In pm's words
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April 30, 2017, 7:03 AM

the one about the basics


Sermon from Sunday April 30, 2017

Text: Luke 24: 13-35

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Risen Lord who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, who here has heard that sometimes the simplest solution is the best one?

Y’all know that I love technology. Not only do I love technology, but over the years, quite a few people have come to me for advice and tech support and I’ve been able to help them out. I know technology. And if I don’t know the answer, there’s a good chance I can figure it out.

This week the mouse I use with my computer – this one right here – stopped working. My computer would recognize it; all the lights would turn on, but my cursor wouldn’t move. Frustrating.

I went through all the logical steps. Maybe the newest beta build of Windows 10 I just installed broke the connection or perhaps there is a bug in the Bluetooth stack in this latest build. After numerous times unpairing and pairing the device and more time than I care to admit perusing the support forums. I discovered that it wasn’t my computer or the operating system’s fault.

Maybe it was the mouse? Maybe water got into the inner workings the most recent time I cleaned it? Maybe, just maybe at almost two years of life and constant and consistent use throughout those years that the mouse finally died.

However, just before I hit the buy button at Best Buy, I decided to check one last thing. I’ll just change the batteries. Though, I knew it couldn’t be that. I’m too smart to be foiled by batteries!

Well, I got the mouse to work. Though, I’m not not going to say it was the batteries.

Y’all ever do something similar? Whether it be with some sort of technology, a math problem, your car? You overlook the simplest fix because it couldn’t possibly be that one. Happens more than we care to admit, doesn’t it?

This morning we get to read my absolute favorite Jesus story from scripture. I love this story because it is such a good analogy to life in faith.

Sometimes the best solution is the simplest one.

At this moment in which our gospel story takes place, the disciples are in turmoil. They are confused and scared. Their teacher, their messiah, their friend has been wrongfully accused and executed by the powers and authority of the land. Not only that, but three days have past and stories and rumors have emerged that his body is no longer present in his tomb.

Anyone and everyone would be confused and frightened by this. Dead men are not supposed to get up. It isn’t how it’s supposed to be. You die and you stay dead. It’s just what we know.

We meet these two disciples as they travel away from Jerusalem. They are traveling away from the pain and heartbreak they’ve experienced that weekend. They are traveling away from the confusion that surrounds them. In their travels they meet their friend, but for whatever reason they don’t recognize him. Within this crisis of faith, Jesus enters into space with them.

Sound familiar to anyone’s life right about now?

Life itself is confusing and scary at times. We are thrust into situations that we don’t know how to handle. We encounter issues in life that confront and challenge our faith. We become scared because of where our minds could possibly go as we travel those paths.

When you’re confronted by those huge obstacles and hurdles in life where faith shakes, it’s scary.

How will it get better? Where is my hope to come? How can I grow? Where can we go from here? Where is God in all of this?

When I was in seminary a professor had a ‘heart to heart’ conversation my classmates and me. He wondered why we weren’t attending chapel as faithfully as he would’ve hoped and thought for future leaders in the church.

We explained that we were stressed, stretched with work, and worried about the future.

His response? If that is so – where is the one place you could go and be reminded of God’s presence in all this, hear that you are loved and not alone, and be fed to be strengthened and sent into the very world that we worried so much about?

When life turns us towards sorrow and we seek to pull ourselves out of the hopelessness we tend to turn away from the very things that remind us of hope. Much like the two disciples on the road we turn and travel away from those things that draw us towards God.

Then, in order to ‘get back’ to that place, we expect a big miracle and life altering course correction, a big, bombastic, and unforgettable encounter to steer us back towards our faith.

Jesus meets the disciples on the road and he opens scripture to them. He tells them all they had known again and again – beginning with the prophets and leading up to the death and resurrection of their friend and Lord. I assume that in their travels and companionship on the road they shared prayers and blessings with and for one another. As they came to the end of their time together, they shared a meal – and it was there that they remembered who it was that had been with them the whole time.

Folks – sometimes the simplest answer is the best one.

Together in community, reading through scripture, sharing prayers with and for one another, and sharing in a meal – it all just might be what we need to change the batteries of our own lives of faith. Perhaps in those simple ways our hearts too will burn within us. Where that fire in our souls will compel us to run and share this good news to all we meet.

Sometimes, maybe, perhaps we overthink our lives of faith much like I tried to find every complicated solution to my mouse problems when all I needed to do was change the batteries.

I fretted and doubted my abilities as a techie and geek, I became frustrated by how I couldn’t solve this issue. It should work – it’s all right there in front of me. It has to be something ‘big.’ Yet, I could’ve saved myself so much unease and sorrow if I had just ‘gone to the basics’ from the beginning.

I think that applies to us in our lives of faith as well.

When we become rocked in our faith, we doubt ourselves. We question God’s love for us. We doubt the Spirit’s presence and ability to move through us. We walk in darkness and we feel we can’t get out unless something ‘big’ comes along to shake us up.

Though, it just might be those simple things that move us into that deeper place we wish to be.

Gathering together in worship, surrounded by our fellow sisters and brothers reminds us that we aren’t the only ones who struggle in all of this. We are reminded that we aren’t alone in our thoughts and hurts. It is good to be reminded that this life of faith involves more than just ourselves. This is bigger than just us. It is good to gather in community.

We read scripture – often and daily – and see God’s work in the life of those who came before us, but also discover that they too are not that much different from us. God appears to and walks with them in countless beautiful ways. We are reminded in those words of scripture that God stays true to the promises and covenants that have been made and how those promises continue and are extended to each of us. We read that God does and will walk with us through all of this and that there is not one thing that can separate us from God’s love. Not one thing!

We share in meals together. We share in this meal that is given for us each week and we are invited and share in meals with one another throughout the week and in our lives. Building and deepening relationships with those we know and love and inviting new friends into our lives through meals as well.

It’s the basics of our faith. Gather. Read. Eat. Share.

In all of that our hearts burn within us and we invite others to gather. To read. To eat. To share.

Amen.

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April 24, 2017, 7:50 AM

the one about stepping off...


Sermon from April 23, 2017
2nd Sunday of Easter

Text: John 20: 19-31

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Risen Lord Jesus who is the Christ. Will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen!

So, we had a wonderful time of worship last Sunday, didn’t we? Trumpets. A banging drum. Full processional. Tons of lilies. Lots of people proclaiming and shouting Alleluia in celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. So many people gathering not only just here, but around the area, state, and world in celebration of this new thing that God has done in Christ our Lord. It was a good day; it always is.

Yet, how long did that worship and faith ‘high’ last? What’d we do on Monday? How’d we feel on Tuesday? By Wednesday were you already longing for that Sunday feeling again?

Who could blame you for feeling that way? You’d think after we’d celebrate God’s love literally poured out through the empty tomb, that it would just make the world better, right? What with news of potential conflicts, continued violence, heightened and heated political rhetoric from all sides it is no wonder that the new thing that God has done in Jesus’ resurrection is looked over and looked past.

