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09.08.19 Luke 14.25-33 Beyond Belief Sermon Summary

Jesus didn’t call us to be fans of his. He called us to be followers. And he knew how to separate the two.

The way to separate followers from fans is to introduce hardship. Jesus did this when he said to the crowds following him, “You cannot be my follower unless you take up the Cross, give up all your possessions, and hate your life and everyone in it.”

This is a stark contrast to the Jesus who merely saves us from sin and hell and delivers us to heaven. This is a Jesus who is interested in much more. He wants it all: our private devotion and public life; our mind in belief and body in service; our weekend worship and weekday vocation. The “sinner’s prayer for salvation” isn’t enough. It makes lots of fans, but not many followers.

Jesus offers two parables to illustrate. The first about a person who starts building a tower but can’t complete it for lack of funds. And the second about a king realizing he can’t win a battle and so sends a delegation asking for terms of peace.

From these parables two questions emerge for would be followers: “Can I finish?” and “If maybe not, What can I do?” Practically speaking, these are parables about prioritization. Matthew’s version of the accompanying sayings makes this clear. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (10:37-38)

Luke’s language of “hating” is much more vivid. But in the Bible, “hate” really means “to not choose” The two most famous places where God is said to hate are in Malachi 1:2-3 (repeated in Romans 9:13) and Malachi 2:16. There God says, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated,” and “I hate divorce.”

But God who is love does not hate the way we typically understand that word. God just doesn’t choose. God chose Jacob over Esau, and chooses faithful marriage over painful divorce.

Understanding that these sayings and parables from Luke are about prioritization, we can say that fans choose their own path, but followers non-choose (“hate”) their own path and instead choose Jesus’ path. Put another way, followers make Jesus a priority.

Followers choose forgiveness over vengeance, caring for needy over avoiding them, welcoming the stranger over locking them out. For followers, Jesus is their preferred choice. They choose generosity over greed, peacemaking over saber-rattling, economic justice over discount pricing, and stewardship of the earth over exploitation.

What the Tower-builder teaches us is if you can’t choose Jesus, then don’t begin to follow Jesus. And we need to take our time to figure this out. When I was in high school, there was lots of pressure to “become a Christian,” and I knew lots of others who made a fast decision and followed Jesus only a short time. I took my time and I’m still following Christ the best I can.

“Best you can?!” you may say. “God doesn’t allow ‘best you can.’ You can’t leave half a tower and call it your best!”

But that’s what the King going to war teaches us. This king reasoned that he couldn’t win at this time, so what could he do? Jesus here allows for a progressive effort. This is why we encourage everyone every year and throughout the year to serve in the church, to serve in the world, and to financially support the church. You may want to respond the first time we invite you but you can’t. So you do what you can. Then later you can do what you wanted.

Being a follower of Jesus is a matter of priorities, a matter of stewardship, not just of money but of our entire lives. “None of you can become my disciple unless you give up all your possessions” Jesus said.

What’s a possession? If you have it to give, it is a possession. Followers give up their possessions. If you have it to give but you can’t give it up, you don’t have a possession, you are the possession. And unless you begin to change that, you might end up just a fan.

Why do some people end up just fans and other remain followers? Why do fans end up choosing their own way while followers continue to choose Christ’s way? It might be that followers choose Christ first because they understand God chose them first. Fans don’t get this deep down. Followers do. They trust God’s first choice and so they can trust God when the hardships come. Fans choose their own way when the hardships come because they aren’t sure if they can trust God.

This is the message of Communion, where Jesus “took” the bread and “broke” it and “gave” it to the disciples. As that bread was his body, and as we are Christ’s body today, so Christ takes (chooses) us, breaks us (in the hardship of following him), and gives us to the world as witnesses of his presence.

When we come to the Table, we respond to God’s choice. We trust God with our hardships. We bring what we can until we can bring our whole lives, for that is what Christ is calling for.

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09.01.19 Humility of Faith Luke 14.1, 7-14 Sermon Summary

For those of us who like parties, especially giving them, Jesus has some advice. It comes through a saying of his that must have been a favorite, as it appears a number of times in the Gospels and in the Epistles that reflect the convictions of the New Testament church.

