Year A — The Third Sunday of Easter

Commentary for May 8, 2011

Click here for today’s readings

Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Verse 39 is one of the Bible’s beautiful promises: “For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”

Repentance, baptism, forgiveness of sins, the presence of the Holy Spirit — these are each and every one gifts of the promise that we receive from God in Christ.

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
“I love the Lord, because….”

The psalmist participates in giving testimony to God’s goodness, a feature of the worship of God’s people for countless generations. We are invited to do the same. How long since you (or the people in your pews) have taken the time to fill in the blank?

“I love the Lord, because ….”

1 Peter 1:17-23
There is, from time to time, considerable dialogue over just what it means to be “born again”… or, as the NRSV has it, born “anew.” 

No need to revisit any of that ground here; much to be preferred are the descriptors that Peter employs in vv. 21-22. To wit: trust in God, set your hope and faith on God, and love each other deeply “from the heart.”

There is the bit about obedience to “the truth” — another phrase that evokes seemingly endless discussion throughout the church (just whose “truth” does this mean? God’s? And who is the arbiter of said truth?) I don’t know when we will all agree on “truth”…but that still leaves faith, hope and love.

To paraphrase the great American theologian, Meat Loaf: “three out of four ain’t bad!”

Luke 24:13-35
Jesus could certainly be a little coy, couldn’t he?

Here are the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, all abuzz with their visit to Jerusalem and the spectacular rumors emerging from the Passover situation. We are told that they “were kept from recognizing him.” 

By whom, or by what, I wonder? Is this divine intervention in order to set up the tale? Or are we supposed to read something in here, something along the lines of “they were just so caught up in their own concerns that they couldn’t see Jesus right in front of them?”

I have certainly heard the latter interpretation; if I think hard enough, I could probably recall preaching it.

Anyhow, Jesus saunters up and asks, quasi-innocently: “What’cha talking about, guys?” 

Which, of course, gives an excellent opening for the story to proceed and for Jesus to get in a few of his final theological licks before his impending ascension. Somebody has got to understand all of this, after all. Peter and the gang back home weren’t handling it so well at this point!

There’s a lot of stuff we’re still trying to figure out, ourselves. We, too, are “foolish… and slow of heart to believe.” But Jesus is with us, nonetheless, whether we recognize him or not. 

In word and sacrament, the Christ makes himself known as we break the bread and remember. Open our eyes, Lord; open our eyes!

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

When I was a kid, we always got to the movies late because, well, Daddy was Daddy and he was always late, and it was difficult to get five children anywhere together at the same time. We always came in after the movie was about a third over.

So we saw the end of the movie, then we waited in the theater while the ushers swept the floor and carried out the trash, and a new crowd came in, then we sat through the previews and the opening of the movie, then the whisper came down the row, “Let’s go. This is where we came in.” And Papa Chilton and Mama Chilton and all the embarrassed little Chiltons would file out.

Besides the embarrassment, the thing that stuck with me about that recurring experience was how odd it was to watch the beginning of the movie when you had already seen the end. Knowing how the story comes out changes how you see the beginning.

As we look at this story of the Road to Emmaus, we already know that the stranger is the Christ; we already know that Christ is risen, we already know how the story comes out, we have seen the end.

So, we may miss the utter despair behind the words, BUT WE HAD HOPED.

(Verses 20-21) “and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. BUT WE HAD HOPED that he was the one to redeem Israel.”

BUT WE HAD HOPED – are there any sadder words we can say?

BUT WE HAD HOPED – have you ever lost hope, lost confidence in the future, lost a vision of what can be, could be, should be?

BUT WE HAD HOPED – have you ever lost your grip on the promises of God?

In our story these men had lost hope – they were walking home to their village of Emmaus, returning to their former lives after years of following Jesus.

They had given up. They had lost the confidence in the future, they had lost the way forward, so they decided to go back, back to the comfort of their past.

They had hoped in Jesus, but now that they had lost hope, they were feeling, well, lost.

Until they were found by Jesus on the road.

When they were at their lowest, Jesus found them and picked them up.

When they were the farthest from God, God in Christ came to them.

They were on the road away from Jesus- when Jesus found them on the road.

The first thing Jesus did was open the Bible to them and tell them about himself, explaining to them about how this Jesus they were lamenting was really the Messiah of God.

 (verse 27) “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”

Then they got home and invited him in to eat with them. They still didn’t know who he was, but they remembered Jesus’ teaching about welcoming the stranger so they compelled him to come in.

