In pm's words
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May 1, 2016, 9:00 AM

May 2016 Newsletter Article

Grace and peace to each of y’all this month!

April was a crazy month. It was a month full of the highest highs – as we ventured into the majority of the season of Easter. Shouting Alleluia, lighting all the candles in worship, getting to be witness to absolutely gorgeous South Carolina weather.

But, April was also a month full of heartache, sadness, and death. One of our oldest members – Charlie Altman – died. We received news of the death of Elaine and Woody Cornwell’s son. Our community was rocked with the news of man’s body found by a passing driver, Lindy Richardson’s drowning death and the fatal car wreck that took the life of Newberry County Schools Superintendent Mr. Bennie Bennett. All of that happened in one week.

Throughout this past month, the one question I have been continually asked is, “Pastor – what can we do? What can we say?”

We ask because it is difficult to know how best to care and love on those who are grieving. We want to help. We want to be able to bring comfort – in any way we can.

What I have been able to share with those that I have been in ministry with during these very mournful times is to say that there is no word or prayer or act that I or anyone else can do to make the hurt go away; to remove this pain from life. The only thing that I can say and do is be present and to say that God is indeed present in this with you. Even when we don’t know exactly where; we have faith and hope that God is there.

What I think gets us in trouble is that those small things don’t feel like they are ‘enough’ of something to do. We feel we have to say something in order to ‘fill the space’ because we don’t like awkward silences and moments.

We say things like, “There is a reason for everything.” “You’re young, you can have more children.” “God loved him so much, God needed him.” “I know how you feel.”

None of those phrases brings comfort to those experiencing death and loss. In fact, many of the things we think are being helpful end up causing more pain and hurt. When you or someone you know has said those things, they were never meant to cause harm or hurt. They were and are said with the best intentions, but it still doesn’t bring comfort.

So, what then can we do or say? We can sit with someone. Tell them we are praying for them. We can acknowledge that we don’t know what to say, but know that we care. We can offer hugs. We can share a memory of the one who died.

We can be present in the moment with someone. Sometimes the best thing we can do is not say anything at all. We’re just there.

We pray. We are present. We remember that God is here with us – in all of this. No matter what.

As I end this, I want to do so on a lighter not so here is a story from one of my favorite comedians – George Carlin. In one of his final shows before his death he talked about what people say after someone dies that no one really questions. One of those things is directed at the surviving spouse and members of the deceased family, “If there is anything I can do – anything – don’t hesitate to ask.”

Carlin’s response (cleaned up for his language…), “Well fine, you can come over this weekend and paint the garage. Bring your plunger too; the upstairs toilet overflowed. You drive a tractor? Good the north forty needs a lot of attention. Get your chainsaw and pickaxe, we’re going to put you to work.”

When we truly think about what we say, we can come to an understanding that not all of it brings comfort. Though we don’t intend to hurt; we might just inadvertently cause pain.

Sometimes – a lot of time – we don’t need to say anything. We just need to be with the ones we love because they are hurting. What a wonderful reminder that God is present with them – as the community surrounds them and is present as well.

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April 25, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one about a new thing...

Sermon from April 24, 2016

Text: Acts 11: 1-18

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? 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, every week we have four readings within our worship service. Each of the readings that have been chosen – as a part of the Revised Common Lectionary – try to have a running theme or thread within them. Sometimes that thread is easily noticed; sometimes it takes some digging to discover it.

Fortunately, I believe this Sunday the thread that binds these texts together is easier to discover than others.

We are in the midst of Easter and we continue to give praise and honor and shout alleluia for what God has done in Christ our Lord. We get to come to worship in the faith, knowledge, and hope that what God has done in the resurrection of Jesus – God will do for us as we are grafted into that relationship and love because of Jesus’ and God’s love for us – shown to us in the victory over sin and death that Christ achieved in his death on the cross and the empty tomb. The promise of the resurrection.

But, where does that lead us? How does that compel us to go forward each day in that knowledge? Where is God taking us in this venture?

What I think that we see here in our readings this morning is that God has done something new and continues in this ‘new’ throughout our lives and world today.

Your response might as well be, “Well duh pastor – we’ve heard that one before! Of course God has done something new!”

And you’d be right. We have heard that phrase before, but I wonder how often we actually see where this ‘new’ takes us and leads us.

Because there is something interesting about a ‘new’ thing. It’s different. It isn’t like what we had before. It involves the dreaded Lutheran word – change.

