Archive for March, 2008

Death Stinks

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

[This sermon was originally prepared for three weeks earlier, but a big snow storm that weekend led to a much smaller and more informal service that day]

Jesus’ very best friends in the whole wide world were two sisters, Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus, who shared a home in Bethany, which was just outside of Jerusalem. Their home was a place of retreat for Jesus, especially when things would get so hot and heavy in Jerusalem.

You might remember the story about the time Martha got her knickers all in a knot because Jesus and the gang were over for dinner, and Martha was doing all the work. Mary was just hanging out with Jesus and hanging on to every word he said. So Martha said something about it to Jesus. But he took Mary’s side.

The story we are looking at today from John 11 says Mary was also the one who anointed Jesus’ feet that time with real expensive perfume and dried his feet with her hair. It was pretty scandalous stuff.

Well, Lazarus died. When he got sick Mary and Martha sent people out looking for Jesus and when they found him they said, “Lazarus, the friend you love so much is very ill.”

But Jesus didn’t seem too concerned. Mary and Martha expected that he would come right back to Bethany, but he just stayed where he was for a couple of days, and then he told his disciples, “We’d better head back to Judea.”

Judea was the part of the country that Bethany was in. And like I said, it is near Jerusalem. When the disciples heard this they said, “Are you crazy? There are people, plenty of people, back in Jerusalem who are looking to kill you.” Jesus said they had to go anyway because Lazarus was asleep.

“You’re taking us back there to get killed because Lazarus is asleep! Can’t somebody else wake him up?”

“What I meant was that he’s dead, and by time we’re done we’re going to learn something about the glory of God.”

Thomas, who shortly afterwards became the most famous of all doubters, responded, “well, let’s go back and die with him.”

When Jesus finally got to Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days. Martha saw Jesus coming and said to him, “you know if you had gotten here sooner, my brother wouldn’t have died.” Now you can imagine the accusing tone that was in her voice. She didn’t understand why he hadn’t come sooner, but she still was glad Jesus was there. And she told Jesus that even though he was late in getting there she was ready for whatever was next.

Jesus looked at Martha and said, “Lazarus is going to live again.”

“I know,” Master, “at the end of all things he will be raised.”

“No… Sooner than that.”


“Martha, I am the resurrection and the life. The One who believes in me even though he or she dies will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all. Are you able to believe this?”

“I knew it. Even though you won’t say it. You are the Messiah. I’ve got to go tell Mary you are here.”

So Martha went back into the house where Mary was surrounded by mourners, some of them probably paid, and whispered in her ear. Mary got up and ran out to see Jesus. The mourners thought she was going to the tomb to do some more weeping and wailing and they headed out after her.

She started with Jesus just like her sister had. “Master, if you had only been here my brother wouldn’t have died.”

Now, some of the translations says that Jesus saw her and all the other mourners crying and that his spirit was troubled. But that’s not the right translation. What it really says it that Jesus got mad.

“Show me where you put him.” And he started crying.

Why did he get mad? It wasn’t Mary and Martha’s fault that Lazarus died. And besides as Mary and Martha, and later, the crowd of mourners said, maybe he could have done something about it if he had come right away. “He did heal that blind man. And Lazarus was his friend.”

So Mary took Jesus over to the tomb and Jesus said that they should roll the stone away. Mary suggested that was not such a good idea because it’s been four days already, and there would be a stink.

Jesus told them to do it anyway, and called Lazarus out of his tomb. And Lazarus came. Jesus told them to take off Lazarus’s death shroud and set him loose.

It’s quite a story. Within a week Jesus was going to be dead himself. But he ended us staying in his tomb for less time than even Lazarus did.

Why did Jesus get so mad, though? No one really knows. But here’s my speculation. Maybe it was because Bethany was the place that had been so life giving to Jesus. He was loved there, when he was reviled in so many other places. People listened to him there, tried to figure out what he was saying. They weren’t hurling accusations at him and challenging him at every turn. Death haunted Jesus everywhere he went, except Bethany. It was a life giving place. And now death had shown up there.

There is huge metaphor going on here. Jesus challenged the stench of death. He called Lazarus out of the tomb. He told the people to set Lazarus free from his death shroud.

