It Is Finished–Good Friday 2015

It Is Finished–Good Friday 2015

Seventh Last Word: “It Is Finished” (John 19:30) Presented at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Cleveland Heights, Ohio on Good Friday, April 3, 2015 I had the privilege, the honor and the great sadness of being present at the deaths of both my mother and father. They did not die in a hospital or suddenly. They died at home, in bed. I suppose it is a common inclination to dwell on their last words.   We remember last words. My three siblings and I have agreed that Dad’s last words were: “Get some rest.” He apparently felt we were taxing ourselves hovering around his bed. And my mother’s? The ones I remember the best as she spent her nine last days in a semi-comatose state were: “Take time to smell the roses!” And so there are these three last words of Jesus: “It is finished!” They are only recorded in John’s Gospel. John was reportedly at the foot of the cross; he would certainly remember them. Or perhaps he wanted these words to sum up the story of Jesus, who was John’s hero, the person he equated with the Word, with God, and wasn’t John the disciple Jesus loved? So what did Jesus mean when he cried out: “It is finished?” What does the “IT” refer to? The words are translated in Latin as Consummatum est [“It is consummated!”] But look at the original Greek: The word is tetelestai which was written on business receipts in New Testament times indicating that a bill had been paid in full. And so to John’s Greek-speaking readership; it would be unmistakable that Jesus Christ had died to pay for their sins. [From: Bible.org]. So that’s the usual interpretation: And if we agree with it, if we feel we are now close to understanding who God is, if we feel that we owe it to hundreds of years of tradition to believe that Jesus was the scapegoat for our sins, we will feel—what? Guilty?, Repentant? –but comforted? grateful? We laid our sins on him and he was killed so that God could once again love us or see only the sacrifice of his son instead of our ugly sins. It is almost completely irresistible to accept this interpretation. “It is finished” then means that our sins were paid for; God’s wrath appeased; we are redeemed, bought back, restored by the Second Adam to the favor that the first Adam (and his wife, of course) screwed up, lost, forfeited—the original sin! It is comforting, isn’t it, to trace Scripture from that fateful third book of Genesis through the Exodus and Law and Judges and Kings and Prophets and Gospels and Letters and Revelation to conclude: Jesus...

Read More

Stranded

Stranded

March 1, 2015 I know you were all expecting to hear from Rev. Dr. Joan Campbell this morning. But she called us to say she was stranded in Chagrin Falls by this winter storm, that they hadn’t done anything to the roads yet¸ and she couldn’t even hire a driver to bring her to HCC because they were all fearful of getting stuck or worse.   But she promised to come next week, weather permitting, and even to preach on these same texts. I am gratified and amazed that so many of you made it to church this morning. It reminds me that it is all of us who make a worship service, not just the preacher. This morning, since Joan is stranded, I thought we’d reflect for a few minutes on what it means to be stranded. There are all kinds of being stranded, of course: some physical and many emotional. I can think of places I would NOT want to be stranded in­-like in that cave we visited where the tour guide thought it would be cute to turn the lights off so we tourists could experience pitch blackness. But then there are other types of being stranded: stuck with too many birthdays is one, especially when our bodies don’t work as well as they used to and our wives or significant others keep reminding us of what age we are NOT (You are no longer 25!).   Some people are stranded in depression, in abusive relationships, in piles of bills that bury them just as surely as avalanches have buried those poor people in Afghanistan. Then there is health and all of the usual downers that we experience in this bent and flawed existence. Finally, there’s the stranded feeling we get when we are called upon to the presiding elder or to stand up and make a speech. Some people call it writer’s block, but it can be downright embarrassing when someone reaches out to you for help, wants and needs desperately your words of wisdom, like a son or daughter going off to war, or someone you love gets very sick or is even dying, and you look inside after years of prayer and attending church and reading the bible, and there is nothing there. All your wisdom seems like platitudes, your memorized Bible verses come across as just that—memorized verses to be dragged out at certain times and seasons. But who are you, really? How do you get out of those terrible valleys of being stranded? As an educational administrator, I was sometimes present when someone was told they would NOT be getting a contract next year. The person often took it quite well. He or...