Of course, that’s just the stuff outside of our own little contexts and bubbles. After Easter, we still have people recovering from surgery, getting upset, and living with the general dis-ease of anxiety and fear about a multitude of issues. Where’s the next meal coming from? How am I going to get my kids to school? Do we have enough to get the A/C fixed? Why do I feel broken in so many ways?

If only we could live into the faith of those first few disciples! You know! Those closest to Jesus who were in such awe of what God had done and were out on the streets proclaiming this new thing of resurrection to their world! Well, about that…

In our gospel this morning we look in on those stalwarts of faith, Jesus’ closest friends, his first followers and, where are they? They are in hiding. Not only that, but they are in fear. The doors are locked to the outside because they fear those in authority around them. They fear the death that their and our Lord has conquered. They are hesitant of the invitation extended to them and us to the victory parade.

It isn’t that we want to live into the faith that the disciples possessed, we must remember that we do live the faith that the disciples possessed.

Even in the immediate time following the resurrection fear and doubt still exists. Evil still occurs. Trouble still arises. Death still lurks. Anxiety still pervades.

When you step back from it all it makes you think, doesn’t it? It makes you ask that question that you don’t want to pop into your head. What did Easter fix? We still have death, we still hurt, we still fear. All those things that Jesus got up to vanquish.

Considering all that, is it any wonder that the disciples hid in fear and that Thomas needed further proof? We struggle with those same issues. Doubt still permeates throughout our lives. That sense of trust – complete and utter trust – is so hard to live into. Even when you have all the signs reminding you that you’re safe.

Last year for our 10-year anniversary, Erin and I went to the mountains of North Carolina. We had a great time and we were able to do something that we thought we’d never do. We jumped off a 65-foot platform. Now, before we got there I could be pretty ‘manly macho’ about it. It really isn’t that high. Easy enough, just step off. Piece of cake.

Well, it was another thing when you’re up there. You’re set up to go. You’re securely, if not uncomfortably, strapped into a harness. The lines are connected to you and all the places they need to be. There’s a big cushion where you’re supposed to land. All signs point to this being a very safe endeavor. The leader of your group looks you in the eye and says, “All you have to do now is step off.”

That my friends is where the rubber meets the road. That distance looks totally different from the top than it does from the bottom. I’m not one who is scared of heights, I actually kind of get a thrill from it. But, given the moment to step off the secure platform? That was scary. That was nerve-racking. That’s where belief takes you.

All of the disciples in our gospel this morning are still on the platform. They’ve been witness to all the signs and miracles of their friend. They’ve seen the blind regain sight, they’ve been witness to Lazarus’ resurrection, and throughout it all they’ve been told by Jesus to not be afraid.

Yet, they’re still on the platform. Locked in fear of what could happen. Locked in fear – for all of them – of what will happen to them. We too still are locked into that fear and anxiety.

Sure, Sunday was a glorious day of celebration and resurrection. Remembering this new thing that God has done and continues to do in the world through the cross and the empty tomb. We sang with strength and love, we shouted alleluia countless times. And still Monday comes. Before we know it, it feels like were back on that Friday and Saturday before Easter. That pain, that silence, that fear.

In that moment; in the height of the disciples’ fear – Jesus shows up. Despite all the attempts to wallow away in fear and trepidation, Jesus appears. Jesus breaches those attempts to keep the outside, well – outside. Jesus breaks through the fear that clouds their minds and their hearts.

And his first words? Peace be with you.

In that moment, through the continued emptiness of the tomb Jesus changes everything. He gives them another command. They’ve listened to him all this time, leading up to this moment. They’ve heard him talk about the ways he turned the tried and true mainstays of the world upside down. Love your enemies. I am the light. The first shall be last, the last shall be first. Do not worry. They will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.

They’ve heard and seen so many wonderful blessings. They’ve been witness to it all. Yet, Jesus still has a further point to make.

As they Father has sent me, so I send you. Go.

That’s Jesus telling the disciples to step off the platform. They’re strapped in. They’re in the harness. Everything that needs to be connected to them for their safety is there. Step off. Be sent. Go.

That invitation – that command to be sent – is still given to us. After I was first ordained I remember having a conversation during an adult Sunday school forum. Someone casually said, “I just don’t understand it. We’ve got a nice young pastor, we’re friendly, our doors our open. Why aren’t more people coming?” That’s probably a statement that can be made at literally every congregation across all traditions and flavors of the church. Then, someone else chimed in right after that remark with something pretty bold, “Perhaps opening the door and just being on this side isn’t what we’re called to do. Maybe we’ve got to step out and invite people in.”

Pretty powerful, right? I sure thought so. And just so y’all know – I didn’t say it.

We live in a world where even after the resurrection and the celebration of the resurrection it doesn’t always seem that it ‘fixed’ anything. Perhaps in some very important ways, but never in the ways that we expected or wanted.

Yet, because of Easter everything has changed. As one of my friends said this past week, “Christ did not come to make bad people good, but to make dead people alive.”

Wow. That hit me hard and spoke to the depths of my being.

In many ways, the disciples are ‘dead’ as we begin this gospel story. Sure, they’re technically ‘alive’ but they aren’t really doing anything except intensifying their fear and anxiety by hiding out with one another. Building their fears inside their echo chamber.

The glorious change that Easter brings is that Jesus appears to them in that fear. Jesus brings peace to them. Jesus sends them out. Jesus breathes upon them and they receive the Holy Spirit.

Jesus steps into our fears and anxieties and meets us in them. Filled with the Spirit we are sent out to confront a world to proclaim Christ crucified. To live into the life and faith of love that our Lord commands. We get to live into this life where the brokenness and emptiness that we feel and experience are sealed and filled in the resurrected new thing that God has done.

Our Lord has shown us the harness, the line, the guide. Our Lord is there on the platform and at the bottom. Throughout it all we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses – those we know and those we’ve never met – who encourage and welcome us into this life of faith. Cheering us on to step off into that faith and belief.

And when we do step off? When we do live into the life of faith that our Lord has called each of us into? When we do step out from the closed and locked doors of our life – standing up for the oppressed, caring for those in need, living into this life of faith we do so with a word locked into our hearts and minds. Much like one might jump into the fear and unknown and cry out Geronimo. We too step out into faith and cry out as well.

What would it look like if living into this life of faith, we lived into that faith shouting, “ALLELUIA!” all the way?

That’d be fun, wouldn’t it? Sure it still might be a bit scary. Stepping off that 65-foot platform didn’t cease to be unnerving or scary. In fact, there’s always that moment where you think it didn’t work and that you made a pretty terrible mistake. Yet, the line catches, you’re secure.

The same is true in our life of faith. We step off at the command and invitation of our Lord. It can and will be unnerving at times. Yet, we remember that because the tomb was empty our Lord is there with us and within us.

So, then let’s step off. Alleluia. Amen.

 

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April 16, 2017, 12:00 AM

the one about celebrating empty...


Sermon from Easter Sunday
April 16, 2017

Text: Matthew 28: 1-10

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus who is the Risen Christ, will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed, alleluia!)

This might be surprising, but I want to talk a bit about emptiness.