Suddenly this story is no longer only about Lazarus coming out of a tomb and being set free. It’s about the tombs we find ourselves in and the death shrouds that cling so closely to us. It’s a story about us, too.

And the metaphor continues. Do you know what happened after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead? The religious leaders got together and said they had to do something. The people were watching Jesus and were expecting too much. The leaders were afraid things were going to get out of hand and Rome was going to respond very unkindly and take what little power they had left, and further repress the nation.

But Caiphas came up with the answer. “It’s better to have one man die for the people than the whole nation to be destroyed.” The story goes on to say that “from that day on they planned to put him to death.”

Jesus has done this amazing thing in raising Lazarus from the dead. And the folk in power didn’t even deny such a miracle had taken place. The leaders were just scared. They were afraid their own authority was in danger. So they let their fear overtake them and set their plot into motion. In less than a week, Jesus would be dead himself.

The leaders’ response is a time honored one. They started playing to people’s fears and death took over. And it goes on and on and on. There are still plenty of fear peddlers out there. For awhile we were supposed to be afraid of the communists. Now we’re supposed to be afraid of gay and lesbian people, illegal immigrants, and islamofascists. Politicians and advertisers know how to play to our fears. What if you aren’t driving the right car, wearing the right clothes, using the right deodorant, watching the right TV shows on the right TV set, or listening to the right music?

And fear doesn’t stop there. Some of us are afraid of big corporations, afraid of our government, afraid of global warming. It’s not that those aren’t things to worry about. But when our lives are shaped by our fears, afraid of what someone else might do, we are Lazarus still in the tomb. And the stink of death is all around. I told you there was a lot of metaphor going on here.

You kind of wonder what it was like for Lazarus when he left death behind and came out of that tomb. He, literally, had a new lease on life. What did he do with it? Lazarus ended up dying again. And nobody was around to call him out of the tomb that time. But what did he do in that time between his two deaths. Did he take life more seriously? Was he able to live without the fear of death since he had already been there and done that? 

After he died, Lazarus got to see life in a whole different way. What we would do? I hope we wouldn’t simply go for the gusto, or do all those things we said we were going to do before we die. I’m a firm believer that we should cuddle as many puppies and get to the mountains as much as possible before we slip off this mortal coil. But Jesus has to be talking about more than that. Like most things with Jesus, it must have something to do with the Kingdom of God. This call from our tombs, I think, is a call to start living the life of God’s Kingdom.

What’s it mean to be called from the tomb and the death shrouds cut away? To be set loose? Set loose for what? What is the stuff of life that Jesus knew about? “Consider the lilies of the field, they neither toil nor spin, but not even Solomon in all his glory compares to them.” “You have heard it said love you friends and hate your enemies, but I say to you love your enemies.” “No one can serve two masters.” “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.” “The last shall be first.” “Blessed are the peacemakers, they are called the children of God.” If you live by the sword, you die by the sword.” “Forgive one another as your God in heaven forgives you.” Do you see what we are called out of our tombs for? What being set loose from our death shrouds means?

Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Can we hear that? Can we come alive with Jesus or has resurrection escaped us? Can we come out of our tombs and create more Bethanys with each other, where there is a respite from all the death and fear, where we love Jesus and try to figure out what he talking about?

It would be nice if Jesus always came sooner than later, but he always comes. And he gives us life. What are we going to do with it? And by living it well–leaving our tombs behind and others cutting our death shrouds loose–is that the glory of God Jesus was talking about when he called Lazarus out of his tomb?

When Resurrection Comes to Town

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

In his sermon to his new Gentile friend Cornelius, and his family who lived in Caesarea, Peter said, “In three days, God had Jesus up, alive, and out where he could be seen. Not everyone saw him–he wasn’t put on public display. Witnesses had been carefully handpicked beforehand–us! We were the ones, there to eat and drink with him after he came back from the dead.” What Peter didn’t say was that his and the other’s response when they saw the risen Jesus was to run and hide, and hope that they didn’t end up on a cross like Jesus did.

Something happened, though, to Peter on the way to Caesarea, even though he wasn’t planning on going there. Peter and the others had seen Jesus alive. They watched as Thomas stuck his fingers in Jesus’ wounds. They had eaten with Jesus and talked with him. They had been commissioned by Jesus to be his witnesses. Nevertheless, all Peter and the others seemed to want to do is go pick up the nets they had left behind and pretend this whole Jesus thing had never happened.