Read More

When the Door Is Barred

When the Door Is Barred

Sermon November 9, 2014 Joe LaGuardia Matthew 25:1-13 “WHEN THE DOOR IS BARRED” Life can be full of annoyances. Back in the day before cell phones and smart phones when important people always carried a beeper, one of those important men (he was a scientist from NASA) was standing in a checkout line in the grocery store. A mother and her young boy were standing behind him. All of a sudden his beeper went off, and the little boy cried out: “Watch out, mommy, that fat man is backing up!” Ever since the spring, there has been construction work going on at the church across the street from our house, and promptly at 7 a.m., a fat little, green little cherry picker would make this piercing sound when it went either up or down, forwards or backwards, [now why does it need to beep when it goes up in the air? Is it warning low-flying birds?]. My wife and I for the first time in our lives, wished for a bazooka or a rocket launcher to disable that screaming contraption. When I looked at the lectionary to find out what the readings were for today, it turned out that—although this is what is called “Ordinary Time” in the church year, the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost—there were eight different choices for readings! How annoying is that? And One of them, from the book of Amos, a minor Prophet, reminded me unnecessarily that there is more to life than the minor annoyances that irritate you so badly as you are growing older and conspire to turn you inwards so that you become crabbed and crabby, a truly miserable person (like that little green cherry picker). Amos talks about the “day of the Lord,” and prophesies that “It will be darkness and not light; As when a man flees from a lion and a bear meets him, Or goes home, leans his hand against the wall and a snake bites him” (Amos 5: 18b-19). Now these are life-changing annoyances! They remind us unnecessarily that the world is a cracked and scary place, even without us in it, we who are often plotting to do evil instead of good! The spiritual person, the person who prays—wonderfully or badly—learns to say YES to this cracked and scary place, to do as Jesus did—in the manger and on the cross: to hold, even embrace, the nonsensicalness of our existence, the beauty and the ugliness, the awesomeness plus the natural disasters, the terrible mistakes and the downright, deliberate evil-doing. One such person is Ann Voskamp, who made it her goal to write down 1,000 things she was thankful for, which she published in her book One...

Read More

No Charge for Baggage

No Charge for Baggage

Scripture: Matthew 10:10-15 I am happy to see all of you here today and I feel privileged to be the “preacher of the day.” I think there would have been more people here, but when they saw the sermon title on the marquee, they said: “I know what he’s going to say; I’ve heard it all before, so I think I’ll stay home and work in my garden.” Here’s what I think THEY think I will say on this topic: That lots of us have lots of baggage, but God doesn’t care how much baggage we have. He loves and accepts us. Ok. That IS what I am going to say, but with a whole lot more words (wait! Don’t leave!) and I hope a couple different perspectives. The first thing those travelers up Van Aken need to know is: I’m NOT talking about baggage for the journey into the NEXT life! I’m talking about right here, right now.   Here’s what Rev. Cam Miller has to say about that: As far as I am concerned, and this is just one man’s opinion, way too much about Christianity is invested in the other side of that choice. I think it is an enormously profound act of faith to be engaged in a spiritual practice that pays no attention to the other side until we get there. Personally, it seems to me that the primary act of faith is to trust God with the unknown and focus on this side without anxiety about the other side. First, let’s make a distinction between REAL baggage and metaphorical baggage. I’m embarrassed by both. When I tell my wife I’m just going to our little house in Pennsylvania to cut the grass, I can see her looking at my huge overnight bag, my fishing equipment, my books, my computer, my chargers (can’t go anywhere without chargers), my grass cutting accessories, lots of food, my hedge clippers and my chain saw (in case a tree has fallen across the driveway) and you get the idea. I’m sure she is thinking: HOW long are you staying? That kind of baggage is certainly a symptom of the metaphorical or spiritual baggage that this sermon is mostly about (what does it say about me that I can’t go anywhere without a book? –or a cell phone?). Back to spiritual baggage: There’s the baggage of the PAST—the things you’ve done that you feel guilty about and can never forgive yourself for. We can easily paraphrase Psalm 51:3 to read: “The weight of my offenses is before me always.” Then there are the secrets that you are harboring about yourself—the stuff you’d die a thousand deaths if people knew, (but...

Read More