For most of us, when we think of emptiness, we think of that which is no more. Or that we’ve runout of a good thing. Perhaps in light of the goings on in the world today your proverbial cup is empty because you just don’t have enough evens to can’t.

And that’s never a good feeling. Whether you’re currently in that spot or you remember a time when you were, it never feels good. You don’t want to be in that space, you desperately want to move from it as fast as you can and never look back.

The Mary’s in the beginning of Matthew’s account of the third day – I imagine – are feeling that emptiness. They’ve lived through the cries and pain of Friday and suffered through the silence and numbness of Saturday.

We’ve experienced those moments as well in our lives. The dire news received about a loved one. Waking up each morning and thinking, “What’s happened now?” Why this way? Why now? When will it stop? In it all, that sense of fear and desperation that not one thing will be able to move us through this.

Yet, the Mary’s come to the tomb of our Lord and the angel says, “Y’all – it’s empty in there. He’s not there.”

I imagine that their immediate reaction is one of great dismay and deeper emptiness. That is not what you expect to hear as you hope to continue with the burial process and ritual. They came to mourn, they came to clean, they came to tend to their friend’s body.

Yet, the tomb was empty. This must not be good.

Yet, the angel comforts them – Don’t be afraid. He isn’t here.

This begins God’s way of using the unexpected to show love to the world.

We celebrate the empty tomb today. Jesus is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!]. Thus, begins this new thing that God has in store for us all. Thus, begins the new reality in which we all live. A reality that in that empty tomb – we experience fullness and wholeness. We experience hope through that empty tomb.

This is emptiness that brings forth hope and joy. It isn’t an emptiness that was ‘taken’ from us; this isn’t an emptiness where something has ‘run out,’ this isn’t emptiness where joy was snatched away. No, this is an emptiness that leads to life and promise. An emptiness that stems from hope – from resurrection. This is emptiness of loved poured fully out and through the promise of new life from our God who loves us fully and completely and with no end.

This is a new reality where the ‘old rules’ just don’t work anymore. A man has risen from the dead – dead people aren’t supposed to get up. And if they do we’ve been taught through movies, shows, and books to run the other way because they’re probably hungry. A man has shed his own grave clothes, rolled back the door that separates life from death, and walked out. God has done something new here. God has made something whole, good, perfect, and new because that tomb was empty.

And in that emptiness of the tomb – we are invited to partake and experience in this newness of Christ. Where because Christ was not present in that tomb – we know that Christ has promised to be present with us here – to be present with us in the community we gather in, in the words we speak, in the songs we sing, in the life we live, in the bread and wine in which we are about to eat and drink. To be present in our hearts where he’s promised to dwell.

Jesus is here – because he’s no longer there in that tomb. The tomb is empty! And because that tomb is empty – we are full

Full of life.

Full of grace.

Full of hope.

God has come and changed the rules. God has poured out love, to fill the emptiness of our lives.

Because that tomb is empty – God says death is not final. Whatever fear or control death has over us – it is no more.

Because that tomb is empty – Christ says I’m here for all.

Because that tomb is empty – we have hope. We have grace. We have life.

Because that tomb is empty – we are here, whether we’ve been here the whole time or are curious as to what this means. Perhaps you’ve been separated because your own emptiness. Maybe you’re listening on the radio wondering what all this could mean. Regardless of how you got here; you’re here. We are here.

We’re here to experience this story again. This story and this promise of a man who died on a cross for the world, and again for the world walked out of his own tomb.

We celebrate ‘empty’ today – an empty because love and hope; grace and life has been poured out overwhelmingly into the world.

Do not be afraid my sisters and brothers. Proclaim this message in all that you do, in all that you are, be overzealous in your proclamation. We celebrate this empty tomb. We know that because Jesus isn’t there in the tomb, Jesus is here with us in all times and places. Christ has been raised from the dead. We are here today and all days because of Christ’s death and resurrection. It’s a strange story, one where we find strength in shame, we find hope at the foot of a cross – an instrument of death – and where we receive new life as Jesus passes over from death to life. We remember and celebrate God’s awesome power and love.

We celebrate that Christ died and has risen for the ENTIRE world. We celebrate that Jesus has taken upon the sin and shame of all creation in his death and has been resurrected in new life so that WE, the entirety of creation, might have new life.

We celebrate empty today. We celebrate emptiness because God’s love has been fully poured out. Poured out to fill our own emptiness. To fill us to the brim with grace and wonder. We celebrate empty as a reminder in the promise that we are filled.

The tomb is empty. Thanks be to God. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia! Amen.

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April 13, 2017, 12:00 AM

the one about a meal and a command...


Sermon from Maundy Thursday
April 13, 2017

Text: John 13: 1-17, 31b-35

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer – amen.

So, as people we like to eat, don’t we? If you think of the celebrations we get to participate in – most, if not all of them – are centered around a meal. We have the yearly celebrations like birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas dinners, the Fourth of July and anniversaries. We have the not quite so frequent celebrations of family reunions, weddings, and even funerals. But, when you think about it a little more, we celebrate with meals all the time. It’s a treat to eat with your family. Especially when you don’t get to see them very often. Whenever you invite friends over for fellowship (or in turn are invited over to another’s home) normally a meal is involved.

We share in our conversation, our laughter, our love. We have a meal together – whether it be a home cooked meal or even a bite to eat at a local restaurant – because we want to eat with one another. Sharing food with another person brings equality, honor, and respect to all involved. It is a way that we show our love and care for those around us.

Though, it isn’t just meeting with friends and family either that we celebrate with a meal. When I meet with colleagues, we gather for a meeting and then go out to eat for further discussion and fellowship. Maybe a co-worker is moving on to another job or is retiring – so, we celebrate and eat. Each and every visit I get to partake in I’m always offered a bite to eat and even a refreshing drink. Sometimes the conversation and celebration in our ‘breaking of bread’ is so jubilant that we forget why we gathered in the first place. For those that work in vocations that require meeting with clients; how often do you meet over a meal? My guess is more often than not.

You can usually tell how close you are to another individual or group of individuals based on whether or not you will eat with them or if others will eat with you. When you’re able to sit down and share a meal together, it brings an intimacy and closeness to that relationship. I’ve known plenty of people that were ‘kind’ to someone, but would refuse to ‘break bread’ with that person or group based off of a past discrepancy or issue. I’m sure many of you have seen or experienced similar situations in your lives.

Eating and sharing a meal is incredibly important, intimate, and special for us as a part of humanity. This relationship between people and food was not lost on God nor God’s son…

We come to Maundy Thursday – the first day of the Holy Three Days – and we observe Jesus sharing a meal with his closest friends. A meal that is incredibly familiar to them as they observed the Passover, but yet Jesus does something in this meal to set it apart from the normal observance of Passover.

In this meal of love and remembrance, Jesus adds a little more. He stoops down to wash the feet of his friends. There is probably nothing more humbling for a leader to grab hold of the feet of his followers and wash and dry them. Jesus sets this meal a part by showing them the lengths of his love and service for and with them. Later on, he invites them further into this sort of love and in turn invites each and every one of us into that kind of love as well. All within this meal.