We read at the beginning of the Book of Acts, though, that the risen Jesus had told them to wait in Jerusalem. So they hid out there and then one Sunday morning this wind started blowing through their hideout, and flames touched their tongues. In the power of the Holy Spirit, they fearlessly ran out of their safe house, and actually started being witnesses to the resurrected Jesus. But that’s another story.

They started the very first church right there in Jerusalem. They became the living presence of the living Jesus, rather than confused bystanders at some kind of resuscitation. For the resurrection of Jesus was no longer just about Jesus and this amazing and weird thing that had happened on Easter morning. It was about them, as well. Jesus wasn’t simply alive, he was alive in them.

Peter became their spokesperson. The same Peter who had denied Jesus three times on the night Jesus was arrested. The same Peter who, like the others, scoffed when the women said Jesus was alive. The same Peter who hid out from the authorities until things cooled down. The living Jesus was coming to life in Peter.

So Peter had come a long way, but there were other thresholds he had to cross. One was a real one in a real home in Caesarea.

Cornelius, by all accounts, was a godly man. But, he was a Gentile. And by all accounts, including his own, Peter had never planned to set foot in a Gentile’s home. That was a threshold he promised God he would never cross.

Toward the beginning of Acts 10 we read that Peter had this crazy dream one day, while he was waiting for lunch to be ready. In that dream God told Peter he could eat any food he wanted to eat, and that he wouldn’t be violating any dietary laws. Peter wanting to remain true to his faith and the scriptures, of course, told God not to worry because he wouldn’t do any such thing. Three times God told Peter it was okay to eat whatever he wanted and three times Peter said no way.

Then there was a knock on the door. Some people were looking for Peter. They wanted him to come to Caesarea and spend some time with Cornelius and his family.

Peter figured this must have something to do with the dream he had just had, so he went with them. And, lo and behold, he crossed the threshold of a Gentile’s home, changing the whole course of the young church.

In the Book at Acts we see how the risen Jesus kept coming more and more alive in Peter. This story says Peter was so taken by what he was saw after he crossed that threshold that he almost exploded. “It’s God’s own truth,” he cried out. “Nothing could be plainer, God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from–if you want God and are ready to do as God says, the door is open….through Jesus Christ everything is being put together again, he’s doing it everywhere, among everyone.”

The whole idea of Judaism and all other religions of that part of the world was, indeed, that God does play favorites. For Jews of that day, like Peter, it was not only that God loved Israel more than anyone else, but that God loved Israel and despised everyone else. But Peter knew that was pre resurrection talk. He realized that in the risen Jesus, this was all a lie. Jesus was putting this fractured world back together again.

Peter was starting to see that the resurrection was not only about Jesus being alive again, not only about Jesus and the disciples being alive together, but this whole world coming to life.

Think about it. The resurrection is an uprising. It is a revolution meant to turn the whole world upside down and inside out. Peter was watching it happen, watching it happen in his own life.

Do you remember the story from Ezekiel 37 of the dry bones coming alive and putting on muscle and sinew and skin, and God’s breath flowing through them. When Peter crossed that threshold, when resurrection grabbed hold of him, he could see the possibility for new life for this whole world. Old things that had meant everything to Peter’s faith passed away, and something new came to life. Where there had once been strangers and enemies, people Peter assumed to be no more significant to God than a gnat was to him, there were now brothers and sisters in Christ. This was an uprising.

And we Gentiles are here with each other celebrating the resurrection of Jesus because Jesus came alive not only is some garden but in Peter. And Peter was able to cross that threshold in Caesarea and the uprising, the revolution, continues.

Peter’s story has always been the story of the church. The resurrection makes little difference if it remains this really strange ending to the story about Jesus that we really don’t know what to do with. Jesus crossed that odd threshold from death to life, but if it doesn’t lead us to cross other thresholds ourselves, Jesus becomes a one hit wonder, and there is no revolution.

That’s why this Sunday is not simply about Jesus coming to life, but us coming to life with him. The way the Apostle Paul thought about it was calling us the Body of Christ.

There was nothing more real to Paul than the resurrected Jesus. But that resurrection didn’t mean much of anything, Paul knew, if Jesus wasn’t coming to life in his followers and we, ourselves, becoming the living presence of the living Jesus, experiencing our own uprising.