Then he fed them, (verses 30-31) “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.”

I have participated in all sorts of Communion Services over the years.

I took communion at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford England. That was quite an experience. All “bells and smells,” and boys choirs and ushers in “morning clothes.”

I have also sat in little Slate Mountain Missionary Baptist Church and passed a plate full of little cut up pieces of Wonder Bread and a tray of glasses filled with grape juice up and down the pew.

I have celebrated communion by a lake with a bunch of teenagers, in hospital rooms with dying people, in a hotel conference room near the airport in Chicago.

And, as different as all those sacramental moments were; they were all connected to one important thing; that those of us who were there “knew Christ in the breaking of the Bread.”

Their eyes were opened in the breaking of the bread. They knew Jesus – they knew who he was.

Perhaps they were there the night of the Last Supper and the eerie similarity of his actions made them recognize him. Maybe something more mystical and mysterious happened. Either way, they knew him in the breaking of the bread.

This action of taking bread and blessing it and breaking it, opened their eyes to who Jesus was and how he had died to save them. It also let them know that he was alive, he was risen, he was present in the world to give them life and joy and hope.

So it is with us. When we participate in the breaking of the bread, we are reminded of what Christ did for us on the cross, and of what he continues to do for us each day of our lives.
The Breaking of the Bread gives us hope, for it opens our eyes to the living Christ in our midst.

(verses 32-35) “They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

We have a mission from God to share Christ with all people. We have God’s commandment to share the story of God’s love with the world. We are called by God to get up from the table and to go out on the road and point people to Christ.

The world is full of people who have lost hope. The world is full of people who have lost a vision of goodness. The world is full of people who are wandering dazed and confused, down the road to Emmaus. The world is full of people who are looking for some one or some thing to lift them up and give them joy again. The world is full of soul starved people in search of the true bread from heaven.  And we are called to go out and invite them to the table where we have been fed.

Are you one of those who have lost hope? Come to the table. Are you one of those who need a new vision of God’s love? Come to the table. Are you one of those who seek to understand the ways of God with the world? Come to the table.

Yes, Come to the Table. Come to the Table and receive Jesus Christ. Come to the Table and receive the True Bread from Heaven. Come to the Table and receive New Hope for Life.
Yes, let all of us come to the Table.

Christ is Risen,
Christ is Risen Indeed!

Amen and amen.

Year A — The Second Sunday of Easter

Commentary for May 1, 2011

Click here for today’s readings

Acts 2:14a, 22-32
Peter — he who had so recently stumbled in his own faith — is now energized to speak boldly in the name of Christ. The Apostle gives us a bit of Hebrew scripture exegesis, quoting from the text of Psalm 16, another of the lections for this day.

David couldn’t have been speaking of himself, Peter reasons, since we know where he is buried and his tomb is not empty! But Jesus — well, that’s something completely different! You all saw the miracles Jesus himself performed while he was alive, didn’t you? Well, the greatest miracle of all was performed after he died…God raised him up, for it was “impossible” for death to hold him.

Gotta love that word “impossible.” We use it in all sorts of circumstances…winning an impossible victory, overcoming impossible odds, describing a sight that is impossible to comprehend. Easter is THE demonstration of the God Who Does the Impossible.

(Not sure of the Hebrew equivalent name here — a la Yahweh Yireh, “The Lord Who Will Provide” יְהוָה יִרְאֶה , as in Genesis 22:14 — so if somebody can figure it out, please post as a comment!)

Psalm 16
The early church came to interpret this psalm of David as “prophecy” regarding Christ (see above.) God did not give Jesus up to the grave.

Apart from this messianic interpretation, the psalm makes a number of powerful and important statements about the life of the faithful person, whose hope is in God as Refuge (v.1.)

  • God protects
  • God gives what is good
  • There is delight in the fellowship of the “holy ones”
  • God gives counsel (wisdom, discernment)
  • God gives a “heartsong” in the night
  • God shows the path of life
  • God’s presence brings joy and pleasure 

Verse 8 makes a great prayer for the week, something I often suggest to my congregation as they depart from worship: ” I keep the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.”

1 Peter 1:3-9
Peter describes the “Thomas Dilemma” (see below) that all of us who were not alive and present at Jesus’ resurrection must overcome. “Although you have not seen him, you love him….” Hmmm, just how do we do that?

It is a bit of a sticky wicket when sharing our Easter faith, isn’t it? Often, we hear from those currently outside the faith, “But how do you know this story is true? You haven’t seen it with your own eyes, have you?”