The saying is, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” It’s not a principle unique to Jesus or Christianity. It’s a common perspective within “wisdom traditions.” James says something like it. (James 4:10) So does Peter. (1 Peter 5:6) Paul has a version of it. (Philippians 2:5ff) And Jesus’ example is based on a saying attributed to Solomon. (Proverbs 25:6-7) Besides these, the truism appears in other religions. “If you strive, you will be humbled: if you are humble, you will be exalted.”

There are various motivations given for this wisdom. In the Epistles, it is the means to peace within the church. For Jesus, it is a means to the primary position in the Kingdom of God. It is also given in contrast to the practices of conventional leaders.

But here in this passage, Jesus gives it so we can avoid embarrassment. “Don’t assume the honored position at a dinner party,” he says, “because some other invited guest else may precede you.” And then you’d have to move down.

I’ve held honored positions. I’ve even held the primary position of host. But as an introvert, I’m naturally more comfortable in the “back row.” But this past year at the North American Academy of Liturgy I found myself sitting between the convener (a fellow student of mine from Notre Dame who now teaches at Yale) and “one of the greatest students to come through the Notre Dame program”—someone I knew about but had never actually met.

As I sat between them, I naturally assumed a humble position. And through the meeting, I discovered my calling for next year’s meeting. With their encouragement I will be leading a discussion and presenting a paper. I discovered my calling by assuming the humble place

When we try to impress others we fail to appreciate how God views us. But when we humble ourselves our humility prompts God’s benediction over us. We discern our calling from the humble place.

This is the character and the fruit of spiritual humility: Observing, listening, responding, and serving. We find our vocation by avoiding embarrassment.

What is the opposite of spiritual humility? According to this passage, it seems the opposite is giving in order to get. This is what Jesus accused the Pharisee of doing—inviting Jesus to the party to get something in return. When we give to get, it is an act of pride. I once found myself disappointed by someone’s lack of gratitude and reciprocal gift giving. It revealed my impure motive in giving. A true gift is given without calculation of return. By contrast, my gifts were given with the expectation of reciprocity.

How can we be sure that we’re giving with the right spiritual attitude? In this passage, Jesus says we purify our motives when we give to the least of these, to those who have no chance of giving us something in return. This is Jesus’ teaching on throwing dinner parties. Invite those who can’t give back. Then we know we are giving as God gives—out of generosity and love.

When we come to the Table we remember that even here, the original guests jockeyed for position. “Who is greatest among us?” they asked. Some were weighing their options with the religious and political power brokers. Some were open to Jesus’ interpretation of the Kingdom. Everyone was represented there that first night. And at the Table today is represented every one of us.

We are invited to come to this table with a question: What do you want me to do? How can I give to the least of these, to be sure I am giving with a pure heart? What I receive freely from you, can I give freely to others?

May we have the humility of faith to receive God’s grace and offer it to others in freedom.

08.25.19 Persistence of Faith Luke 13.10-17 Sermon Summary

There are three ways people approach their spiritual life within a faith community. They’re known as Three R’s.

The first R is exemplified by the Leader of the Synagogue when Jesus was teaching on the Sabbath. The Leader is preoccupied with Rules. Rules are useful in that they help us manage large amounts of information, expedite complex processes, offer guidance, and provide protection. And leaders are responsible for enforcing rules to the benefit of people and organizations.

The second R is exemplified by the Bound Woman, and it is the practice of Religion. Sabbath after Sabbath, this woman has come to religious services. For eighteen years she has been afflicted, yet she had persistent faith in religion.

On this Sabbath, I wonder what Jesus might have been teaching? If it was not ON the Sabbath, it was DURING the Sabbath, and so Sabbath would have been on his mind. It’s not hard to imagine that on the Sabbath Jesus would have Isaiah 58:13-14 in his mind.

“If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways,    serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth.”

What is the point of the Sabbath? Is it just a Rule? Is it just a practice of Religion? Or is it more? From the two places where the Sabbath is commanded we learn the two primary reasons for it. One is to cease working, and the other is attending to the Kingdom of God.

Jesus came to offer insight into the Kingdom of God. He showed us that it is a place of sharing resources and responsibility among the people. In the Kingdom forgiveness replaces aggression. Peoples identity  is centered in God instead of wealth, achievement, or appearance. From Jesus’ perspective, the law of love replaces the books of laws. And people are free from bondage to power of sin.