Paul said if the risen Jesus is going to mean anything to this world it will be because his followers are living his life in this world, we are his living presence, his body in our world. “You know the story of Jesus,” Peter said, “how he went about Israel doing good and healing everyone who was beaten down by the devil.” And Paul says the resurrected Jesus means to continue to do the same, but through us, by bringing us alive in new ways, just like Peter and Paul and Priscilla and Joanna came to life, and became the living presence of the living Jesus.

We are the Body of Christ. Ours are the wounds the doubters need to touch. We are the ones the scared and hopeless and shattered need to eat with. So many need to see our witness to Jesus and hear his words through us, “Peace be with you.”

We are not here this morning to gaze at some kind of resurrection freak show. Get your tickets! Step right up! Get your tickets! Watch the dead man come to life! And then go home scratching our heads and trying to figure out what the trick was. We are here to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus that is meant to take root in us and bring us to life with him. We are a part of the uprising. We are here to take the resurrection of Jesus to the next level, to be the Body of Christ, the living presence of the living Jesus in places like Caesarea and Oberlin and LaGrange and Elyria and Lorain and to the ends of the earth.

And you can’t do that without crossing lots of thresholds, ending up in places you never imagined you would want to go, or where God would want you to go. But like Peter learned that it’s on the other side of those thresholds where we discover what Jesus was really talking about, and why life was so strong in him.

Crossing those thresholds has never been easy, but it’s what Jesus’ life was about and what our life is about as his followers, the Body of Christ. People want us to hold back. We are comfortable behind our lines and we don’t easily tolerate people who cross thresholds. Just ask Barack Obama, as we have seen in this past week how his life has become a parable for the lines Black and White folk insist on. But he’s confessing his faith in the risen Jesus. Whether you want him to be President or not we see that he’s joined the uprising, resurrection has taken root in him, he’s stepped across the threshold.

In this world it’s hard for people to believe in the resurrection. It’s one of those thresholds we are told you can’t cross. It goes against all we think can happen. We have such lame imaginations.

It’s true, there’s no evidence to support the resurrection. All we have are those like Peter who have come to life in Jesus and see their own evidence of his resurrection in their lives at nearly every corner they turn and every threshold they cross. It’s not a time for us to run and hide, but to join the uprising, for he is risen, risen indeed.

The Trip that Had to be Made

Sunday, March 16th, 2008

I spent Palm Sunday last year at a nursing home in the Chicago-area. When the hospice social worker left Friday afternoon, she said, “I will be shocked if your mother makes it through the weekend.” Come Monday morning, my mother had proven this seasoned social worker wrong.

Peggy Malone tells us that hearing is the final sense to go, to always assume that a person in a coma can hear. So it was, on Palm Sunday, my bedridden mother that could neither move herself, feed herself, nor speak, responded to the nursing home Chaplain as he cheerfully made his Palm Sunday rounds.

“Good afternoon, Ruth!” he said in a strong, inviting voice. I could tell he had been there many times over the past year by his familiarity of tone. My mom’s eyes turned a tiny, tiny bit. He continued, “I brought something for you. It’s Palm Sunday, you know!”

The chaplain held up a little cross made of reeds. The corner of mom’s mouth moved ever so slightly. A tear dampened one eye. She was ready to remember this day, the start of Holy Week, as best she could.

This story seems symbolic to me as we take this journey with Jesus that begins at his entrance into Jerusalem, continues to a cross, and culminates in an empty tomb. Into the darkness of terminal illness comes the light of a simple, reed cross. Into the darkness of impending betrayal and arrest come the praises of children, too innocent and trusting to imagine what is to come.

This past week, I have read through all four Gospel accounts of the events between what has historically been considered “The Triumphal Procession” and the betrayed by Judas. In this process, I have been forced to ask the question, “Why has Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem ever been coined “a triumphal procession?”

First off, Jesus doesn’t plan a parade for himself. That is the stuff of dictators and other politicos careful to control appearances. Jesus doesn’t hand-pick his audience, or even care if there is one. His main purpose is getting into Jerusalem. The crowd gathers and erupts as it tends to do whenever Jesus is nearby. This may be a much more loaded public appearance than most for Jesus, but enthusiastic crowds are nothing new for him.

When Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem, he makes a dangerous decision. His disciple, Peter, tries to talk him out of it. Jesus rebukes him forcefully, saying, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:21-23) His own brothers taunt him and challenge him to travel to Judea sooner than Jesus believes he should. He flatly refuses (John 7:1-9). When Jesus asks his disciples to go get that donkey waiting for him, the moment has finally come.

In her powerful sermon, Palm Sunday is always happening, Kathy Galloway notes that Jesus rides into Jerusalem as a non-combatant (from Eggs and ashes: Practical & liturgical resources for Lent and Holy Week, by Ruth Burgess & Chris Polhill, 2004, Wild Goose Publications). He mounts no stallion and wears no armor. He carries no sword nor club. Neither does he arm his male disciples, who become so afraid to be associated with him as the week wears on that they eventually flee in fear.

The crowds are looking for a military leader who will overthrow the Roman oppressors and set Israel free, a King who will establish justice and righteousness by the power of force. They are restless and tired; they are ready for freedom and unity.

Some are hopeful that the One they are waiting for is Jesus. “Is he the Messiah?” they ask one another. Others fear the popularity of Jesus. “Look how the people all run after him,” they complain. Some are determined that Jesus will never succeed. “He is a blasphemer, a follower of Satan!” they proclaim.
Why has the Christian Church ever come to celebrate this journey into Jerusalem as a “triumphal” procession? The more I ponder the events of that day and the next, it seems like the mixture of a funeral march and Oberlin’s Big Parade. Spontaneous outbursts of joy and incredible sorrow mingle that day.
In Luke’s Gospel, what does Jesus do as he enters the city? He weeps over it. He sees so clearly its future destruction, the horrors pregnant and nursing mothers will face at that time. His heart breaks for his people.

What follows this processional into Jerusalem in the Gospel of Matthew? The spontaneous cleansing of the Temple–the agony of God outpoured in the breaking of tables, the rustle of escaped pigeons, and the bleating of scattered sheep. “My house shall be called a house of prayer, and you have made it a den of thieves!” Jesus cries out (Matthew 21:12-14).

The heart of God is laid bare for all to see.

On one of my mother’s final days of verbal communication, she shared a dream that she had the night before. I was there with our oldest daughter, Sarah. Thank God that Sarah is a scholar and compulsively takes notes wherever she goes. She grabbed a pen as my mother spoke and recorded this most amazing dream.

At the time, my mom was only feeding herself intermittently and communicating haltingly. She was incapable of moving her legs or torso on her own. She was living daily with excruciating pain due to severe allergies to pain medications combined with her profound determination to keep her mind as long as she could. The medical staff told me, “If we medicated her pain as much as she needs, she would be in a coma all the time.”

The protagonist in the dream is mom. God has put her in charge of the world, “to keep it moving, to propel it forward.” Evil is present, embodied in treachery and confusion or deception. Good is also present, embodied in gentleness, creativity, and perseverance–“and we’ve got that [perseverance] down” she added, as Sarah and I nodded in agreement. “Anybody’s capable of having any one of these traits as part of his or her personality,” she warned.

Mom continued, “I tried to shift the world if something was going on that I didn’t like–that was part of the dream–to stymie the evil that was going on and propel the justice. I was the controller–that kind of person. It was terribly hard sometimes to stymie the evil and to promote the good. I was having a terrible time last night.”

“To stymie the evil and promote the good.” So was Jesus’ journey into Jerusalem, where he challenged both treachery and confusion. In gentleness he wept for the city. In creativity he washed his disciples’ feet, using his hands to indelibly impress a lesson about humble service into their very muscles and sinews. In perseverance he stood before Pilate, accused yet blameless, captive yet free.

Disciples of Jesus are called throughout the ages to follow him where he leads. “To stymie the evil and promote the good,” to be faithful to God at all costs isn’t an easy journey. That confession of my mom–-it was so hard, I was having a terrible time last night–-rings in my ears to this day, just the way she said it.
Holy Week is a hard journey, but it ends in glory. Where evil seems to triumph, good has the last word. In the wake of despair, hope is reborn. Where there is death, resurrection follows. Let us take heart as these truths take hold of us. Amen.