This is a meal that links Jesus’ disciples intimately with their ancestors, yet also joins them to those who will come after them (you know – us). This meal that we share every Sunday does the same for us as well. In this meal, we are joined with those who have come before us – with the millions who celebrate with us – and with those who will come after us. It is amazing to realize how big this meal actually is. This is a meal that sends us out to be humble in service among all our neighbors. Filling us with our Lord to serve out of love in ways that others would not expect.

This happens all because Jesus says he is present in this meal. He is present in this bread and in this wine. We as Lutherans look to this meal and we can confidently say that Jesus is indeed present in, with, and under the bread and the wine. Jesus is so present in this meal that it is like his body and blood.

This is a meal that we are blessed to receive and in which we get to participate in as often as we can. It doesn’t diminish the ‘goodness’ of this meal the more we partake in it. In fact, in my opinion – the more we partake in this meal the more we get to realize how special this meal is. This is Jesus sharing himself with us in one of the most intimate and close ways we can as humans. In the sharing of himself, we are called to share ourselves – filled with him – with all those around us.

At the end of this meal, after Jesus has shown his disciples what love and service is; he gives a new commandment to his disciples – a commandment of love. Just as he loved them, they are called to love one another – and love others as well.

Jesus shares his love for us by being present in this meal – as Paul tells us in our text from First Corinthians – and as Jesus himself states in our other Gospels. We share that love with one another by eating this meal together and being sent from this table to love and serve the Lord and those before us. Coming to this table and each taking in the body and blood of our Lord – the real presence of Christ within the bread and wine – together. Bringing us each to an equal level. Knowing that no matter where we are in the ‘social status’ of life that the world has lodged us in – we are equals at this table. We all share in this meal offered to us by our Lord.

In this meal, we know that we are forgiven. What a wonderful opportunity this evening to remember that even more fully as we approach the season of Easter. For Jesus shared this meal with his fellow friends – knowing full well that they would all desert and run away from him during his time of suffering, crucifixion, and death. Yet, in that knowledge – Jesus shares a meal with them reiterating time and time again that this is a meal for you.

That in this meal we are gifted the presence and grace of God. It is in this meal that we know that we are forgiven because Christ is there with us. Jesus is again extending to us that new commandment of love by sharing this meal with us. Sending us out to be servants of those before us. Loving and serving others in unexpected and beautiful ways. Inviting and calling us to bring others to this meal because it is in the sharing of a meal that we can extend love towards one another.

Where we all can gather around this table and live out that love – knowing that Christ comes to each of us as we gather here. Christ comes to each of us as we eat of this bread and drink from this cup. Where Christ sends each and every one of us out into the world – filled with his presence in this meal – to love and serve those around us.

To know, believe, and live into the promise that despite what we have done, what we fail to do, and how we stubbornly stand in opposition at times to God’s love for the world that this meal is continually and freely offered to us. We come to this table as forgiven children of God. Filled with the life and love of our Lord to live out that love and promise to all.

Every time we celebrate and partake in this meal – we are being filled with Christ’s command to go and love because in this meal we know that we are loved. That this is a meal for us. That in this meal we know we are forgiven.

In this meal, we know that Christ is present – in, with, and under the bread and the wine. Yes, it is bread and it is wine. But, it is also Jesus. Broken and poured out for us – out of love and grace. Where we too are called to share this meal and this love with those around us.

By that love – they will know that we are followers of Christ. Our Lord shares a meal with us out of love. We are called to share a meal – out of and in love – with all around us. Amen.

 

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April 2, 2017, 5:36 PM

the one about those words...


Sermon from April 2, 2017

Text: John 11: 1-45

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ; will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, here we are at the last Sunday in Lent. Lent – though short in weeks – still at times feels very long. Mostly because of what the season encourages – fasting – and especially in this year of the lectionary because of the really long gospel readings.

This Sunday is no different in the long gospel department. Yet, still it is a story that we know very well. Even before we began reading it I’m sure that if I asked any of you to tell me the summary of the Lazarus story most – if not all – of you would be able to say, “Oh, yeah that’s the story of the guy Jesus raised from the dead.”

And, you’d all be right and get a gold star.

But, of course there is more to this story than just Lazarus being resuscitated back to the living. There are so many images and phrases within these 45 verses that are incredibly powerful and perplexing. In fact, this Wednesday for Newberry College’s Lenten Devotionals I’ll be mentioning one of the more perplexing parts of this story. However, that’s not where I felt drawn for this morning’s sermon.

This is a story full of immense and intense emotion. We encounter these mourners of Lazarus at their lowest depths; wailing and weeping at the loss of their friend and brother. We see Jesus overcome with intense emotion as well. Is he sad? Angry? Exasperated? Probably a mixture of all of those. There is confusion as Jesus calls for the stone to removed; followed by anticipation and then exultation when the dead man shambles into the light from the darkness within the cave.

Lots of emotion.

We too experience emotion on grand scales. I’ve been with many in mourning at the loss of a sibling, a parent, a friend, or a child. I’ve walked with those moving through the torment of separation and divorce. Some have shared with me their struggles with addiction and depression. We are all witness to our country’s politics that at this time seem to be a battle of extremes with no middle ground or compromise to be made. There are reports and articles of violence here, collusion there, corruption in so many places. There are equally the number of articles that hope and aim to disprove so much of what we hear and at times what we take for granted.

There is all this and so much more. Arguments. Divisiveness. Angst. Mourning. Fear. Trepidation. Confusion. Apathy. Frustration.

We as individuals and as a community are experiencing an do experience intense and immense emotions. We don’t know how to make sense of it all and that just adds into and multiplies our fears and worries.

Yet, this morning on this fifth Sunday of Lent we continue to embark on this journey towards the cross and the resurrection. This morning we hear a foretaste of the feast to come as Lazarus’ life is restored.

This morning, we also hear three of the most powerful words in a phrase that is full of faith and hope. Words that console us – console me – during these turbulent times. A phrase that reminds me of the power of our God in the midst of all of this.

Before, I mention what I believe those three powerful words are (and who speaks them), I’m going to tell you what words they are not. I’m going to tell you who doesn’t utter them.

Those powerful words of deep and abiding faith are not uttered by our Lord this morning. Shocking, right? How many of you expected me to say that what I feel is the most radical and comforting phrase in our gospel lesson this morning was “Lazarus, come out! Or “Now, unbind him.” Or “Let him go.”?

Those are indeed powerful and comforting words. That even in death our Lord calls us out of our tombs with such force and confidence. Or that with words our Lord calls for the shackles that bind us to death to be removed in his great love. But, as powerful as those words are – I find even greater comfort and action in the words of the disciple Martha.

Lord, if you were here, my bother would not have died.

But, even now… I know that God will give you whatever you ask.

But, even now.

Those are powerful words. That is a phrase full of faith.

How I hope and pray to live a life of ‘but, even now’ today and in the future.