This is what Sabbath meant to Jesus, to cease the compulsions of this World and to attend to the Kingdom of God. And here is Jesus, teaching during the Sabbath, and he sees the Bound Woman. Perhaps an earlier verse in Isaiah 58 came to his mind: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” (verse 6)

So Jesus offers his favorite interpretation of the prophets: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” It’s fulfilled in our hearing because Jesus is present. He proclaims the good news of the Kingdom of God to the Bound Woman: “You are set free from your ailment.” And then he touches her.

Suddenly, after eighteen years, she is UNbound! She is unbound from Satan, which is the Bible’s shorthand way of referring to everything that opposes God. Unbound from brokenness and suffering. Unbound from religion (the root word of which means to bind).

She praises God because beyond Rules, beyond Religion, she has found Relationship with God—the third R. She has a new relationship with God thanks to Jesus Christ.

Well the Leader doesn’t like it. Citing the rules, he goes through the crowd and reminds them that there are six other days they can come to be healed. The Sabbath isn’t one of them. He saw only rules and religion, not relationship. He didn’t see a daughter of Abraham, or a mission. He saw only a problem.

And who could blame him? After eighteen years he would have recognized this woman. He could see the impact on Sabbath worship this kind of activity could have. How could they be done in an hour and beat the Baptists to brunch if Jesus heals all these people on the Sabbath? After eighteen years, what’s one more day?

Jesus’ response to all church leaders who think this way is “You are hypocrites! You don’t recognize the Kingdom of God when it comes to you.”

Today we sometimes don’t see children of God or opportunities for mission. We only see rules and religion. We don’t see families desperate for peace and prosperity; we see immigration laws. We don’t see parents grieving for their slain children, or people grieving for their lost limbs; we see our constitutional right to own assault rifles and high capacity magazines. We don’t see the disproportionate rates of incarceration or suicide among some segments of our society; we think the law is blind with regards to skin color or sexual identity.

When say we follow Jesus but live in rules and religion instead of relationship we are hypocrites also. And like the Leader of the Synagogue we are put to shame by those who actually live according to Jesus’ example.

Jesus isn’t anti rules or religion. He observed Sabbath, after all. But when rules and religion get in the way of relationship, Jesus has to find another path to the ones he wants to save—a path that goes around our rules and religion.

May we be more like the crowds that day who recognized what Jesus was doing and rejoiced. May we be less like the Leader, citing rules to maintain our religion. May we be more like the Woman who was persistent in faith until she experienced her liberation.

Jesus didn’t always touch the people he healed, but he touched this woman. Maybe she was hesitant to stand straight after eighteen years of being hunched over, after eighteen years of delayed answer to prayer. So he touches her and helps her straighten up. He made his proclamation of the Kingdom real.

By touching her he restored her back to community. He provided communion with God and with the people of God. And he still touches us today, making real the proclamation of the Kingdom, and providing this same communion. He comes to us in the bread and cup of the Lord’s Table. Come to the Table with whatever heaviness is weighing you down—even eighteen years’ worth—and receive the grace of the Kingdom to help you.

08.18.19 Eyes of Faith Hebrews 11 Luke 12 Sermon Summary

You know the opening verse of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, the one about “peace on earth” and “God and sinners reconciled.” So began the Gospel of Luke. But now Jesus says he doesn’t come to bring peace; instead he comes to bring “fire and division.”

This passage falls in a larger teaching about what it means to be a faithful disciple, and more specifically how we are to be watchful for Jesus’ return. What kind of division is Jesus referring to? Is it the church’s debate about whether he is divine or human? Whether he is Jewish or the bringer of a new religion? Whether he is the redeemer of all creation or the savior of only a tiny minority of humans? Whether he is present with the Spirit or seated with God in heaven?

These are the ways the church has divided over Jesus, but is this what he means? Should the church have divided over whether to admit people of African descent? Or over recognizing the gifts of women in ordination? Or blessing the life-long, loving, mutual commitment of same-sex partners?

What kind of division is Jesus talking about? And how does it help us to be more faithful disciples? And how does it guide us in being more watchful for his return?

I think this has less to do with doctrinal disputes like those above and more to do with behavior. Though Jesus revealed God to us, he also revealed what it looks like to be a faithful human to God. When he fed the 5000+ men and women, he showed us that faithful humans provide for the needy. When he related to sinners, he showed us that it is faithful to forgive. To the outcast, the faithful offer welcome. Regarding the lost, faithful people seek them. To those on the margins of society, Jesus was an advocate.