Booty Dancing on the way to Paradise

Sunday, March 2nd, 2008

I went to one of the Challenge Days that Oberlin High School held about 10 days ago.

I had no idea what Challenge Day was when I went. They had asked for adult volunteers who could spend the whole day at the High School, and on one of the days I was available.

It was a wonderful and disturbing event. I guess one way to sum it up is to say that the hope of the Challenge Days at Oberlin High School was to help kids realize that many of them are going through tough situations, and a little kindness goes a long way. The Challenge Day leaders were there to help the lids learn to listen to and respect each other, and to make high school, what few believe it can be, a supportive environment where kids feel safe to be who they are. The challenge for the kids is to step-up and be there for each other.

At the end of the day when the leaders were decompressing with the adult volunteers, they said that they don’t only do Challenge Days in schools, but for all kinds of adult groups, as well. Adults, too, could use the same lessons about respecting, listening to, and supporting one another.

I’ve thought a lot about that time these past 10 days. And lots of Biblical stuff has come to mind, including the creation story. The story says we were created in the image of God and meant to be in relationship. It is not good, the story says, for the created one to be alone. And too many kids and adults feel too alone. We weren’t created to live this life without each other. To be created in the image of God is to be in relationship.

One of the amazing lines from the creation story, for me, is the one that says the man and the woman were naked and not ashamed. Now I wouldn’t explore that image too much with high school kids. But it says that when God created humanity, and gave us a place called Paradise to live, we could reveal ourselves to each other. In Paradise, we didn’t need to find all the fig leaves we search for today to cover up ourselves because we were able to be vulnerable and expect we would be accepted and treasured as God’s image bearers, flawed though we are.

The way the leaders at Challenge Day talked about this was the waterline. You know about icebergs and how only 10% of an iceberg is above water. The other 90% is below the waterline. The kids agreed with that image saying they spend much of their time projecting a image, the stuff above the waterline, while a good 90% of who we they are remains below the waterline. I don’t think this is news to any of us, because it’s not just kids who live that way.

The leaders asked for words for the life kids live above the waterline and the most popular one was fake. The kids said the part of their lives above the waterline was this fake image they feel they need to project around other kids and adults if they are going to be accepted. That stuff below the waterline, that most people never get to see is the good and the bad, the joy and the sorrow, the struggles and the victories, the pain and the healing, the love and the heartache.

We played lots of games, did some booty dancing (more about that after the offering) and then got down to the hard work of the day, talking with each other and learning what kids were going through.

Too many of these kids are facing adult troubles. We saw that especially when we played the crossover game where we were all lined up against one wall. The leader would ask kids and adults to crossover the blue line on the floor when they had faced various situations. This was the hardest part of the day for many of us. Cross the line if you have lost a parent. Cross the line if you have a parent in jail. Cross the line if you have been a victim of abuse by a close friend or relative. Cross the line if you or a family member has tried or succeeded at suicide. Cross the line if a parent, teacher, or other adult has said you are stupid and not going to amount to anything. Cross the line if you have ever been hurt by the things a good friend for family member has said about you, even if they were joking.

Along with the tears, there were a couple of common reactions. One was the disbelief that there were other people crossing the line, because the kids thought they were the only ones who ever faced such things. The other was the dismay when kids saw their friends crossing the line, because they never knew what those friends were facing. In her tears I heard one girl talk about how she never knew her best friend’s family sometimes didn’t have any food in the house. “How could I not have known?”

Why were the kids so surprised to discover others were in the same situations they were in? Or why didn’t they know some of the hard things their very best friends were going through? It’s because they are too ashamed to reveal so much of themselves in front of each other, to be that naked. They are too afraid to bring that stuff above the waterline. What would happen if kids at the high school knew? Would they lose their friends or be made fun of?

It turns out, though, they might start being a little less hard on each other, a little more supportive of each other, a little more open to each other. There were hard problems that no kids or adults were going to solve, but the kids realized they could be kinder to each other, make school, if nothing else, a little easier. When the kids crossed that line the ones on the other side of the line offered their support. That’s what the kids want.

There were apologies. There were hugs. People asked for help and understanding and patience from each other.