Certainly true, that; we have not seen him, nor have we directly experienced any of the events upon which we base our claims of faith. Our only real claim is for what we have received and believe, that which Peter names “the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

It’s a soul thing. And a faith thing. Always has been, always will be. Pretty strong stuff, really, when you think about it — 2,000 years, several billion believers and counting!

John 20:19-31
Ah, Thomas…”Doubting” Thomas, at that! I’ve often wondered if it wouldn’t be more accurate to call him “Just Barely Missed the Boat” Thomas.

After all, his whole experience of the risen Lord wasn’t all that different from anyone else’s. The others didn’t believe at first, either. Thomas just wasn’t there when Jesus popped in through the walls (or however it was he made it through locked doors.)

“I’ll believe it when I see it for myself,” Thomas intones when confronted with the enthusiasm of his brothers and sisters. This is not doubt; this is reality. This is feet-firmly-planted, no-nonsense pragmatism. Thomas is just honest. Most likely, any of us would have said the same if we had been in his sandals.

The real story is not Thomas’ doubt or his pragmatism, though; it’s the presence of Jesus. When he does see Jesus a week later, all of the “let me put my hands in his side” bravado is gone. When in the presence of the Christ himself, it is enough for Thomas. Now, he is Thomas, the worshipper and servant.

“My Lord and my God!”

Thomas speaks our Easter response, does he not? What else can we really say?

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

I remember the first time I “went away.” It was 1972 and I was going away to college. My family is pretty low-key about things like this and there was no special dinner or anything like that. If I remember correctly, I milked the cow as usual that morning, worked in the field with Daddy until noon, then we went to the house for dinner. (On a southern farm, at noon, it was always “dinner.” Lunch was something you ate in the cafeteria at school.  And supper is after dark.) I took a shower, loaded my box of books and my laundry basket full of clothes in the back seat of the car and drove the hour and a half down to Guilford College.

But, I did receive a few “going away” presents. Daddy handed me $10, the first time I remember him giving me money that I had not earned working. Mama gave me a couple of shirts she got on sale. And my cousin Julia (an English teacher) and her husband Sam (a librarian) gave me a Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary. I spent the money on gas and wore out the shirts but I still have the dictionary sitting on my bookshelves.

The best going away presents serve two purposes. They are a link to the past and they propel us into the future. Every time I look up a word in that old dictionary, I remember Julia and Sam’s encouragement of my goal of getting a college education; and that dictionary, in its own small way, helped me to achieve that goal.

Today’s Gospel Lesson is about “Going Away Presents” But in this case, the gift-giving is done in reverse; the one going away, Jesus,  gives the presents. As the disciples gathered in their hide-away room, they were a very disturbed, confused and fearful community. The events of the last week had overwhelmed them, their brains and their bodies were on emotional overload.

The Bible says they were full of fear. The Greek word here is phobon, from which we get the English word PHOBIA. A phobia is an irrational and unthinking fear, emotional terror. These people were afraid of their own shadows, they were seeing monsters in the closets and boogie bears under their beds. Well, not exactly irrational and unthinking. Their world had turned upside down and inside out. They had left their families and their jobs, their lives and their livelihoods to follow this charismatic healer/preacher. And now this glorious revolution had come to a screeching halt, the wheels had come off the Kingdom of God parade, the movement had collapsed; all was in disarray.

If you want to know what they looked like, just think about the TV images of a favored team in the NCAA basketball tournament that gets upset, loses to a team they were supposed to beat. While the winners jump around and celebrate, the losers huddle on the bench, all their hopes and dreams smashed. They sit perfectly still, staring out in space. Or they hide their faces under towels, not wishing to weep on national TV.

The Gospel parade had come to an inglorious, confusing, disarrayed halt. Their season was over, and the Jesus team was left fearful, confused, inept and clueless, groping for a way to make sense of it all.

And Jesus, the Risen Christ, came into that locked room with “going away presents.” He brought to them the things they needed to recover and go forward.

Jesus comes to them in the midst of their fear and the first words out of his mouth are “Peace be with you.” This greeting is very important and he repeats it three times in our lesson. In Hebrew, Peace is Shalom – and means “completeness, welfare, health.”(1) It is a state in which everything is as it should be. In Greek, Peace is Eirene – which in this case means, “harmonized relationships between God and (humanity).”(2)

1 and 2 – Vines Expository Dictionary

Jesus comes into the midst of these most “unharmonic” and incomplete folks, and gives them the gift of being at peace with themselves and the world. This Peace is a most mysterious thing, for it is not tied to nor dependant upon external circumstances; it is not linked to how well you’re doing in your job or how well you’re getting along with your family or how much money you have in your savings account or how well your retirement fund is doing in the stock market.