A life that recognizes the hardship and struggle of today, but looks towards the future in the guidance of the Spirit and the comfort of God.

My brother has died, but even now I know he is held firmly in your arms as you hold us all.

I can’t seem to shake the grip that this has on me, but even now I know that your grip on me O God is even stronger and I cling to and place my hope in that.

I am at a loss in the direction our country is moving towards, but even now I have faith that God is in the midst of this. Calling for us to see Christ at work and present in our lives and in the lives of all those around us.

But, even now.

Those my sisters and brothers are powerful words. Those are words full of faith and hope. Those are words I hope and pray that lead us in and through this life of faith.

But, even now.

Recognizing the struggle of life, but knowing that Christ is here in the midst of all this with – each of us.

We continue to journey through Lent and towards our Lord’s death and resurrection. We continue to look towards the guidance of our God of hope and love. We continue to strive to live a life that is with and for God.

A life of faith where we cannot help, but get in the way of faith. Filling ourselves and others with distractions that pull us away from our God and keep us from seeing the kingdom of heaven at work and present among us.

But, even now… Amen.

 

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April 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

April 2017 Newsletter


I pray and hope that each of you reading this are doing well as the weather begins to get warmer. Hopefully the yellow tint of the world at the moment isn’t keeping you too down and out!

So, spring is finally here! The weather is getting warmer, flowers are beginning to bloom, and animals are starting to emerge and add their noise to the melody of life around us. Spring just might be might favorite season. That which was old and dead has new life bursting from it.

As winter transitions to spring, one of my favorite activities is to just sit and listen. Listening to the life that is beginning to wake up and burst forth around us. I love the sound of birds and animals chirping and ‘speaking’ in their own way. I imagine they are calling out to the world, “We’re still here! You can’t hold us down!” I love hearing those noises after the ‘dead’ silence of winter.

What would our world – what would we - be like if we were this excited and eager to proclaim and share? We have an amazing message to give to those around us in our community. We can shout from the rooftops towards the world, “We’re still here! You can’t hold us down!” Why? Christ is here! God has redeemed the world through Jesus’ saving action on the cross. The Spirit is guiding us towards a life that reminds us that we are not dead. That we live a life of new life. Of eternal life. All because of what God has done in Christ for the world.

As we approach the end of the season of Lent we continually become more excited about the message of Easter. That thrum and heartbeat of new life continues to build and resonate through our very depths. The closer Easter approaches, the louder and quicker that beat drums. Throughout Lent we build up to proclaim this message to the world.

That’s an exciting message to proclaim. So, get out. Shout! Speak to the world. Drive back the ‘dead silence’ with the proclamation that Christ is a victor over death and we are joined into that victory through our baptisms! What a wonderful story to share with those around us!

Join in with the birds and the animals in the celebration of new life! Add your voice to the orchestra of proclamation of God’s victory in Christ! Let’s do this!

 




March 27, 2017, 8:09 AM

the one about hearing...


Sermon from March 26, 2017

Text: John 9: 1-41

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, like I said, these past few gospel readings and even the next two are all exceptionally long. They are also packed with so much information that we can’t cover everything. In all of this it seems like I – like we – do a disservice to these texts because we can’t cover everything that they speak about. Sometimes that is frustrating, but in other ways it is very freeing as well. Allowing us the opportunity to just focus in on one thing, while opening up our curiosity to dive in further for the others.

This morning we get to look in on something that I think we all assume is about one thing – sight and light. And, that’s true. It is about sight and light. A man who was born blind is healed with regained sight. He was blind, now he sees. Jesus talks at length about sight and blindness. Everyone wants to know how this man can now see. Was he really born blind or was he pulling one over on everybody throughout his life? This text indeed centers a lot around sight, light, and blindness.

But, as I read this text again I started to notice something else too. This text also centers around ‘conversation’ and ‘hearing’. I want to pose a question – does anyone actually hear this newly healed man? To make it easy for you, yes – but, only one person actually listens to him. Our Lord listens and speaks with him.

No one else does.

The disciples talk about him in a way to make sense about their discomfort in his existence. What I mean by that is that they speak about the blind man in front of them and ask Jesus why this man is blind. Is it his fault or the fault of his parents? The man’s ‘sin’ brings them unease because they don’t know how to process his very being among them. His existence is an outlier to what they consider normal or routine. They use him as a seminary discussion topic. They don’t talk to him, they talk about him to figure out what went ‘wrong’.

Yet, when Jesus does speak to him – he doesn’t accuse him or place blame on him. He spits and wipes mud on his eyes and tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam.

The neighbors that see him don’t talk to him. They babble among themselves if this is really the guy that they’ve known for so long. Even when the man attempts to tell him that he is in fact that man, they ignore him.

The Pharisees – those in authority within the Jewish society – speak words to this man, but they don’t talk to him. They don’t even really listen to him. They don’t even want to know that he’s been healed; they want to know how and by who. They want to know just the means of his healing and if it was ‘lawful’ to conduct it. Because if he was healed on the sabbath, then obviously, it wasn’t of God because we aren’t supposed to do anything on that day and everyone knows better.

Even the man’s parents don’t talk to or about him. They tell the authorities to just talk to their son. They don’t know what’s going on and they aren’t going to find out.

No one talks. They spout words, accusations, and blame. Nobody talks to this man. He wasn’t ‘worthy’ to talk in his previous state and even now there must be some dubious reason as to why he has been ‘healed’ (if he really ever was blind).

Even today, we don’t do a very good job at talking with one another.

When I walk and journey with couples in premarital conversations leading up to their wedding date, one of the first things we go over is communication. We have a habit as people that when we talk, we talk only to respond and never to hear or listen to the other person. We pay attention just enough in order to respond in some fashion. I listen to hear what I want and I keep that thought in my head until you quit moving your mouth so I can respond. Sometimes we respond to the ‘good’ things another speaks about, but we really practice this ‘non-attentive’ listening when we disagree with something. Especially when it concerns something about us in some way.

This happens among our relationships with our friends and our families. It happens within marriage. We see it on display in almost every conversation we witness on television. Whether people are talking about sports, religion, or politics no one is actually having a conversation, it’s just voices rising above one another.

We fail to listen, because we see what we want to see. We speak to that in order to prove what we perceive in those around us.

Yet, here comes Jesus again throwing our worldview upside down.

He refuses to place blame on this man born blind. Instead he heals him to show God’s glory and power. Jesus speaks with and listens to this man not because he has been healed, but because he is a creation and child of God. He speaks with him because of whose he is.

For me, that’s pretty powerful and speaks directly to us as well. We all – even I many times – have a bad habit of not speaking with others. We love to talk about others. Especially those people who are different from us in some way. When we are afforded the opportunity to develop a potential relationship and conversation with another, we do so in such a way to confirm our own preconceived notions. We don’t listen to them.

This morning we get to be witness to this miraculous sign of a man receiving sight for the first time in his life. All throughout this story we are witness to people who can’t even talk with this man about what has happened. They talk at him, they talk around him, but they don’t talk with him.

He is witness and product of the greatest sign in his entire life – he wants to talk to anyone and everyone about this wonderful gift; yet, no one will talk with him.