We were treading close to gospel grounds that day. Wasn’t Jesus’ life about calling us back to the garden, saying our lives would be much better if we focused on our similarities rather than our differences? How did he sum up all the law? Love God and love each other. He said we need to step-up for each other, make it so we are not so afraid to reveal ourselves to each other, more able to bring that stuff above the waterline.

Those first followers of Jesus began to catch on. They got some of it anyway. It’s not good to be alone. Let’s take Jesus seriously by building a new humanity with each other. We’ll call it the church and call ourselves the body of Christ. Let’s work on really showing our love for God by loving each other. Our lives can be different than they are including the ability, as the Apostle Paul admonished, to “be kind and tender hearted to one another, forgiving each other as God has forgiven us in Jesus Christ.” We can build a new world.

So they started these little churches all over the place where they were no longer divided between Jew and Greek, slave and free, men and women, but they were one, they were sisters and brothers, followers together of Jesus Christ.

There were so many tears shed on Challenge Day. And I’m not talking about only the kids. It was hard to see so many of those kids stay behind the line as one after another hard situation was named. We wanted to bring those kids home with us and make it all better. But it’s not that easy. You can’t wish all that stuff away.

What can we provide for these kids? We want to come up with the right program, we want to find ways to reach out to them. We want to be in meaningful relationships with them, realizing, of course, they may not care whether we are in any meaningful relationship with them or not. Kids are notoriously fickle about these kinds of things.

Adults feel better when there are programs. Programs are of some help, and more are needed. But there is something harder, yet within our grasp that we can do. Build the Church. These kids need to know that there are places like this that will care about them because we care about each other.

They will never feel welcomed unless they see us welcoming each other, being able to reveal ourselves more fully to each other, bringing more of ourselves above the waterline. The kids know there is life in that.

What I immediately saw about the leaders of Challenge Day is that they had such a respect for the kids. By the end of the day I knew why. They knew the potential those kids have in spite of the awful things too many of them are dealing with. They knew the kids could step-up and make a difference.

I knew the church–this church and all churches–were being challenged that day. Can we learn the same lesson from Jesus? Can we step-up and build a new world that looks more like Paradise than Hades? Can we respect the kids at Oberlin High School? Kids everywhere? Reach out to them, love them, and learn from them? Can they find Jesus in us?

That revolutionary message of Jesus was that we are so incredibly loved by God that we can love each other in spite of all our differences, in spite of all that awful stuff we keep below the waterline, or cover up with our fig leaves. I think kids have a hard time believing that because they don’t see all that many adults who really believe it. They see that even in our churches we put limits on God’s love and on who we are going to love.

What was most hopeful and most frustrating about Challenge Day is that I left not knowing what will come of all of this. Was it just a cathartic experience, or is there hope Oberlin High School will become a kinder place, a place where kids don’t feel so alone?

I keep running into adults who were at one of the Challenge Days. We’re all still thinking about it. We didn’t know what to expect when we came that morning and we don’t know what to expect since that day. But we know things can’t be the same. The kids want something different. They have to find it. They have to step-up. They have been challenged. They don’t want to do it alone.

They need our love and respect, and they need us to accept the challenge ourselves to create the world we say God wants them to have.
Before we leave this morning we have to talk about Booty Dancing. That’s one of the things all 120 kids and adults did that morning. Have you ever Booty Danced? I’m going to find a volunteer and show you how it works.

When you’ve booty danced with someone you have suddenly taken your relationship to a whole new level. The leaders of the morning suggested that one of the groups that could use to booty dance with one another is our world leaders. They said that world summits should begin with booty dancing. Once you have bumped butts with each other, you can start having a different kind of discussion.

You can maybe talk about some of the lines you have crossed over. What if world leaders after being loosened up by a bit of booty dancing could start talking about some of the stuff going on in their lives, what they have had to cover up or keep below the water line. Maybe it’s alcohol abuse, or feeling like the price of power is neglecting your family. What’s it feel like to be reviled by x number of people in whatever country you lead, or when good friends sell you out for their own political gain? What are the things going on in your life you could never talk about because it would cause you to lose votes or support? Could they trust each other like we did on Challenge Day to respect each other by keeping what we hear from each other confidential?

After booty dancing and having those conversations, with tears and hugs flowing, maybe they could talk a little more productively about the issues facing this world.

But it’s not just world leaders. I think Jesus would say all of us need to do more booty dancing on the way to Paradise.