Look in our first reading this morning from Acts.

As I read this text I cannot help, but think how much this short story reflects what we see in our world – in the church – today.

Those who have ‘always’ been a part of the religious establishment. Those who have always been ‘here’ questioning if these ‘new’ people are really a part of them. They haven’t paid their dues yet. And in the context of our first reading here – the ‘dues’ to be paid could be very painful to quite a few of us here – if you know what I’m saying.

Those who have been Jewish (from the beginning) and who are now following the Way of Jesus the messiah are hesitant about this message being spread to those who haven’t always been a part of their life and group.

I remember in a previous church setting where an individual had a private meeting with me over a concern they had. Their concern? Some people hadn’t ‘been at the church long enough’ and were starting to lead and start things. They hadn’t paid their dues. Of course the individuals in question had been at the church for over eight years.

The underlying concern is that ‘new’ people bring new ideas, new ministries, new ways of doing things, new identities. We get wrapped up in what we’ve always been that we fail and hesitate to see who and where God wants us to be for the world.

These longtime faithful Jewish followers of Jesus were worried about how these new gentiles would change their dynamic, the conversation, the way we approach issues, and more. Their underlying thought was that what we have is for us and no one else. How can we share this?

Yet, Peter tells them a story of a vision he had where God commands him to eat of food that has normally been forbidden. God is adamant. What I say is clean – is clean. Eat and be fed. So Peter eats.

So, Peter living in the midst of this new thing that God is doing goes to those who have always been ‘outside’ the faith of the Hebrew God and they are welcomed. Welcomed because Christ is for us all – not a select and exclusive group. Christ is for all – especially the ones who you – we – think wouldn’t or shouldn’t.

We are able to see and welcome this ‘new thing’ that God is doing in Christ as we read in our Gospel text about Jesus’ new commandment to his disciples. To love one another as he has loved them. Of course, this love isn’t just saying it and it isn’t showing love in the ways that they had done in the past. Jesus’ command to love one another as he has loved comes immediately after Jesus has stooped to wash the feet of his disciples.

Where the love that Jesus talks about is a love that serves others. That brings wholeness to the least of these. A love that gives selflessly to those in need around us. It isn’t a love that is self-serving or only concerned with a select few. It isn’t a love that only walks in familiar buildings, down well-worn paths, and surrounds itself with similar people and ideas.

The new commandment of love that Jesus proclaims and commands is one that sends us out to new places, new people, and in new ways. Proclaiming the gospel to those that others would rather steer clear of. Helping those in need that others have written off because of who they are or where they come from. This commandment to love as Jesus loves guides us into situations and into relationships with others that can make us feel uncomfortable, a little scared because it is different.

And as we live into this new commandment of love, where we are welcoming those who are new, we help live into the vision that the writer of Revelation conveys to us. A new heaven and new earth – where the holy city of God comes down to be with us. Where we realize and recognize that God comes to be with us. The ‘new’ is not that we shed what God has already gifted us to be somewhere else, but that God comes to be with us fully and completely.

This new thing where God is fully and completely present among creation.

As we live into this commandment of love and in this welcoming of those who are not ‘of us’ as those in Acts were critical of; we know that change will occur.

We will be changed. Our community will be changed. Our lives will be changed.

But, in that changing – in that re-formation – God will be present with us. Christ will continue to love on us and we in turn love in and through Jesus.

Where we are made more full and whole.

God is doing this new thing. It can be scary. It can be awkward. But, God is here. Christ is present. The Spirit is guiding.

In this love – this new love that we are commanded to live out – others will see. Others will come. Others will help us to see Christ more fully in the world so that we can continue to live more completely in the commandment of love that Jesus has given us.

We give praise to God for the love that we have been given, for the love that we get to share, for those who see that love and join in, and those that help us love more fully God’s children and creation.

This is indeed a new thing. Amen.

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April 18, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one about the good shepherd

Sermon from April 17, 2016

Text: John 10: 22-30

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, since I was a young boy, I have always loved video games. As a somewhat awkward and shy child who found it difficult to make friends mostly because my family moved a lot; video games were a way for me to escape to far off lands and worlds. I helped save princesses from giant lizards, fought off robots with a blaster arm, and wielded magic to bring peace and justice to an oppressed people. Much like with books, I became mesmerized by these worlds and I’d like to think that I was pretty good at them too. Living in Italy, 30 minutes away from my friends and from school, I guess I would become pretty ‘accomplished’ at video games. I didn’t really have anything else to do.