This way of faithfulness is opposite of the way of the world. Think about what the world says about the needy: They have made bad decisions, or are lazy, or just unlucky. Sinners deserve the judgment upon them. The outcast are outcast because we’ve cast them out. The lost should have stayed with the flock. Do we really want to make room in the middle of our lives for those who are on the margins?

Because Jesus’ faithfulness is opposite to the world, when we follow Jesus it eventually leads to division. There will be conflict. There will be protests. There will be arrests. There will be persecutions. There will be crucifixions. Just as Jesus.

He refers to this dynamic as bringing fire to the earth. This is the purging fire of God’s redeeming work in the world. But before those fires burn, dividing people who follow faithfulness from those who do not, the purifying fire burns first in us.

Because while Jesus reveals God and faithful humanity, he also reveals that we are already divided. We possess the remnant of the divine image with which we are created. And the power of sin also resides in us. It’s a close but uneven division. Using the metaphor of the household, Jesus says among the five residents, we are divided three against two today, and two against three tomorrow.

We are closely divided within ourselves. We desire to be faithful, but we are weak when it comes to carrying it out. It is for this reason that Jesus urges us to watch for him, the pioneer and perfector of faith. We’re not to avoid the divisions or the fires. Instead we are to watch for Jesus to come and help. This is what it means to be a faithful disciple.

We don’t settle for a peace that is not also just. Or a peace that is not also loving. Or a peace that is not also inclusive. For such peace is not peace, but compromise. It is compromise with the power of sin within us and in the world.

Disciples of Jesus pursue faithfulness as he did, and watch for him when the divisions come and the fires burn, as they inevitably will. To help us, Jesus gave us the Table where we remember his death and resurrection, what he calls the “completion of his baptism.” His baptism is complete, and until our baptism is also complete in death and resurrection, we remember Jesus and watch for his coming, receiving him again and again at the Lord’s Table.

04.21.19 Amazing Doubt Isaiah 65.17-25 Luke 24.1-12 Sermon Summary

“Jerusalem” means “City of peace”. I can’t remember it ever being that, which is why Isaiah’s prophecy about Jerusalem is so hard to believe.

When Jesus returned to Jerusalem, there was little doubt what could happen. It was Passover week, the most important Jewish holiday celebrating their liberation from foreign powers. Thus occupying Rome already had an itchy trigger finger. This in addition to the fact that Jesus’ conflict with religious authorities was reaching its peak.

Jesus went knowing the very real possibility that he would die. Even his disciples, as they reluctantly joined him on his journey, said, “Let us go and die with him.”

Jerusalem was the center of corruption. A greedy priesthood was collaborating with Rome and disenfranchising the common religious people. Some Jews separated themselves. Others planned rebellion. Some emphasized ritual purity. Others urged spiritual renewal. No one was looking to Jerusalem for leadership. And yet that is where Jesus insisted on going.

Jesus went to Jerusalem because Jesus was a believer in Isaiah. On one hand, Isaiah is easy to believe in. He is quoted throughout the Bible and throughout Christian worship. “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God almighty.” “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.” “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” “To us a child will be born, and his name shall be wonderful, counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting father, the prince of peace.” “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” “He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities.”

These verses make it easy to believe Isaiah. But these are not the verses Jesus believed most. He believed Isaiah’s prophecies about Jerusalem. God would create a new Jerusalem, a whole new earth, even new heavens! Jerusalem would be a joy. A place of life instead of death. A place of justice instead of exploitation. A place of answered prayer instead of religious commerce. A place of peace instead of strife. A place of healing instead of hurting.

This is the Isaiah Jesus believed in. This is the Jerusalem Jesus came to save.

Sounds like a pipe dream, doesn’t it? If someone told you this is how it ends in Jerusalem, given the history of Jerusalem, it would seem like an idle tale.

So it makes some sense that the women came to the tomb having prepared spices. They witnessed Jesus executed and buried outside of Jerusalem despite all his faith. They didn’t have Jesus’ faith in Isaiah anymore, Jesus’ faith in God’s creating something new, Jesus’ faith in Jerusalem.

They had lost faith. When our faith is shaken we do as they did. We do what we can. We go back to what works. We lean on tradition. We remember the “good old days.” We prepare spices, like Mary, Joanna, and the other women. At least it’s familiar. It gives us something to do.