Paul calls it, “the Peace that passes all understanding.” It is a peace that descends upon on our hearts and spirits as a gift from God. This Peace is at the core of our Christian worship. In the standard ELCA Lutheran Communion service the first three prayers of the Kyrie start with “In Peace . . .” Between the prayers and the communion, we pass the Peace. The Post-Communion Canticle begins, “Now, Lord, you let your servant go in peace. . . .”  The pastoral blessing begins, ”The Lord look upon you with favor and give you Peace. . . . ” The dismissal says “Go in Peace.”  Other Worship Traditions use the word in similar ways. It is vital that we understand the source of the peace that we are praying and passing and singing.

It is not OUR peace, not our love, not our goodwill, not our friendliness, not our serenity; in those moments we are sharing with one another the Peace that Christ has given to us, the same peace that Jesus gave to his disciples as a going away preasent.

After Jesus has comforted the disciples, after he has calmed their fears with His peace, Jesus give these directionless people a PURPOSE, a reason to keep on going. In verse 21 he says, “As the father has sent me, even so I send you.”

Jesus knows that they think that the mission has ended with his death, but he proclaims to them that it has only just begun. Dietrich Bonheoffer was a German Lutheran pastor who worked against Hitler. He was arrested and imprisoned and eventually hanged. As he was led out of his cell to go to the gallows, Pr. Bonheoffer said to his cellmates and friends, “I know to you this seems like the end of life, but to me it is just the beginning.”

When Jesus tells his disciples that he is sending them, he is saying to them, “I know that you thought the Kingdom of God movement was over, but I’m here to tell you it is just beginning.”

Jesus comes to this disheartened and directionless group and gives them a reason for living. He defines for them a purpose, lays out for them their future, sets in front of them their mission. When Jesus shows them his wounds, it is not just a way of identifying himself, not just a way of proving to them that it really is him. NO! In showing them his wounds, his scars, Jesus is telling them who they are, and who they are to be.

Suddenly, things he said began to make sense. Things like “take up YOUR cross,” and “losing one’s life for the Gospel,” things that seemed so peculiar when he said them, began to shout out their meaning as the disciples stared at his wounds. “Now I get it, now I understand. We are called to serve the world, to live for the world, to die for the world if necessary, because that’s what Jesus did.” Jesus came into their midst and gave them peace and gave them a purpose and then he gave them provisions for their journey.

I have preached, not this sermon, but this outline a couple of times in the last 30 years and I used to make point three POWER, but I’ve done a lot of thinking about that, and I think PROVISION is better. Verse 22 says, “He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Christ provides what is needed to fulfill the purpose given us. That is not the same thing as giving us power. It means that the Spirit will work through our sometimes feeble efforts to accomplish God’s will in the world. This is demonstrated by Christ on the Cross, which was not an exercise of power, but a demonstration of humility and obedience and faith. God’s promise is to fill us with the Holy Spirit, to provide for us that which we need to do what we are called to do.

Look at Peter. On Good Friday we read about how Peter fearfully denied Jesus three times, scared to death of a serving girl. In today’s lesson from Acts we see Peter preaching on the streets of Jerusalem, afraid of no one.

Look at these disciples, huddled behind closed doors. Then look at Church history, where of the 12 disciples who became known as the Apostles, the “Sent Ones,” only one died a natural death. The rest went to the far corners of the known world, preaching the Gospel.  And they were all tortured and executed for their efforts.

What made the difference? What changed them? The Risen Christ breathed on them the Holy Spirit, providing them with the faith and courage to live a life devoted to God’s will and God’s way in the world.

The Risen Christ comes to us today. Comes into our locked rooms filled with fear and confusion, comes to us with the healing words and sure promises he had for the disciples.

Jesus comes and calms our fears with God’s peace.
Jesus comes and shows us the way to live out God’s purpose in the world.
Jesus comes and breathes into lour lives the Holy Spirit, providing us that which is needed to live a life of faith.