However, unlike today’s games where they are hooked and connected to the internet, where you receive ‘achievements’ and ‘trophies’ based on your accomplishments, for the entire world to see, when I started playing video games, we didn’t have such ‘luxuries.’

So, if I nailed a 30+ hit combo in a fighting game, or threw a no-hitter in the latest baseball game, or even beat a game on the highest difficulty in record time, I was the only one who knew. Usually my little brother too. After accomplishing what I considered a superhuman feat, I’d tell my friends, and they would scoff and ask for proof. But, much like taking your car into the shop, it is sometimes rather difficult to ‘re-do’ or prove what you say you saw, heard, or accomplished. Of course, with the advent of technology that allows people to watch truly gifted players; I’ve realized that as good as I was and am… well… let’s just say there is a wide gap between what I’m able to do and what others can do.

Anyways, no matter how hard I tried to convince them with my words, no matter how plainly I spoke, some would not believe me. If you were my parents, grandparents, or even now with my wife…well… You’d just get a little annoyed.

The Jewish leaders in our gospel text today were annoyed. They were annoyed with Jesus. The Greek in verse 24, literally says, “How long are you taking away our life?” This ‘suspense’ as the translation that I read and which is in your bulletins is not the suspense that you or I are familiar with. These are not individuals waiting in bated breath about what will happen next. These are individuals who wanted Jesus to leave because they were tired of what he preached. They wanted for him to go away because they found what he said annoying… The Greek idiom used in verse 24 can then essentially mean… how long will you continue to annoy us?

They ask Jesus to speak plainly about his identity, about who and whose he is. As you read the Gospel of John, you read of Jesus, who is not secretive about who he is or who he comes from. The previous nine chapters of John’s gospel are filled with Jesus saying, “I am…” in response to many questions regarding his identity. Yet, as Jesus states, despite this ‘plain speaking’ they, the ones questioning him, do not believe.

Jesus preaches that the works that he does, healing the man born blind, walking on water, healing on the Sabbath, turning water into wine, are all signs that testify to who he is. Jesus’ identity is together and is one with the Father. Yet they, the Jewish leaders, do not believe. They say to themselves that they cannot believe. It is too good to be true. There has been some miscommunication. There has to be a reasonable explanation for all that has happened. That and they continue to be annoyed by the one who faithfully claims he is the messiah, the son of God, one with the Father through his words and actions.

Today there are many who don’t believe, they call themselves Atheists, agnostics, and more. Some even call themselves Christians. They hear the words of Christ through scripture, yet they don’t believe. They ask for proof. 

“Show me this Christ, this living Lord, and I’ll believe.”

When we are asked for proof we respond in one of two ways, but really we must do both. We state that belief without tangibly seeing or touching is faith. We believe because, well we believe. But, we also show ‘proof’ of Christ, the living Lord, through the works of our own hands.

I love the imagery to which Christ speaks regarding hands in our gospel today. We are in his hands; he encloses us in his promise of eternal life through his sacrifice and love.

As we are safe in Christ’s hands, we are also safe in the hands of his Father, our Father. No one can snatch us away.  I love knowing that we reside and live in our Lord’s hands, and it is through hands, our hands, that we prove Christ is alive and living in the world today.

Think about that for a minute. We are held in God’s hands, safe and secure. Through our own hands we show the thankfulness for the grace through our works. Hands are indeed so important.

Now, of course, as Christians who view the world through a Lutheran lens, we know that we are not saved by our works. So, in many ways, we have been taught to not really talk about our works. But, through our faith, our belief, we are saved; we are secure in our Lord’s hands. But what does that faith produce? It produces, it should produce, good works, signs that Christ in in us and that we are in Christ.  Through the works of our hands, God can be revealed to the world. We give, we praise, we serve, we are thankful, all with our own hands. It is no wonder that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – our governing church body – has adopted the motto of “God’s work, our hands.”

So, it is interesting that those Jewish leaders approach Jesus and say, “Tell us who you are.” Yet, Jesus’ response isn’t, “I am who I am.” Instead Jesus’ response is, “Look what I’ve done. The works that I do point to who I am.”

So, we think of those works and signs that Jesus did as we celebrate this day – this Good Shepherd Sunday. And, as we celebrate this day, we think about what makes a shepherd good.

Is a shepherd good because when the shepherd calls – the flock hear his voice and listen? Kind of, if the shepherd was not good, I imagine that the flock wouldn’t listen to him. But, that’s not what it is; not quite.