And then there, right in the middle of our coping, though we’re convinced our dreams are dead, in the midst of our tradition, God’s promises come to us anew. And we hear a gentle and familiar admonition: “Why are you searching for the living among the dead? Do you not remember his words?”

Then they remembered. And they believed. More than belief, they had conviction. Still Isaiah’s visions were true. Still God has power to create. Still Jerusalem, and the earth, and the heavens can be saved. For still and again, Jesus is alive.

So they told the other disciples, and the other disciples heard. Maybe they also remembered. But they considered it an “idle tale.”

Sometimes hearing and remembering aren’t enough. How many of us have heard and remembered the stories, Christmas after Christmas, Easter after Easter? Sometimes we need an experience. Like the scent of a candle. Like the splash of water on our face. Or the warmth of wine in our chest. Or the gentle touch of a Good Samaritan.

And even then for some people it takes more time. For Peter chased an experience. He ran to the grave, saw that it was empty, then “went home amazed at what had happened.”

Peter had amazing doubt. At least there is doubt. Doubt suggests at a minimum we’re asking questions. Amazing doubt may be closer than doubt to conviction, but it has some ways to go. We know Peter eventually got there. Maybe we will too.

This morning you’ve heard that on this third day since Jesus’ death he has risen from the dead. Maybe you’re like the women that morning. Grieving a loss. Resigned to reality. In spiritual despair. Don’t worry—you’re on the path.

Maybe you’ve heard Isaiah’s vision this morning, and God’s plan to create all things new, and a little hope has stirred within you.

Maybe this morning your belief has strengthened into conviction and you know beyond knowledge, with a peace that transcends understanding, that God can recreate your life just as God resurrected Christ from the dead.

Or perhaps you’ve heard and experienced something here and you don’t know quite what to make of it, but it is amazing to you. You have amazing doubt.

Wherever you are, this morning you’re on the path. You’ve joined other disciples of doubt who are trying their best to follow Jesus—Jesus who has resurrected from the dead to lead us into God’s peaceful city.

It is the resurrected Christ who is our host at this Table. He invites us to rejoice in his presence, to receive his life, and to have our faith strengthened so that we may see as Isaiah saw, and work for peace in the world.

04.20.19 Amazing Doubt Luke 24.1-12 Easter Vigil Version

The Great Easter Vigil is the dramatic counterpoint to Christmas Eve. Four months ago, we celebrated the Feast of the Incarnation, the appearance of light in a dark world. Tonight we celebrate the Feast of the Resurrection, the triumph of light in the universe.

During the Vigil we hear a rehearsal of “salvation history,” stories of the Bible recounting God’s deliverance. There may be as many as twelve or more such stories read. There must be at least three.

Tonight we heard Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones, Zephaniah’s prophecy assuring the return of the Exiles, and the one story that is required every Vigil, the Exodus account. The reading from Exodus is Israel’s foundational story. In it God’s identity as deliverer and savior is revealed, as well as the Jewish identity as God’s own people.

It is amazing to me how early doubt enters the community of faith. After the ten plagues in Egypt, how could the ancient Israelites doubt? And yet they did. They said, “This God is a tease. He leads us out of Egypt into the wilderness only to let us die here.”

Moses’ message in response was, “Keep going. You don’t know when God’s deliverance will kick in.”

Story after story, in remembrance like the reading from Exodus, in metaphor like Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones, in poetry like Zephaniah’s prophecy, through Joseph, David, Gideon, Sampson, Ruth, and Ester, the Bible tells the history of salvation.

It’s amazing to me that the followers of Jesus doubted. Had they completely forgotten the God to whom Jesus prayed? Had they missed the God to whom Jesus pointed?

I suppose in the face of death and such utter disappointment that perhaps it’s understandable that they doubted. Or just forgot.

When it happens to us, when we doubt or forget, we do what we can. We go back to what works. We lean on tradition. We remember the “good old days.” We prepare spices, like Mary, Joanna, and the other women. At least it’s familiar. It gives us something to do.

And then there, right in the middle of our coping, though we’re convinced our dreams are dead, in the midst of our tradition, God’s promises come to us anew and we hear a gentle and familiar admonition: “Why are you searching for the living among the dead? Do you not remember his words?”

