Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Good Friday 04/19/2019

Some of you know that I’m originally from New England. I grew up 20 miles west of Boston and lived in some part of New England for the first 39 years of my life and during that time, the Boston Celtics were a big part of my life. I had season tickets for 17 years including Larry Bird’s entire career so I saw a lot of great basketball during that time. I grew up though on the old Celtics who won 11 championships in 13 years from the late ‘50s through the ‘60s. I never saw Bob Cousy play in person, I missed him by one year although I do have his autograph, but Bill Russell, Sam and KC Jones, John Havlicek, I won’t name them all, but those were my heroes.

If you’re old enough, you perhaps remember that Red Auerbach was the coach in the early years of the Celtic dynasty and that he pretty much ran the show as the President, General Manager and Godfather after he was done coaching. If you didn’t play for the Celtics or you weren’t a Celtics fan, you hated Red. Among other things, he was arrogant and symbolic of that arrogance was his victory cigar. Back in those days you could smoke most anywhere, including at sporting events, so when he was confident that the Celtics were going to win, Red would light a cigar, sit back and enjoy it there on the bench, in effect, blowing smoke in the face of the opposition. Legend has it that he was always right; despite a couple of close calls no one ever came back to beat the Celtics after Red lit his victory cigar.

The word for this segment of today’s service is “finished.” It comes from John’s gospel where Jesus’ final words on the cross are, “It is finished.” In John, those words spoken from the cross are not a statement of defeat, but instead we could say that they represent God’s victory cigar. On Friday, that is before Easter Sunday, on Friday Jesus declared victory. His work was done and it was a victory even if crucifixion and death at the hands of the Roman Empire seemed like a serious defeat. For the purposes of God, Friday represented a victory cigar and that’s what John conveys with these words of Jesus. They are also words that would have reminded John’s readers of other finishes that were part of their faith tradition, other stories with which they were familiar.

In writing his gospel, John drew extensively from Old Testament stories and imagery. Chapter one, verse one in John starts with, “In the beginning was the Word,” which echoes the first words of Genesis, “In the beginning, God created.” In John, we get Jesus as the bread of life, an allusion to the manna in the wilderness from Exodus. Jesus as the Good Shepherd in John recalls many places in the Old Testament where shepherd imagery is used, the much loved 23rd Psalm being but one example. The list of these allusions could go on and you can be sure that none of it is an accident. John was drawing from the tradition in order to help accomplish his purpose in writing his gospel, the purpose being to bring his audience to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Connecting Jesus to stories they already knew would help to do that.

The phrase, “It is finished,” is yet another example of this, another connection. In Genesis, after six days of creation, after the earth was made fruitful and blessed, on the seventh day…God finished the work that he had done. God saw that things were very good and in effect said, “It is finished!” Chaos had been overcome so God could rest.

In the book of Exodus there are several rather tedious chapters that describe the design and construction of the tabernacle as a dwelling place for the Lord, design and construction that was led by Moses. Then, towards the end of chapter 40 it says, “Moses finished the work.” After years of wilderness wandering, there was now a suitable resting place for the presence of Lord to dwell. It was finished.

Joshua, chapter 19 reports on the division of the Promised Land among the twelve tribes of Israel. The chapter ends by saying, “So they finished dividing the land.” With that, the promise of the Promised Land became a reality. The word “finished” then is used for these three achievements, these three victories that are part of Israel’s remembered history: there’s the finish of creation and the defeat of chaos, the finish of the tabernacle and the defeat of absence, the finish of the Promised Land and the defeat of homelessness for God’s people. With all of them, a victory cigar for the Lord would be appropriate.

Following the Old Testament tradition, as he writes his gospel, John gives us one more finish, one more victory, one more achievement on the part of God. When Jesus says, “It is finished,” an even greater victory is announced; it’s the victory of God’s way in the world, the way that had been lived by Jesus. Throughout his ministry, Jesus had embodied the nature of God and the way of God, a nature and a way that were about compassion and mercy and forgiveness and generosity, a way of being with people…being with them even in suffering, suffering that took Jesus all the way to the cross. The powers that be, the powers of death thought they had won. They thought the clock had run out, the game was over and they had won. When they heard “It is finished,” they didn’t know that the victory cigar had been lit. They didn’t know that the game was in fact over, and despite appearances to the contrary, they had lost because…

…in dying Jesus had destroyed the power of death, not just physical death but all the ways of death that show up in selfishness and greed, hatred and violence, things that run counter to the way of God, things that create walls of division between us and them. They had lost because in dying Jesus had paradoxically defeated the way of the Roman Empire and all empires that use military and economic power along with fear to keep people in line. The empire thought it had won. It did have the power to put Jesus on trial and to have him crucified and it used that power; but those in the highest positions of authority knew that Jesus wasn’t guilty. They did get him out of the way, or so they thought, but they knew that his love was greater than their power. They knew that they couldn’t kill that love.

With the words, “It is finished,” the victory cigar had been lit. But maybe you say, “Wait a minute. Death, greed, hatred, violence, division, fear…all those things Jesus is supposed to have defeated are still out there. Where’s the victory? Unlike Red Auerbach and the Celtics, was this victory cigar lit too soon?”

The answer is no. The game’s not over, that’s true. In fact, maybe it’s only the third quarter, but…it is finished. The powers of death that run contrary to the way of God still have their moments; those powers are still in the game. They sometimes rally and even appear headed for victory, but it is finished. It is finished because the power of Christ, the love of Christ is still in the game too. It’s power and love that has withstood the rallies of evil and death and will continue to withstand them until the final victory is won.

It is finished too, because we’re still in the game. As followers of Jesus, we’re still in the game and even on Good Friday in faith we continue to live in hope and act in hope because we know that in him, what needs to be done has been done. The powers of death want to demoralize us and move us to resignation and defeat, even despair. But we look to the cross and we don’t see defeat and despair. We see Jesus. We hear him say, “It is finished,” and we know that he has won the victory; for us, he has won the victory. Believing that, in faith, we know that God’s victory cigar has been lit.

The game goes on, but…it is finished.

Heavenly Father, we give you thanks that on this Friday that we call good you have declared that it is finished and the victory has been won. We see the cross and we’re reminded that Christ has won the victory and your way in the world prevails. The kingdom he proclaimed has been revealed and we pray for the day that it is fully present among us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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welcomes me, and whoever
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