The disciples don’t. The neighbors won’t. The Pharisees don’t listen. Even his parents kick the can down the line.

The only one who does listen is our Lord. The only one who will look him in his new filled with life eyes to tell him what this means. He’s the Son of man.

The Son of Man – our Lord – Jesus who is the Christ has come into the world to bring light and life. Our God has opened our eyes through his life, death, and resurrection so that we might see the truth and life around us. In that seeing, we are invited to be in conversation not only with God through prayer and thanksgiving, but we also are invited to be in conversation, relationship, and love with those around us.

Even and especially with those we could not see before – the homeless, the naked, the afraid, the hungry, the hurt.

As the light shines on and in the kingdom of heaven in our midst – we cannot help, but see, hear, and listen to those around us. Inviting them not only to hear the word of God proclaimed through our lips, but to share in our life with them. To hear them. To know them more fully. To be able to better care for them completely.

We can’t bring healing and wholeness – even with the Word of God – if we cannot see or if we refuse to see the hurt and the needs of those around us. Even if we do see, even if we do somehow resist the urge to be ‘blind’ to others hurts and needs, we can’t help unless we talk and listen.

Our Lord shows us the way. Jesus is the light. Let us follow. Amen.

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March 20, 2017, 9:29 AM

the one about barriers and conversations


Sermon from March 19, 2017

Text: John 4: 5-42

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, wow. That was a long reading, right? Well, get used to it because the next few weeks are all very long readings. Every three years we get to this point in the lectionary where we hear Jesus speak with an individual in an extended discourse. Last week we got a taste of that as we listened in on Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus at night. Today, we listened in on Jesus’ conversation with a Samaritan woman at the well of her village.

Because we are so removed from the climate and culture of the time in which we read of this morning, we lose a little bit of the radical shock and scandal that Jesus has stepped into and lived through. There’s a lot going on in this story from John’s gospel – and I won’t be able to cover all of it here, but there really and truly is a lot going on.

But, the one thing that I did want us to focus in on is the sheer desire of our Lord to cross those boundaries that others are unwilling to venture near. Our Lord breaks so many cultural taboos in our gospel reading this morning. He goes above and beyond what anyone else would do. He goes against the norms of the day in order to speak with, begin relationship with, and to bring God’s presence.

In that desire – through that love for all – Jesus welcomes this woman at the well into the life of faith, and if I’m being honest and a little scandalous here – in John’s gospel she becomes the first apostle. She hears our Lord, she’s compelled to share his message, she invites others to know him as well, and she leads them to that source of new life. That’s the definition of an apostle y’all.

This morning we are confronted with our Lord – our God – who travels boldly over those boundaries and taboos in order to be with all those who yearn and need to hear this word of love and grace. Jesus – a Jew – enters into a Samaritan village.

Then we listen in on Jesus’ conversation about water while sitting at a well. The person he is speaking to is a Samaritan. Samaritans are the ‘culturally bad’ people that good Jewish boys and girls are told to stay away from. Samaritans are outsiders and in a culture that focuses on ritual purity and cleanliness you didn’t mix what was considered ‘bad’ or ‘dirty’ with what was considered ‘good’ in your own culture.

For us there really isn’t a central cultural group that we all have strong feelings against. There are some that would attempt to put or name a group here that there are a lot of tensions with – strong tensions – but, it still wouldn’t encompass that for everybody. But, to drive the point home for each of us; imagine that Jesus approached a person who was from a group you have the most tension with and towards.

I don’t want to put words in your head – so I’m not going to name groups of people – but, think about that group that you would most like to not be seen around. That group that you would steer clear of, you caution everyone you meet to be wary of ‘those people.’ That is a different group for each of us.

Now, you got that group in your head? Good. Know this; Jesus goes to talk to them. Jesus goes to show them love. Jesus steps over your own boundaries and walls that you’ve erected in order to be with them; fully and completely.

Jesus deliberately travels across that boundary through this area of Samaria. In spite of those who cautioned him to steer clear, Jesus does it anyways. He’s not here to maintain status quos.

And not only does he talk to a Samaritan, but he talks to a woman! And not just talk to her but, out in public! In the middle of town where everyone else came to get their water. This isn’t some back-water hole on the outskirts of town. This is the famous well given to them by their ancestor Jacob! This is what their town was built around. Jesus isn’t about having ‘secret’ meetings to talk about faith and proclaim the kingdom.

So, not only does Jesus talk to a Samaritan. Not only is he talking to a woman. Not only is he talking to her in public. But, he is talking to her as an equal! This isn’t supposed to happen. Women, at this time, were unfairly treated and not given the same level of equality as that of men. Jesus comes into conversation with anyone and everyone. He is not interested in limiting the message that is to be proclaimed for all the world – for all people. All are to hear this message – equally. There is no barrier to hear OR proclaim.

Yet, Jesus continues doing unthinkable things. On top of all of these barriers that Jesus is breaking – his conversations centers a bit around sex! Jesus – come on – what are you doing! Jesus is out there in public talking to this woman about the ‘husbands’ she’s had and that the current guy she’s shacked up with isn’t even her husband now. Yet, Jesus talks to her and tells her about who he is and what he brings. Jesus doesn’t shy away from sensitive subjects nor does he appear to limit his message from individuals who live a life different than he’d probably want.

Jesus is there sharing and proclaiming the everlasting water. Jesus is there telling her who he is.

Nowhere else in John’s gospel is Jesus as direct about his own identity than he is here with the woman at the well.

Jesus is ‘I am.’ Jesus steps across the cultural and physical boundaries and divides and offers himself to one on the other side. He gives of himself freely to this woman who is on the outside of the life of faith in which Jesus was raised in and in which he initially proclaimed towards. Jesus comes to speak and share with one who was pushed to the cultural outskirts of her own people.

He speaks with her. He shares with her. He invites her into a deeper relationship. He sends her to bring her ‘husband’ as well.

But, she doesn’t do that. Instead, she goes to tell everyone about who this man is. Not only does she tell them, she invites them to see him, know him, to be with him.

She’s an apostle. She’s an evangelist. She’s one of the first.

All because Jesus was willing to break down those barriers and have a real conversation with someone. Jesus comes to be in a real relationship with this woman. He never dismisses her, despite that people would more than likely consider her dismissible. He doesn’t talk about her previous relationships in a way to talk down to her – but in mentioning it to prove who he is. How else would this stranger who had never met her know these things?

In our own conversations with those who are ‘different,’ with those who live a life a little (or even vastly) different from our own. We tend to talk ‘down’ to those who we don’t agree with totally. We tend to speak negatively. Where our conversations aren’t truly ‘loving’ or ‘full of care’ because we don’t agree with how that other person has lived. And then if we even attempt to have the conversation about faith – its ended before its even begun. Those conversations don’t center around the gift of life that comes from Jesus – no matter who you are – but, instead devolve into something that sounds like, “If you had this that I offer – you wouldn’t be the way you are now.”