Year A — Easter Sunday

Commentary for April 24, 2011
Click here for today’s readings

Acts 10:34-43
Love Wins, the recent book by evangelical pastor Rob Bell, has climbed as high as #2 on the New York Times bestsellers list and is currently #8 in the “All Books” rankings on It has also raised the hackles and the blood pressures of countless detractors and supporters as the (perhaps uniquely “modern”?) debate over eternal destiny and the “will of God” has heated up.

What does Peter say in his post-Easter message, referring back to the mighty events of that first resurrection Sunday?

“I truly understand that God shows no partiality,but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him…. God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power…they put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear…. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

What does it mean to believe on Easter?

Show up for church in a shiny new outfit? Cling to faith like a well-worn security blanket? Hope, desperately and against all odds, that it will all work out okay in the end, God willing? Pray a “sinner’s prayer” someone told you about?

As one of the pastors of my youth used to say: “Whatever blows your hair back!”

Peter also says, “We were witnesses…how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed… for God was with him.” Hmmm, maybe the example of the Christ himself is what we take away from what it means to “believe” on Easter!

Jeremiah 31:1-6
Thank you, Jeremiah, for recording these eternally passionate and significant words: Thus saith the Lord, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
It is a virtual certainty that Jesus, as a Jewish rabbi, knew this “hallel” psalm very well and, most likely, used it in personal and corporate worship. It takes on extra significance on this Resurrection Sunday with phrases like, “I shall not die, but I shall live…” and “I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.” ( vv. 17, 21)

It is worth noting that the Christ’s foundation for faith and trust in God is the same as ours, in v. 1: “O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!”

Colossians 3:1-4
One of the great rhetorical scenarios of the scripture occurs here — “if you have been raised with Christ.”

Well, people of the resurrection…have we, indeed, been raised with Christ? Then our manner of thinking and living has been set and settled! “Seek…set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”

John 20:1-18
Lots of sermons and commentary available on this text…and with good reason! What a beautiful, tender, compassionate encounter with Jesus; feel your own heart rend with the words, “Woman, why are you crying?”

Easter tends to be a bright, blaring, almost boisterous celebration in most of our churches…again, with good reason! But remember that there will be parishioners in our pews who have come, — amidst the egg hunts, wardrobe parades and homiletical fireworks you are sure to unleash — with tears on their cheeks and heaviness in their hearts.

Jesus longs comfortingly to speak their names, too.

Matthew 28:1-10
Here’s the “fireworks” version of the story (see commentary on John 20, above.)

Earthquakes…lightning…rolling gravestones…shaking and quaking…”dead men” walking and angelic visitors. Matthew’s dramatic telling has it all!

But this story is not ultimately about Hollywood-quality special effects — it is about worshiping at the feet of Jesus and hearing his firm assurance, “Don’t be afraid!”


by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

“They put him to death on a tree, BUT GOD raised him” (Acts 10:39b-40a)

Those words,” but God”, are the church’s only good answer to the troubles and trials the world offers.

A fewyears ago there was a TV documentary tracing the personal lives of some of the world’s religious leaders.

There were intimate looks at the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Pope the Dalai Lama, the chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, the President of the Southern Baptist Convention and The Rev. Mark Hanson, Bishop of the ELCA and President of the Lutheran World federation.

One of the most moving parts of the show was when Mark Hanson sat at his kitchen table and talked about his family’s struggle with his son’s drug addiction.

He said that the most difficult day of his life was the day he left his 14 year old son at a treatment center; feeling as if he had failed as a parent; not knowing if this would work, not knowing if he had lost his son forever; not knowing what else to do.

He then talked about how faith had carried him through when nothing else would. It was for the Hanson family, a deeply personal “but God” moment.

Trying to reason our way through grief and loss, trying to make sense of the senseless, trying to convince a world gone crazy with the desire for more of everything and anything that that desire is deadly of both body and soul; these things are, at the end of the day, pointless.

There is no reason which can assuage our grief, there is no sense to be made of the raging evil we see around us, there is no way to divert the addicted and bloated from seeking their fix, be it oil or drugs. The only answer we have to offer to these things, (that Luther summed up as Sin, Death and the Devil), is those two words, “but God!”

Beginning with Adam and Eve and the Apple, the Devil tempts, people Sin, Death ensues, and God intervenes with another chance.

It is the golden thread running through the Bible; this story of God’s redeeming and forgiving love, this story of God’s willingness to act in response to the world’s evil. This story summed up in the words “but God.”

At Easter we celebrate the ultimate “but God” moment, the raising of Jesus from the tomb.

It is both the proof and the promise of our faith. It reminds us of what God HAS done in the past while promising to us what God will do in the future.