Is a shepherd good because as our psalmist writes – the shepherd’s rod and staff comfort, they protect me? I suppose that could give a little insight into what makes a shepherd good. And if we are honest, that is the kind of Jesus we like isn’t it – or at least the Jesus we want. We want Jesus to shelter us and protect us. To keep all harm and evil from us – to not lead us into dangerous places. In many views, Jesus is the good shepherd because Jesus keeps us safe.

And Jesus does. We are told that in the hands of Jesus – in the hands of God – we cannot be snatched away. We are protected. We are safe. Nothing can take that away from us. Nothing will ever snatch us away from our Lord’s embrace.

But, I’m not sure that’s the only thing that makes a shepherd good.

There’s an interesting thing about that shepherd’s staff. Yes, it is hooked to keep the flock from going to places that wouldn’t be good for them – for us. Jesus’ words, life, and presence keep us and remind us of where we should go and what might lead us away in sin.

Caring for others. Not hurting others and creation in so many ways. Loving God and loving our neighbors.

But, the shepherd’s staff does something else as well. The crook of the staff is used for drawing the sheep away from danger, but the staff also has a ‘blunt’ end. The blunt end for prodding them toward places they would rather not go.

A good shepherd both protects and agitates as needed, the good shepherd both gathers the flock in for shelter and leads them out to graze in new pastures.

So too is it with our Good Shepherd. It isn’t always the words of Jesus that remind us who he is. But, it is the actions and the work of Jesus that show us God’s goodness. Yes; God draws us in to comfort and protect but, God also knows something of our potential and urges us toward that vision.

The Jewish leaders who come to Jesus in our gospel this morning seek the easy answer. It is easy to ‘discredit’ someone because of the words they say. It’s easy to deny that you’ve done something when others only hear that you did it and only because you told them. But, it’s another thing to see the works of what someone can do and then deny their gifts.

Jesus – our good shepherd – points to what he is doing in the world and proclaims that his works of justice – not his words – are what causes the flock to hear him, know him, and follow.

So, we celebrate this Good Shepherd Sunday knowing that it is not the words we use that ultimately show someone the love of God.

It isn’t just saying, ‘I’ll pray for you. Or I’ll feed you. I’ll tell someone of your troubles.’

Doing that is good.

But the goodness of our Lord and the comfort and safety we have in God’s hands – that safety of knowing that we are firmly in God’s embrace – that compels us to act in our love and in our faith.

Where we are able to say, I’ll feed you and then as one of our young friends mentioned last week during the children’s sermon – I’ll have dinner with you too. And in that action we see where God is ‘prodding’ us into pastures that are unfamiliar, but where the feast is grand. Being with and in relationship with those around us – who are potentially different from us – may initially make us uncomfortable. But it is there that we can see Christ at work – in the meal we eat, in the stories we share, in the relationship that grows.

We know Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He protects and comforts. But, he also pushes us to live into the faith and renewed life that we have been gifted in his resurrection. We are nudged and prodded into new places as well.

Where we too might be confronted with those who pose the same questions as those who approach Jesus in our gospel today. And our response? “I’ll show you – join me in this.” Amen.

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April 11, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one about where our faith may lead us...

Sermon from April 10, 2016

Text: Acts 9:1-20 and John 21: 1-19

Grace and peace to y’all from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior 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, whenever you hear of someone who has ‘seen the light’ and has turned to the life of faith, how do you normally react? Many of us are happy and excited about this new sister or brother in the faith. It is great to see God at work. We rejoice, we celebrate.

But, what if the person who is now professing this faith and living this way – what if they were a pretty terrible person before? What if he or she did some pretty awful things, turned a blind eye as others piled on, or even instigated the actions of those who caused immense pain?

Then, we look at someone with a little warier of an eye don’t we? We are a bit more cautious about what they say and do. In fact, I bet most of us are just itching at the chance to find an opportunity to point out their inevitable mistakes and pitfalls. We continually wonder if they’ve truly turned from their ways or if they are actually just pulling the wool over our eyes.

Yet, this morning we are confronted with a story that kind of irks us in ways that we don’t expect. This story of Saul’s conversion that we heard in our second reading doesn’t unfold the way in which we’d think. We are introduced to Saul who is a pretty terrible individual.

He really is.

