas still betrayed Jesus.

And Jesus didn’t play the “Hey man… Don’t betray me.  I washed your feet two hours ago!”

Genuine acts of love come with no strings attached.


But, while we’re talking about Judas…  Can you believe that Jesus washed his feet?  The same night that Judas betrayed him?

I, for one, would not want to wash the feet of Judas.

I would want to throw rocks at Judas. But I guess the pacifist side of me might show up, so instead of rocks I’d at least make a snide Facebook post about Judas.  But definitely not wash his feet.

So here’s a question for us today:

Whose feet do we not want to wash?

I can think of lots of reasons why I don’t want to wash certain feet.   And every time I do, I am reminded not only of the example of Jesus, but also the commandment of Jesus.

“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.   I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”   – John 13:14-15

This is part of the deal.  This is part of following Jesus. This is part of declaring Jesus to be Lord.  We don’t get to decide if we should serve or not.  We don’t get to decide who gets served or not.  We serve.


Here’s some good news.  If we do these things, if we don’t consider ourselves better than others, if we get on your hands and knees and wash the feet of others, if we are able to serve those around us, Jesus says that we are blessed.

“Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” John 13:17.

Not #blessed, like you are going to get good health and financial security.  Not #blessed like God is going to do something big to knock your socks.  God is not like Santa Claus, where he’s keeping a list of who’s naughty and nice and going to give us a present or a lump of coal.    Jesus himself still died the next day.  Jesus being a “good guy with a good heart who helped people” didn’t spare him from being crucified.  St. Lawrence was still burned alive on a griddle.  There’s no guarantee that we’re going to get anything out of serving.

Rather, this is the blessing.  When we serve, we already are blessed.  “When we serve, we are close to God and live in God’s presence.” (Jean Vanier)  When we serve, we are already living the abundant life Jesus promises. When we serve, we are already living the grace-filled peaceful life that transcends time.  That IS the blessing.   Serving others IS the blessing.


And here’s some even better news – We don’t have to be famous or a leader to serve.  We don’t have to the deacon in charge of the treasury like St. Lawrence.

During the Super Bowl a few weeks ago, if you were able to watch some of the American commercials, you might have seen a truck commercial that featured people doing things and some trucks driving around.    And throughout the background was the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, giving a speech about serving.

The ad was pretty much considered a flop.  Like, don’t use Dr. King to sell trucks.

And then, people started digging a little bit deeper into Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s entire speech, and then it came out that the speech was actually an anti-consumer speech!  It was a speech advising people to not care about upward mobility, not to care about keeping up with Jones’, but to serve. And the speech even went so far as to say don’t trust the advertisers because they are telling you that in order to make your neighbours envious of you, you must drive this type of car.

That was a really expensive Super Bowl Ad flop.

But, the words behind the ad… Those are great.  Here they are:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0xq0cFvyks