On Friday, the “world”; Luther’s trilogy of “Sin, Death and the Devil” had done its best to do its worst to Jesus.

Good Friday appeared to be a complete victory for those forces of destruction which assail all of us, Evil had reared its ugly head and roared; and Good had stood by idly and done nothing.

When Mary went to the tomb, she went in deep sadness and despair, she went into a place of coldness and death, she went to a place with no hope and no happiness, she went to prepare a body for burial, she went to put Jesus in his grave.

But when she got there, she discovered that things had changed, the tomb was empty, the body was missing, and angels were lurking about. Mary had come upon the greatest “but God” moment of all.

Our lives are full of difficulty. Earthquakes and tsunamis come, friends die, wars drag on, relatives get sick, jobs don’t pan out, politicians and teachers and yes, even preachers, turn out to be less than they seem. All of life is subject to the painful realities of decline and decay.

But Easter reminds us that the church has an answer and that answer is “but God”. But – – God’s love, but – God’s forgiveness, but – God’s power, but – God’s calling, but – God’s actions in the world.

Easter is more than a promise of life beyond the grave, of happiness in heaven with our loved ones. Easter is a promise that life is good now, Easter is a promise that God’s power is active in this moment, in all place, in all lives. Easter tells us that our eternal life begins now and goes with us through death into God’s future.

Easter tells us that to whatever may happen to us in this world there is an answer, and that answer is ”but God.”

The world says, “Seek success and glory and material well-being above all else,” but God says; “Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven and all these things shall be added unto you.”

The world says, “It’s a dog eat dog world, it’s a rat race. It’s every man (person) for him or herself,” but God says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

The world says, ”Find your self, your bliss. Do that thing which makes you feel most fulfilled.” But God says, “You shall love the LORD your God, with all your heart, mind and soul; and the second is just like it; love your neighbor as yourself.”

The World says, “Stave off death at whatever cost. The worst thing that can happen is to die and any action that you take to avoid death is good.” But God says, “Those who would save their life will lose it, but those who lose their life for my sake and the sake of the Gospel will save it.”

The world’s way leads to the death; death of the soul and eventually the death of the body, with no hope for tomorrow and no joy for today. But God’s way leads to life, both now and forever; life full of the joy of loving and serving God loving and serving neighbor with reckless abandon and total trust in God’s will and way.

Life is full of difficulty, disease and death, but God is full of life, and so are we, because Christ is risen, He is risen indeed!  Amen and amen.

Year A — Maundy Thursday

Bonus Sermon   
(for use on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday)
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

John 13: 1-17; 31b-35
In April of 1995 (I think) THE LUTHERAN magazine ran an article called “Is it I?” It was about Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting, “The Last Supper.” 
Now, while I found Pr. Schuessler’s “Art Analysis” fairly interesting, I was very distracted by the fact that none of the people in the illustration of the painting seemed to be where he said they were.  What he was saying about people didn’t match up with the people he claimed to be talking about.
Having had some small experience with publishing, I thought I knew what had happened, and my idea was confirmed when the text said that Judas had the money purse in his right hand while the picture showed it in his left hand.
Either Pastor Schuessler doesn’t know his right from his left, or THE LUTHERAN printed the picture backwards.  I’m putting my money on THE LUTHERAN printing the picture backwards.
After I got over being first annoyed and then amused I realized that there was a deeper meaning here.  (I’m sorry, I can’t help it, I’m a preacher; there’s always a deeper meaning!)  I realized that getting it backwards is what most of us do, most of the time. 
In our Gospel lesson, after he has washed his followers’ feet, Jesus says to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?”  And if they were honest, they would have said no.  They got it backwards, and way too often, we get it backwards.
Today is called Maundy Thursday.  The name comes from the command, the mandate, mandatum in Latin, that Jesus gave his followers that they should Love One Another.
Though many people think of this night as the time when we celebrate the first Last Supper; in reality this night is set apart to remind us that Jesus’ final words and deeds with his beloved friends were words and deeds of love, and his final command to his followers was to remember him with words and deeds of love of their own.
When Jesus wrapped a towel around his waist and bowed down before his students; he not only humbled himself; in their eyes, he humiliated himself.  According to New Testament Scholar Robert Kysar, “Jesus’ act is a radical departure from custom, since not even servants were required to wash the feet of their master.” (Augsburg Commentary on John, p. 208)
Most often, footwashing was done by students for their teacher; as a sign of humility and respect and obedience. In washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus has turned this backwards.  His action was a powerful sign of the radical nature of the new Kingdom of God being brought into the world through the power of the Gospel.
Jesus looks at his disciples and says, “You call me teacher, and you are right, for that is what I am.  So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” (verse 13-14) Does Jesus really, literally, mean that?  Does he want us to go around washing one another’s feet in church on a regular basis?
Well, that’s the way some folks with whom I grew up takes it; ‘course they also handle snakes and drink poison; so maybe they’re not a very good example.  In this action and by these words Jesus has called us, commanded us, to be a servant people.   A people who gird up their loins and get to work tending to a hurting and needy world.
He says “I give you this commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (verses 34-35)
But we get it backwards, don’t we.  Instead of seeking ways to serve others, we complain about the service others render to us. Instead of looking to love others, we read magazine articles about “How to GET the love you really deserve.” Instead of thinking about how we can help others improve their lives, we plot and plan for how we can get ahead.
Have you ever thought about what those words mean, “get ahead?”  They mean me in front of everyone else. They mean me first, they mean, I’ll tend to me and mine and devil take the hindmost.
Yes, we get it backwards. No matter how much we try, we get it backwards.
“This master and servant, love one another, serve the world” stuff that Jesus talks so much about is really difficult. It is because it is difficult that we get it backwards, and because we get it backwards, Jesus not only told us to love one another, He showed us how.
He showed us how when he washed the disciples’ feet.
He showed us how when he fed his friends at table.
He showed us how when he blessed the thief who died with him.
He showed us how when he forgave those who killed him.
He showed us how when he died upon the cross, “for us and for our salvation.”
We get it backwards and we can only get it right when we die to ourselves and let the life of Christ rise up within us, following him on the way of service, the way of love, the way of the cross.

