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Every year as I prepare my Holy Week sermons, I listen to the soundtrack from “Schindler’s List.” With its moving violin parts, exquisite choruses sung in Hebrew, and haunting yet hopeful songs, the Oscar winning music written by John Williams and Itzhak Perlman reminds me of the horror that is possible in our world. That cruelty toward others is sometimes used in order to humiliate and dominate the marginalized. That power and hatred can coalesce, and senseless violence is the result. 

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“Do you know what I have done to you?”

This question comes after Jesus “strips, kneels, and washes—not himself but his followers,” as Professor William Brosend puts it. “Do you have any idea what this means?,” he asks. John doesn’t tell us if the disciples respond with anything other than silence. Maybe they just don’t want to hazard a guess because of what he just did, in taking on the role of a servant. Notice none of them jumped up and grabbed the basin even though the menial job needed doing, and since it was just the thirteen of them. It’s like waiting for someone else to pick up the trash from a knocked over barrel: “I’m not gonna do it; you do it!” No one is itching to get their hands dirty, or take the low wrung on the totem pole.

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Peter sat outside in the courtyard waiting. He wanted to see what would happen, to hear the news make its way from inside the High Priest’s palace out to the people gathered there. He sat away from the others assembled there, trying to hide from prying eyes in the darkness. But it didn’t work. A servant girl came up to him and declares, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” There’s no question in her mind, this maid for Caiphas. She must have been there when Jesus was arrested at the garden given her utmost certainty on the whole thing.

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The people who chose our readings for this morning want to make sure we get the point. We heard it from Ezekiel and his dry bones, and from the Psalmist and their call to hope more than watchmen waiting for the dawn to break. St. Paul gives us his take in Romans about the Spirit of Christ giving life to our mortal bodies, and finally it’s clear in the long drama about Lazarus and his restoration to life in John’s gospel. So here it is: God can bring about life even when we think that things will never be restored. We can place our hope and trust in the one who offers renewal.

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There aren’t many professions which include telling the people who fund your work a yearly reminder that they are going to die. And yet, that is exactly what we clergy do on Ash Wednesday. Don’t forget your mortality. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

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On Ash Wednesday, I shared with you some questions to consider during Lent that were posed by author and Presbyterian minister Frederick Buechner. If you’re anything like me, even with the questions given to me in paper form, you considered the first of those six questions with the intention of engaging the others later in Lent, only to find that perhaps you misplaced the piece of paper. Or maybe you haven’t given them much thought after that first one. Or life has gotten busy, and even though it’s Lent here at church, it hasn’t really felt like it in your daily life.

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Oh, Adam and Eve. You had it all. You had good food, a wonderful garden, each other, and all those delightful animals on top of it. You’d think the river otter and giraffe would have been enough, but clearly they weren’t. You needed more. That one last thing God held back from you—that fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. You decided you had to have it all in your grasp, in your control. So when encouraged by that tricky serpent, you ate from the fruit of that tree, and the consequences were far reaching. There’s no need to ask if it was worth it, because we know. That’s part of that knowledge we all gained from what you did. We lost our innocence too, and we learned that the freedom to choose given to us by God comes with a steep cost, one that we often don’t realize until it’s too late, although God gives us a warning.

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Today we mark the beginning of a 40 day journey into the wilderness. While Jesus embarks on just such a time into the literal wilderness following his baptism by John, we as his disciples use these days leading up to Easter as a time for taking stock, seeking repentance for those places where we’ve missed the mark, and finding renewal. Jesus himself went out into the desert as the precursor to his ministry.

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Our lectionary committee gave us two options for the Hebrew scripture reading this morning. Whenever we encounter this when making the bulletin, I tell Anne to go with the top choice, which we did this week. Normally I don’t even read the second choice—it won’t be read at church, after all—but this week a commentator mentioned it in her reflection and my interest was piqued. So if you will humor me for the 30 or 40 seconds it’ll take, hear these words from Sirach.

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