Then they did remember, and they believed. More than belief, they had conviction. Still God’s promises were true. Still God saves. Still we are God’s people.

So they told the other disciples. he other disciples heard, maybe they also remembered. But they considered it an “idle tale.” Sometimes hearing and remembering aren’t enough. How many of us have heard and remembered the stories, Christmas after Christmas, Easter after Easter?

Sometimes we need an experience, like the scent of a candle, like the splash of water on our face, or the warmth of wine in our chest, or the gentle touch of a Good Samaritan. And even then for some people it takes more time. For Peter chased an experience. He ran to the grave, saw that it was empty, then “went home amazed at what had happened.”

Peter had amazing doubt. At least there’s doubt. Doubt suggests at a minimum we’re asking questions. Amazing doubt may be closer than doubt to conviction, but it has some ways to go.

We know Peter eventually got there. Maybe we will too.

Tonight you’ve heard pieces of the salvation story and how in Jesus God renews his promises. Maybe you’re like the women that morning. Grieving a loss. Resigned to reality. In spiritual despair. Don’t worry—you’re on the path.

Maybe you’ve heard the promise tonight, and a little hope has stirred within you.

Maybe tonight your belief has strengthened into conviction and you know beyond knowledge, with a peace that transcends understanding, that God is your savior and that you are God’s child.

Or perhaps you’ve heard and experienced something here and you don’t quite know how to handle it, but it is amazing to you. You have amazing doubt.

Wherever you are, tonight you’re on the path. You’ve joined other disciples of doubt who are trying their best to follow Jesus—Jesus, who has resurrected from the dead to lead us into God’s deliverance.

 

 

04.19.19 John 19.16-42 Good Friday Sermon

The late Roman Catholic scholar and priest Raymond Brown described the Gospels as “Passion narratives with long introductions.” Indeed the suffering (passion) of Jesus has enjoyed historical priority in the telling of Jesus’ life.

After the sixteenth century Reformation in the West, Jesus’ death became the particular focus for Protestants. This is when the theology that “Jesus died on account of our sins and in our place” became dominant. More recently among evangelicals, the emphasis has been on Jesus’ resurrection.

But it is a fair question: Why did Jesus die? Beyond the obvious answer that he was a created being? Perhaps the compelling question is better phrased, Why did Jesus die the way he did?

There is some truth to the answer above. “Jesus died on account of our sins and in our place.” We do see this answer in the New Testament which was written beginning about twenty-five years after Jesus death.

But Jesus, and some NT writers, had a larger view, in part because if Jesus’ death satisfied the penalty for sin, why do we still feel guilty and anxious? Why do we still die? Why do we still suffer?

The larger vision of Jesus’ suffering and death is reflected in parts of the book of Hebrews. There we read that, “We have a high priest who sympathizes with our weakness.” Jesus’ death is the ultimate identification with our weakness as human creatures. We succumb to death.

Using John’s Gospel account of the crucifixion, I want to reflect upon this question. How does Christ sympathize with our weakness?

There are times we suffer uniquely alone, for example, in the death of a child or through the burden of a degenerative disease. It helps to remember that Christ carried the Cross alone.

There are times when the popular crowd excludes us. It helps to remember that Jesus was crucified with outcasts.

Sometimes our words are taken out of context, and our good intentions are derailed by a carless word. Jesus also was misunderstood and mischaracterized though he was a king.

Sometimes people gossip about us. Christ was also a humiliated celebrity.

There are times when we resolve to love, even when it’s hard, even when it’s a sacrifice. It helps to remember that Jesus suffered with a purpose.

Sometimes people are just mean. It helps to remember Jesus was also mistreated with the Roman soldier’s spear.

And John tells us that Jesus trusted God in his suffering. This is the practical meaning of his death according to the larger vision. We can trust God in our suffering because Christ trusted God in his suffering.

And more, as God vindicated Christ’s suffering by resurrecting him from the dead, so we hope God will vindicate our suffering. For we share in Christ’s suffering when we suffer, and we share in Christ’s death with our death. And the sacrament of baptism promises that we will share in Christ’s resurrection also. We don’t suffer alone, and when we do suffer, we still have hope.

So let us listen to the Passion narratives and their long introductions and the Good Friday liturgies. Let us find comfort in Christ’s death “for your sins and in your place.” And let us find strength in Christ’s death “because you don’t suffer alone and because you have hope.”