Year A — Palm/Passion Sunday

Commentary for April 17, 2011

Click here for today’s texts (Passion) or here for today’s texts (Palm)

Liturgy of the Passion

Isaiah 50:4-9a
As we enter Holy Week and reflect on the suffering of the Lord, vv. 7-8 perhaps give us a glance at the source of Christ’s determination and strength in the face of scorn and abuse. “The Lord God helps me…I know I shall not be put to shame…he who vindicates me is near.”

Good words with which to pray for these, or any days.

Psalm 31:9-16
In a similar vein, the first half of the psalm reading reminds us vividly of the separation and sorrow experienced by the Lord; this is one of the places we point to when we hold forth the claim that Christ experienced the full depth of what it means to be human. Life is filled with pain!

However, the closing sentences once again point to a different and deeper reality in the midst of the pain — “I trust in you, O Lord…let you face shine upon your servant. Save me in your steadfast love.”

Like Christ as he prepared to face the cross, unless God saves us, we are lost!

Philippians 2:5-11
The ancient “Christ Hymn” lays out for us the cycle of submission, suffering, salvation and exaltation that Jesus has undergone “for us.” Remember, though, that this is not just the work of the Savior: we are invited to have “the same mind” that was in Christ Jesus. 

God’s work in the world — which requires these same qualities of submission and suffering in order to see these same results of salvation and exaltation — is OUR work.

In what ways is God calling us to submit and to suffer?

Matthew 26:14-27:66
The lengthy (and weighty) reading of Matthew’s text hardly needs commentary; the story speaks for itself, as it were. One thought that occurs to me is that we often peg Judas Iscariot for “selling out” in his betrayal of Christ. “How could he do that for 30 pieces of silver?” we often ask.

But, Judas is not the only one who “sells out” in this story: Peter, who boldly promises what no disciple had ever promised before (“I’ll die for you!”) sells out and denies Christ three times; James and John “sell out”– they can’t even pay the price of a little lost sleep!

The high priest and the Jewish council “sell out;” when they can’t find any real evidence against Jesus, they just rent some testimony. Pilate “sells out” when he tries to dodge his decision by releasing Barabbas; the “angry crowds” sold out by first screaming for Christ’s crucifixion and then by deriding him and shaking their heads.

The brave Roman soldiers even “sold out” in their job performance, bringing the whole cohort* (probably 500-600 men) in to observe the brutal beating of this single, solitary “criminal.”

Only a couple of characters manage to stand up for Jesus in this story: Simon of Cyrene, who may or may not have had a choice, but nevertheless bears the cross of Jesus; and a Roman centurion who is the only person in the story who seems to “get it.” His commentary stands in stark contrast to the rest of the scene: “This man was God’s son!”

