* the final sermon I preached on Internship at Luther Memorial Church of Chicago on August 16, 2015 *
Since sermons are primarily intended to be heard, you can listen along here.
Text: Hebrews 4:14-5:10
Please pray with me:
We come to you in our weakness.
We come to your seat of mercy
desperately desiring grace.
Be our salvation.
I remember it pretty well. It was a Tuesday morning, just a little after 9. I walked up to the door, located the bell on the side, and pushed it. I stepped back, adjusted my bag over my shoulder, and took a deep breath in…”Here we go…”
The door opened and I walked into the foyer. And I remember my first thoughts very clearly…
“Man…there are a LOT of stairs in this place!”
And if you’ve ever entered Luther Memorial through the red doors on the side, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
In a building that I’m pretty sure is the love child of M.C. Escher and whoever designed Hogwarts, you better know exactly where you’re going, because you’ll need some luck finding it on your own.
It’s one of the myriad of quirky charms and charming quirks that I will miss about LMC. And y’all have given me a lot to miss…
I’ll miss a faith community that cares deeply for each other. A community that is always asking how they can best serve their neighbor in need. A community with a heart for justice. A community that struggles deeply together. A community that doesn’t settle for easy answers and trite platitudes, but instead takes this call to cooperative living seriously, and recognizes that this way of living is really, really messy but commits to doing it together anyway in spite of ourselves. A community that is passionate about following in the way of Jesus.
It’s a community that I saw at its most loving this weekend. When one in our community expressed her experiences of the reprehensible, dehumanizing, ugly sin of racism, this community stood up, stood tall, and shouted, “We will NOT stand for this.” This community opened its hearts and arms to her, expressed deep and meaningful love for her, offered shows of support to her, and embodied righteous anger with her at the ways that our so-called “post-racial” society is often anything but.
This community has showed me the transformative truth that every single person is made in the beautifully diverse divine image of God.
It’s this same community that has supported me this year. That has walked with me. Learned with me. Searched for deeper meaning with me. A community that has loved me…
But all these stairs…these stairs will also hold a special place in my heart.
Tiffany and I have not been blessed in our life yet to have to search for a home, but when we do, I’m told by House Hunters and HGTV that one of the things that I should desire in a home is an open floorplan.
As many sightlines as possible, views from the front door all the way through to the back, enough of a structure to differentiate between rooms but not too much that they feel completely separate…
It’s a concept that is brought to mind for me when the writer of Hebrews writes, “We have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens…” The idea that God, in Jesus, comes to us. Has crossed the chasm of time and space that separate the divine and the human. That God has entered into humanity through the person of Jesus and is nearer to us than a family member, close enough to touch…
It’s what makes Christianity unique among the world’s religions, that we profess that the source of our salvation is not some far off, distant cosmic amorphous thing, but rather entered our world as the most vulnerable among us, a naked, screaming infant born into a racial minority family to an unmarried teenager in a backwater, no-name town; who lived a life as a wandering, homeless spiritual teacher; and who was put to death, crucified, like a criminal, labeled an enemy of the state.
The source of our salvation, the great high priest, sympathizes with us in our weakness, and has suffered in every way that we have.
The source of our salvation, the Christ, identifies with us in every. single. way. Even unto death.
And people of God, that is good news.
In a move that would have made the folks over at HGTV jealous, Jesus did a little home renovation himself. In every synoptic gospel account of the Crucifixion, at the moment of Jesus’ death, the curtain of the temple is ripped, from top to bottom, completely torn in two.
Now, I know you’re all ancient Hebrew architectural and archeological scholars, so the significance won’t be lost on you, but just in case you’re rusty… The Judean temples in biblical times were constructed in a series of areas that got increasingly smaller the closer you got to the center of the temple. You had an outer perimeter, an inner courtyard area, the Tabernacle within that which had a room called the Holy Place, and a smaller room within that called the Holy of Holies. And the Holy of Holies is the place where God dwells. The Holy of Holies was separated from the rest of the Tabernacle by a veil and only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and even then could only do so once a year on Yom Kippur, the day of atonement.
So, that the veil of the temple is torn at the moment of Christ’s crucifixion is profoundly significant. See, by dying our death, God enters most fully into our human condition, identifying with the deepest expression of our humanity. Through the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, the veil of separation between the divine and human is no more. No longer is God in there and we’re out here.
God is here, among us, with us.
God, the source of all that is, in the person of Jesus, comes near to earth and touches it. And through Christ’s resurrection, God begins reconciling and renewing the earth. God lives and breathes and dwells among us, so that we might know God, and so that we might be certain that God is not finished reconciling and restoring the world.
In Celtic spirituality, there’s a place known as a “thin space”. It’s described as a place where the distance between the divine and the worldly is just a little bit smaller, a little bit…well…thinner. They are places where the sense of the divine is so strong, that you’re certain that this is heaven on earth, that surely the eternal has come to bear on the temporal.
Luther Memorial is a thin space for me. When I’m here, in this place, I feel the presence of God. And it’s not just the building. As I wrote in my final newsletter piece this week, “I have been irrevocably transformed by you, the people of LMC. From your lives and stories, from experiences of deep and painful suffering to overwhelming joy, you have left an indelible imprint on my heart. It’s a tremendous honor to bear witness to these things, and I simply don’t have words to express my gratitude to you for sharing your lives with me.”
LMC, you have shown me the face of God this year, and I can’t say thank you enough for that.
So while the stairs will remain a quirky architectural oddity of this place, the true openness of this place lies in your hearts and hands.
Thank you. So much.