He was there and behind the cause to drive out – in any way possible – all those who followed ‘The Way’ in Jerusalem. He may not have always actively participated in the actions that others took against those who followed Jesus, but he certainly didn’t disagree with their actions. Standing by and tending to the coats of those who stoned the martyr Stephen. And, he wasn’t just an innocent bystander caught up in the mix of what others were doing – no, he approved of those who killed Stephen. He even states in the beginning of this reading that he has received permission to drag off in chains those who followed ‘the way.’

The more I read about Saul, the more I compare him to Francis Underwood from House of Cards. A person who seems ultimately unredeemable. A manipulative, calculating, zealous, and dangerous individual. Someone – for the most part – who is not the one to personally cause hurt, but is in the background pulling the strings and pushing people to act simply through his words and mind games.

This – for us – would be the last person that we would approach or even imagine Jesus appearing to so that the gospel might be spread beyond the relative small confines of the Jewish culture. I don’t think that those who first heard or read this story from Acts ever expected Saul to be the one that Jesus comes to and says, “This is the guy that’s going to spread my Gospel to all – to those who are and are not Jews.”

I think, most of us would definitely line up with Ananias’ way of thinking. We’d be skeptical. Perhaps even a little fearful. We’d be a little wary of what this man would do to us. Is it a game? Is it a ruse? Is this an elaborate ploy in order to ‘take me in?’ So many thoughts would be running through my mind – our minds – if we were thrust into a similar situation.

But, then that gets us a bit to where I think these readings might be directing us. You see, our readings this morning – especially our reading from Acts and John – focus quite a bit on faith. It may not come out and say the word itself, but it does a wonderful job in showing us what and how faith is lived.

Faith is something that is not always the easiest concept to explain. It is hard to wrap our minds around and to use words to better explain what it means for us. Most of the time, we try to explain faith in such a way that we state what we believe faith is not. We attempt to define faith by stating what we believe is the opposite of faith.

Some will say that the opposite of faith is doubt. But, really that doesn’t make all that much sense because much of what people consider ‘doubt’ is a wrestling and struggle with that which we have faith in. It is OK for us to ask questions and to ponder, because many times – more often than not – that leads us to a more substantial and deeper faith and belief.

It is OK for Ananias to question Jesus’ command – he has full right to be a little nervous and apprehensive.

However, what I think much of what these texts speak to about faith is that faith leads to action. The opposite of faith – would be that which keeps us from moving forward in our trust.

Ananias questions (which some would call doubt), but he trusts ever more fully into what Jesus is sending him to do.

Peter becomes frustrated – perhaps even a bit angry – as Jesus continually asks him the same question three times.

In Jesus’ words, Peter lives more fully into the life and call of faith that Jesus is leading him in. He comes to greater trust because of the faith that Jesus has in him. Jesus continually seeks him out to lead and to proclaim even though Peter has not been the best person to seek that sort of confidence in. He’s denied, he’s run away, he continually has put his foot in his mouth.

But, in spite of all that – Jesus continually seeks out Peter and Ananias and even Saul (who will later change his name to Paul). I read recently that scripture is the story of God’s relentless pursuit of people who fail to trust in God’s promises.

We can see that at play here in the three main individuals within our readings. Peter has failed to trust multiple times. Ananias (initially) failed to trust Jesus’ command to go to Saul. Saul potentially wouldn’t trust in God’s promise out of fear of what God would do to him because of what he has done.

Yet, each person we read of today has substantial and profound faith. Not in the doctrines they hold or the theological ideas they espouse. No, they have profound faith because their trust leads them to action.

Their apprehension, fear, cowardice, or confusion doesn’t keep them from living into the life that God has called them to through their Lord – our Lord – Jesus.

Peter leads, proclaims, and draws many to the way.

Ananias goes to the one who would’ve sought him out to be dragged, arrested, and even killed.

Saul follows the call that Jesus has laid before him.

So, what does that mean for us this day as a part of this renewed life we have been given in Jesus’ resurrection?

How does your faith lead you in your life?

How firm is our trust in where God leads us? The one who calls us – like God called Peter, Ananias, and Saul – calls us to places that could be scary, dangerous, unknown, and unfamiliar.

We now we have faith because we continue to follow the way that Jesus has set before us. We continue to hear the call that God beckons us with.

That faith leads us to action – action to care for those around us, action to proclaim the one who has redeemed us completely and freely, action to walk those paths that others might think foolish and wrong.

And, yet – we are continually confronted with what keeps us from moving forward. Where we are stymied into inaction.

Where have we been so zealous that it has caused hurt and pain to those around us? Where I wasn’t strong enough to speak out against the words and actions we and others have participated in?