Bottom line: there’s plenty of blame to go around here — it’s not all on Judas. We might want to consider that as we gather with the crowds in our own lives this week. Will we “sell out” or will we “stand up?”


Liturgy of the Palms

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Psalm 118 gives the background of the “festal procession” (v. 27) witnessed in the gospel account of the Palm Sunday parade.

Matthew 21:1-11
There is perhaps no greater irony in all of the Bible than the crowds gathered on Sunday, shouting “Hosanna!” and assembling again on Friday, screaming “Crucify him!”

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

At a preaching seminar a few years ago I heard Dr. Lloyd John Ogilvie, former chaplain to the US Senate and longtime pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, CA. tell about a time he was in a jewelry store in LA, picking up a new watch battery. 
While he was there a young woman came in and asked to see some crosses. The clerk took her to a display case and proceeded to show her a selection of large, expensive crosses;  like the fashion accessory crosses worn by hot actresses and hip rap stars.

The young woman said, “Oh, I don’t want anything like that. I want an everyday cross.”

AN EVERYDAY CROSS, she said. And when Dr. Ogilvie told that story, I began to wonder, “What is an everyday cross?” And more importantly, I thought, “Does she, do I, do any of us, really want one?”

All of us want, I suppose, the Cross of Christ in our lives. We want the salvation that Cross promises, we want to know that our sins are forgiven, our failures are forgotten, our souls rescued from the pit of Hell by Jesus’ death there on that awful instrument of torture and execution. That Cross and its benefits we know we want in our lives.

But what about an everyday cross? What about a cross that is uniquely ours? A cross that we pick up in obedience to our Lord’s invitation to take up a cross and follow Him? Is that a cross we want?

I remember a time back in the sixties, back in the days before cable TV and state lottery, back when we were all more easily entertained, when they had the Super Market Races on TV. 

They were sponsored by a supermarket chain and worked something like this: they showed taped races from New York and California horse tracks and the stores ran specials and gave out prizes depending on which horse won.

My late father-in-law used to tell a joke about two farms boys (we’ll call them Bill and Jack) watching the Supermarket race after supper one night.

Bill said, “I bet you $5 horse #3 wins.” And Jack said, “you’re on!” Sure enough, #3 won. 
Bill grinned and said, “Aw, I can’t take your money. I saw it last night on the other channel and knew #3 won.” 
Jack replied, “Go ahead and take it. I saw it too, but I didn’t think he could do it again.”

Those of us here today, hearing again the story of Jesus’ crucifixion are like those two farm boys; we have already heard this story and we know how it comes out, we already know about the Resurrection, we already know who wins.

And the issue of FAITH comes down to this, either we believe he can do it again, or we don’t!

You see, it is one thing to sit in a lovely, well-appointed, air-conditioned room and look back at the Cross of Christ as an historic event, over and done with; and to profess our faith that Jesus died there and three days later rose again.

It is quite another thing to hang on the other side of the cross, to hang where the Cross is still a present event, and to profess faith in Jesus.

That is where the question of whether or not we truly want an everyday cross is a real question. That is where the two thieves are, hanging with Jesus on the other side of the cross, where the end of the story is still in doubt.

We are mistaken if we see the Cross of Christ as a past event, over and done.  Each of us, in one way or another, hangs upon a cross with Christ.

It may be a personal cross, a cross of suffering and illness, or a cross of shame and embarrassment, or a cross of loss and confusion, or a cross of fear and frustration.

It may be a cultural cross, a cross of rejection and alienation, a cross of being an outsider in an insider’s world, of being the wrong gender or color or nationality or orientation.

It may be a cross of caring, a cross of being aware of the suffering and pain of others, of being concerned for those who are poor or oppressed or hungry or unjustly imprisoned.

Whatever it is, somehow, someway, each of us hangs there on our everyday cross with Jesus, and the question of faith is: We have seen this race before. We know God brought Jesus forth from the grave; do we really and truly believe God can and will DO IT AGAIN?

That is the essence of faith; that is truly what Martin Luther meant when he said that a true Christian theology was a Theology of the Cross.

Do we indeed believe that there is Hope in our hardship, Salvation in our suffering, Redemption in our rejection, Everlasting life in OUR everyday cross?

Can we look from our cross to the Cross of Christ and cry out from the bottom of our hearts: JESUS, REMEMBER ME WHEN YOU COME INTO YOUR KINGDOM!?