Jesus doesn’t talk to this woman that way and I don’t think we’re called to that either. Like Jesus – we can have conversations with all around us about faith and life where we share and grow with one another. Because we get to share this wonderful message of a Savior who comes to be in relationship with us. A relationship of love and care. A God who isn’t afraid to acknowledge the sin – but doesn’t use it as a club over our heads.

Instead – Jesus states the elephant in the room – and says – Listen, I know about this. I’m still here. I still want to be with you. I still want to share with you. I still want you to be with me because my love is more than that. It always will be. No matter what. On top of all that – Jesus wants her to share the message he brings. This woman at the well is sent to proclaim God’s word.

Jesus is there calling us to be in relationship with folks – to be in conversations – to proclaim this message of love, acceptance, and grace. Within those conversations there will be times of awkwardness – but, we are called to proclaim.

We get to share this wonderful message of Christ to the entire world. There’s little that can or should keep us from sharing the message, nor is there anything that keeps people from receiving this message – this grace – this love of God. That’s awesome.

Jesus shares this message and invites us into this conversation of love even with those on the outskirts. Even with those whom we disagree with. So, if Jesus is willing talk to those whom we call ‘them,’ surely Jesus is willing to talk, invite, share with, and love us.

Jesus is at work – in us, through us, for us. Jesus is out having the conversations – we get to be a part of that. I love it. Amen.

 

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March 13, 2017, 12:00 AM

the one about the question...


Sermon from March 12, 2017

Text: John 3: 1-17

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, it is an age-old question. It is a question that many have debated, it has split traditions, churches, and families. It is a question that is asked within this conversation that we ‘spy’ in on within our gospel this morning. That question?

Is it born from above or born again? What and perhaps who is Jesus talking about?

The oddest and at times maddening part about all this is that Jesus answers a question that appears so far out of left field. In fact, Nicodemus doesn’t even ask a question let alone the question that Jesus is answering. Nicodemus here is still ‘buttering’ up Jesus in hopes that he sees his approach to him in a non-threatening way.

The image that always pops into my mind as I read John 3 is that of an old film-noir crime story. Two individuals meet in secret in the dead of night with only a lone street light lighting them both. You know those conversations always have deeper significance and ulterior motives. After the conversation ends, the party that arranges the meeting fades back into the cold darkness never to be seen again.

Thinking of it in that way, I can surmise that Nicodemus truly wanted Jesus to know that he doesn’t come with ulterior motives, not at behest of the Jewish authorities and religious elite to which he is a member.

Nevertheless, Jesus cuts right to the chase.

One must be born from above or be born again/anew.

Naturally, we along with Nicodemus are taken aback. The ‘answer’ to the unasked question seems so out there that we are literally caught off guard. When we collect ourselves, we too ask the same questions that Nicodemus does. Still, Jesus’ response hits us square in the gut. Now, he’s answering a question that isn’t being asked as our Lord talks about being born from the Spirit.

As this conversation unfolds, we try to view this all as something that we must do. We must be born from above/again. It is here that I’m being more and more convinced that Jesus just might not be talking about us. Perhaps, just maybe – Jesus is referring to himself.

As we enter into the second week of our Lenten journey, we are confronted with the sin that has been with us from the beginning of time. The sin that it’s all about ‘us.’ That sin where everything revolves around me. They must be talking about me. That’s all about us. Everything.

Now, naturally what God does is indeed for us. In fact, those words ‘for you’ are pivotal to our understanding of the meal in which we will partake in just a few moments and in which we get to receive each week. We know that this meal – this act that we are linked to of Jesus’ ‘final’ supper with his disciples – is indeed for us. We know in our forgiveness through Jesus’ loving action of salvation on the cross we are fed this meal.

It is for us.

But, when so many important, pivotal, and monumental moments of our scripture point towards us, there is the sin that leaks in everywhere else – that everything must be about us.

Yet, here I still think that Jesus is referring to himself.

Nicodemus is stating all those ‘buttery’ truths about Jesus; he is from God, he performs miraculous signs and deeds. No one could do that apart from God.

Jesus agrees, accept he isn’t just a teacher. He’s the one born from above. He’s the one who has come down to point us towards a birth in spirit. He’s the one who sees the kingdom of God at hand. He’s the one who not only has come from God, he isn’t the one who only has God present with him, he is literally of God.

The one sent from above.

Throughout the season of Lent we do a lot of stuff that’s pretty selfish. Sure, selfish for our own Good. But, many of us – myself included at times – view our Lenten disciplines as little ‘new year’s resolutions 2.0.’ It didn’t stick 2.5 months ago, so I’m going to ‘re-up’ during Lent.

I’m going to the gym so I can be in better shape.

I’m going to give up cursing so I can be a better person.

I’m going to give up chocolates/dessert/sweets because I don’t need that…as much.

It’s always about us.

As we read this part of John’s gospel, maybe it’s not always about us. Maybe, just maybe it’s about Jesus. Also, just a pastor point – the way in which John’s gospel is written it is usually more about Jesus than it is about us.

We love John’s gospel so much because it swiftly and deftly points everything to Jesus. Jesus is the one in control. The signs he performs point to him. Every word that comes from his lips, every act that he performs, every step his feet take him – point to who he is.

Jesus cries out to us in so many subtle and direct ways that he’s talking about himself. It’s as if he is pointing at his own chest as he speaks here. Then, and only then, does he breathlessly utter those words that we love so dear. Those words that we have reduced to car bumper stickers, notes written on eye-black, hashtags upon social media, and more.

After Jesus points to himself as the one born from above we receive John 3:16 – For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

Don’t worry – I purposely used a different translation than one I’d imagine you are used to hearing. Hearing things in similar ways helps us hear it again as if for the first time.

God sent the one from above to be present with us. That is how much God loves us – sending us God’s own from above to be with us. As Nicodemus begins ‘buttering’ up Jesus with truth and accolades, Jesus is busy building Nicodemus and us up to see our Lord for who he really is.

Yet – thankfully – Jesus doesn’t stop there. We hear that God loves the world. God has sent the Son. God seeks eternal life, not death. He then continues -  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him.

Folks – throughout John’s gospel Jesus is talking about who he is. He points to where he’s come from. He invites us into that relationship of love, worship, and service. He reaches out in words and actions to grab a hold of us as if to say, “I’m here. I’ve always been here. I love you. Do not be afraid. Let’s get to work.”

The beginning of this conversation spoken in the darkness of night, points to the one born from above, the one who brings light to the world, the one who is the light of the world. The one who was indeed sent from God – God’s own – to bring life and not death. For God did not send this one – God’s own son – to sentence us, but so that we all might be saved through him.

So, it might not always be about us when Jesus is talking – especially in John’s gospel. But, in that love that God has for us and through our Lord – it always ends up being for us.

That’s what I want to remember during Lent. It’s not always about us, but it just might always be for us and the world. That’s how God loves. That’s the love that Jesus invites us into as well. Amen.

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March 6, 2017, 7:05 AM

the one about jesus in the wilderness...


Sermon from March 5, 2017

Text: Matthew 4: 1-11

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ. Will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen.

