As an act of humility and transparency as I grow in this new craft, I want to make public all these sermons I have proclaimed. They are snapshots my development from artist to spiritual leader and minister of word and sacrament. And portraits, too, of my relationship with God along this road that is both rewarding and confusing.
At the top of each sermon text there is a note about where it was given, and there are also links to the selections from scripture, and sometimes other texts, I am working with.
We’ve done something this morning as a community, that we haven’t done in a while! Not since Holy Thursday, actually, on April 5th. We have confessed our sin. Now, normally, the Sundays after Easter are a very happy and joyful time. We celebrate Christ’s victory over death, and the completion of God’s plan to restore us to our true identity as God’s children. So, lately, in celebration, we have been thanking God for our baptism, the sign of this true identity, as Pastor Krey and myself have been splashing around in the baptismal font.
But, this morning we confessed instead—something equally as beautiful as baptism, I think.
[This casual reflection was given without notes. The following is a transcript.]
So as Tim advances your slides (thank you so much Tim B. for your help this evening) you will see a little snippet from a painting. This is a painting by a painter in the 19th century named Albert Pinkham Ryder, one of my favorites. He makes these very small paintings and they’re very unusual techniques, they’re like layered, sometimes he painted on leather. So, here you can see a giant fish in the corner, it’s kind of comical actually—spooky and funny at the same time—and then at the bottom there’s Jonah. He’s like, “Noo!!”
This evening I want to talk about Jonah and the deeps…
This Easter Gospel from John is about a lot of things. It’s about overturned expectations. It’s about fear and unknowing and joy all mixed up. It’s about a personal encounter with the risen Jesus. But most of all, it’s about a woman named Mary Magdalene.
We watch poor Mary, from the fishing village of Magdala, go through so many gut-wrenching emotions. Gut-wrenching emotions we have become all too familiar with ourselves in this past month of social distance and pandemic: disbelief, fear, anger, and tearful grief.
I want you to know how unusual, how scandalous it is, that in John, and in the other Gospels too, the resurrection story is told through the eyes of women. In all the Gospels the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus are the first appearance of Mary of Magdala.
As a church, as a nation, as a world we are so wounded right now. All our assumptions about “normal” are shattered, jobs have been lost, graduations and birthdays have been ruined. For many, now is a time of mourning, and yet mourning from a distance.
We are struggling. We are experiencing so much sickness, and death. We cry out to God. But tonight, as we heard in Matthew’s passion story, tonight, we remember that we cry out to God together with Christ, who suffers too.
Well, good evening again, my name is Pastor Joshua Sullivan.
I have been looking at so many videos [these days] of myself preaching and leading worship services that I feel like I am having an out-of-body experience! One thing Pastor Krey and I both notice is that we really do use notes an awful lot to preach. So tonight is an experiment, I don’t have any notes. I do have a slideshow that hopefully will be piped through to you on the live-stream, and we will see where we go.
If today’s Gospel lesson from John is about anything, it is about understanding who we really are—a message from Jesus about identity. In this time of crisis, this time of changes, knowing who we truly are, is as important as ever. When all is said and done, when we get to the very bottom of this suffering, are we to be defined by a virus, by devastation? Are we to be known as victims, whether of illness or economic downturn?
You’ll agree that this morning’s Gospel from John is well known. You know, John 3:16 has been displayed on countless posters at countless sports games, written by fingers into the road grime of a million tractor-trailers. It is such a well-trod passage, that I’m not sure we can really hear it anymore for what it is.
You have to remind yourself that here in the context where Jesus says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” there were no Baptists, no evangelical Christians—and no Lutherans either. And, as many of you probably know, when Jesus says, “You must be born from above,” he is making a play on words, because that word “above” is the exact same word in Greek as “again” or “anew.” But like I said, this all comes before anyone ever identified as being, “a born-again Christian.” No one was Christian at all. Instead, you had Jesus, a Judean and practitioner of the religion of Israel, and the Pharisees, who were pious experts of this faith and practice.
Beneath it all, this exchange between Nicodemus and Jesus is a story of seeking, and a story about how difficult it is to believe—to trust—God. And Jesus doesn’t make it easy for Nicodemus, however. Nicodemus is a religious person, John tells us. If you had to compare us, Nicodemus was much more religious than me, or maybe even more religious than any of us here! I never believe it when commentators say Nicodemus is a dummy or acting in bad faith.
As a young and principled teenager, nothing resonated with me more than the word, “hypocrites.” Sunday after Sunday, myself, you know, in my khakis—that I hated, but was forced to wear to church—age 15, I thought in disgust of my parents and all the church-goers, “What hypocrites.” Here they are in church, proclaiming God’s forgiveness of lepers and prostitutes in the Bible, and then they seem to go home and immediately judge everyone!
I saw with the kind of simplicity that often only the young have, but maybe I was just an especially cranky teenager. But either way, here, in Matthew, Jesus hurls that word “hypocrite” three times, as he teaches his disciples how to pray, how to give, and how to fast.