So, here we are. Lent has begun. Again. On this first Sunday in Lent we are reminded again of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.

Wilderness. A place far away. Removed from the world.

As we think about what a physical wilderness is, those are some of the ways that we would use to describe such a place. But, theologically our ‘wilderness’ moments aren’t exactly like that.

For many of us, we would describe our ‘wilderness’ in the life of faith as a sense of ‘being.’ We might describe our wilderness as a feeling of being lost in some way. Lost in a world that seems to be rushing by. Lost in a wayward journey through faith filled with doubts, tests, and obstacles.

Perhaps you might describe the wilderness in your life as a result of something you believe you’ve done or failed to do. The wilderness is a time of ‘punishment’ against you or you see a friend or family member experiencing.

Those are how we describe our own wilderness moments and experiences. So, there is the temptation to think that Jesus must be going through something similar. He’s literally removed from society. He’s wandering through the desert for 40 days, so he might be lost. He’s being tempted and tested by the evil one. That sounds pretty similar to how we might describe our own wilderness experiences. We are just like Jesus! Right?

No, not really. Jesus’ experience in the wilderness being tempted and tested does not quite equate to what we experience in our own wilderness moments in our life.

In this pivotal story from our gospel this morning, we see Jesus in the wilderness in an effort to prove to us who and whose Jesus is. It is here that we are shown proof of Jesus’ readiness as God’s beloved Son.

Jesus isn’t lost. He’s guided by the Holy Spirit to this place of preparation. He’s gone here for a purpose. To be tested and tempted within his debate with the evil one.

Before we get to this point in Matthew’s gospel, the writer has been building up the credentials of Jesus. We’ve got his family history. We have miraculous stories regarding his own birth. We are introduced to wise men who have sought and journeyed to pay him homage and respect. His very existence is so frightening to the king of the land that extreme measures are taken in order to thwart this one day would-be king of the Jews.

Jesus’ ministry plan at this point has begun as well. He’s been baptized. The clouds have opened. The Spirit has descended. The Voice has bellowed – this is my son, the beloved, with whom I’m well pleased.

We’ve got all of that, and still we are given more. We are told this story as even further proof as to who Jesus is. That this one – this Son of God – truly is who he claims and proclaims himself to be because he withstood and ‘passed’ the test in the wilderness. His preparation is complete.

Jesus is tempted and tested with those things that would buckle even the most faithful person. Hunger, safety, power, and loyalty.

Jesus is hungry. He’s offered the chance to relieve his hunger by turning stones to bread.

The Evil One knows that this man is special – wouldn’t God not let you be injured? Why not prove me wrong?

Look at all these kingdoms – it could all be yours. Free reign. So long as you bend the knee.

I’m pretty certain everyone would’ve fallen to at least one if not all of these tests. Especially that last one. I like to think I’d be a very benevolent dictator.

Yet, in each test Jesus’ response is ‘no.’ He continually thwarted the evil one’s plan and agenda. Jesus withstands when each of us would’ve succumbed.

Now, many might say here that you just gotta be like Jesus! Must withstand! Don’t turn your back on God! Be strong against temptation like our Lord Jesus!

But, we gathered here earlier this week for Ash Wednesday. Where within that service we confessed our sin. We confessed our failure to live into the life that God has set before us. We did this by our fault. Our own fault. Our own most grievous fault.

We journey through Lent with the idea and the goal of ‘giving something up.’ It may be coffee, or fast food. You might give up saying or thinking harsh things about strangers you encounter. But, all it takes is one rushed and full afternoon, with little sleep the night before, and that jerk just swerved and cut you off!

I just had to do it. Who wouldn’t? I was hungry, I was tired, that guy really is a jerk!

We fall. We always do.

So, what are we told in this gospel story this morning? It isn’t that Jesus is just super squeaky clean in life. It isn’t that Jesus is just better than us and is a model that we couldn’t ever possibly hope to live up to.

We are reminded this day that Jesus withstood the temptation and test of the evil one – not to rub it in our noses that he is so much better than us. We don’t read this story in hope that we can ‘be just like our Lord.’ If we do that – we end up feeling a little envious, perhaps a tad bitter, because no matter what we won’t get there.

This day – this first Sunday of Lent – we are reminded of who and whose Jesus is. We are reminded and given proof that Jesus is exactly who he claims to be. If the body of work that preceded this story didn’t convince us of this – then surely this story is the cherry on top.

Jesus is able to do this because of who he is. He is the Son of God. He’s able to stand firm in the presence of God because he is God’s son.

So, again – what does that mean for us?

For that we turn to the very end of Matthew’s Gospel. It is here that Jesus tells his disciples – Jesus tells us – that he is with us always, to the end of the age.

Throughout this Gospel – throughout our Gospel led life – we are reminded that the one we follow has already gone before us. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again and again. We worship, we live for, we serve with a God who has come to be with us. Through everything.

We don’t worship a God who is out there somewhere over the rainbow. We don’t worship a God who set life in motion and then just left us to fend for ourselves. No, we worship a God who has fashioned us from the dust, whose hands are dirty with creation and life, whose breath has given us new and renewed life, who continues to be at work in and amongst us.

God’s never left.

We are reminded that in the temptations we face. In the tests that we endure. God is there.

Even when we fall. Even when we experience setbacks. Even when we turn away. God is there.

God is there to remind us of who and whose we are.

Reminding us that who we are – those relationships we’ve cultivated, the accolades and the accomplishments we’ve acquired, those things that make us ‘who’ we are. All of that can end in an instant or a moment. It can all come crashing down.

But, we are reminded throughout our scriptures and in this season of Lent about whose we are. We. Are. God’s.

That is eternal. That never ceases.

So, we move through this journey during the season of Lent. Striving, hoping, and praying that we are able to withstand the temptations of our lives. We seek to ‘give up’ those things that draw us away from the love of our Lord. Those moments that keep us from seeing those around us as fellow beloved children of our God. We give up those times where we stop seeing the Spirit present in our lives as we read through scripture, pray, give of ourselves and our possessions, caring for those around us, and more. In all of that we will most likely fall short. We always do.

Yet, we remember that in spite of those falls. God is with us. Jesus is calling us. The Spirit is guiding us.

Where we remember that we live into that sort of life not so that God will love us or continue to love us, but we live into that sort of life of faith because God does love us. Because Jesus has already gone before us. Because the Spirit is always guiding us.

Lent isn’t about measuring up (or more accurately failing to measure up). Lent is a reminder that we are tempted and tested throughout our life and though we might fail and fall in those moments, Christ is there to pull us up. God moves us forward because we cannot do it on our own.

Lent is that constant reminder that God is here. Not as the overbearing and judgmental figure to impose harsh punishments. But, instead as that constant presence of grace and love.

We cannot live a life of faith like Christ. But, we can live a life of faith because of Christ.

The debt has been paid. The victory has been won. The foe has been defeated.

We get to live for and with God. And God is always with us – on the mountain, in the valley. Amidst the plain and especially in the wilderness, wherever it takes us – no matter what. Amen.

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