Where have we been confused by where to go next – even when Jesus is pointing the way?

In the moments where God has called to you in the most dramatic (and simple) ways to turn us from those thoughts, words, and actions that can and have caused all sorts of hurt and pain?

Where we have questioned someone’s faith because of their past?

In so many ways, we can see ourselves in the midst of the individuals we read of today in our readings. The apprehension of Ananias, the frustration of Peter, the zealousness of Saul.

Yet, in spite of those things that would and could keep someone from living the way – Jesus comes – continually comes – to them. Jesus continually seeks out those who are not perfect, who don’t have it all together, who others would be skeptical of. Jesus continues to come to those who seem and are most broken.

So too does Jesus come to us because we too are broken in so many small and significant ways.

That is someone to have faith in. Faith in the one who seeks each of us out – imperfect individuals to proclaim the love and care of this new and renewed life. That is what we have faith in. It is in that faith that we are called to act, and to live, and to be. That is what makes us whole.

Scripture really is the story of God’s relentless pursuit of people who fail to trust in God’s promises. But, it isn’t just scripture where this happens. God continues to relentlessly pursue today. God pursues each of us – those who at times fail to trust in God’s promises. This relentless pursuit in love and grace and care.

So that we might know how cared for we are, how loved we are, how present God is with us. It is in that relentless love in which God pursues us that we are made whole, the scales fall from our eyes. It is in that love that we are free to live into the life that God has gifted us. It is in that trust and faith that we are called to proclaim God’s love to the world.

To the ones who we previously railed against. To the ones who we wouldn’t expect. To the ones who we might be wary of.

We act, we live, we are – because of our faith. Amen.

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April 4, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one where Jesus gives us peace...

Sermon from April 3, 2016

Text: John 20: 19-31

Grace and peace to y’all 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!

Traditionally as we read this text – which if you didn’t know comes up every year during this, the second Sunday of Easter – we’ve heard it titled in a pretty specific way. It’s a title to this short excerpt from John’s Gospel that has painted an individual within this story in a very particular way, and not in a very flattering light. But, if you’ve been listening to me during my short time here as your pastor – you probably already know how I might feel about the titles that we are given for all of those well-known Gospel stories. I don’t really like how many of the ‘titles’ of particular parts of the gospel story have been labeled. They keep us from really reading them again and again because once it’s titled it is difficult to see past that one interpretation of the text.

The gospel story we have this morning is one that is very familiar to us and it occurs immediately after the resurrection of our Lord. In fact, it occurs that very night.

But, something is a bit strange, something seems off. Jesus’ friends and disciples have been given the most amazing news possible. Their Lord, their friend – the messiah and Son of God – is no longer in the tomb because he lives again. He has risen! You would think that the disciples and followers of the Risen Jesus would be out in force within the streets. Screaming to all who could hear:

Jesus has overcome death.

Jesus has turned from zero to hero.

Jesus is alive!

You’d think that would be something to celebrate. In fact, just look at our last Sunday on Easter morning. This place was packed as was pretty much every other place of worship around the country and world. We came together and sang hymns of praise and celebration. We continued (and continue) to shout alleluia from the mountaintops of our lives! We shout he is risen! We still wish those around us a happy and blessed Easter. All the candles within our worship space are lit. The excitement and presence of the Holy Spirit is palpable.

You’d think that the excitement at the news of our Lord’s rising from the dead and the empty tomb would last longer than a few hours.

Yet, that evening the disciples are scared.

They’ve locked themselves in a room away from those who would wish to do them harm.

The dangers and ‘realities’ of life seem more powerful and threatening than the joy of the empty tomb.

Just a few hours after the news of Jesus’ resurrection, his closest friends and disciples are in the midst of confusion, anxiety, and fear. The collective sense of ‘what do we do now?’ and ‘where do we go from here?’ are driving their thoughts and actions. They are witness to the greatest wonder of the world, yet they aren’t out there proclaiming it – instead they are holed up in a locked room out of fear of those around them.

Now, because of how this part of the gospel has been titled, there is a tendency to just look at those disciples (not just the one) and think, ‘oh bless their little hearts…’ in the most flattering-insult tone we can muster.

But, then if we are prone to do that (which I’m sure each and every one of us probably has at one point in their life) I’d push us all a little bit.

If we look upon the disciples in our text this morning and think, “Oh those silly and foolish disciples – they still don’t get it!” I’d ask you, “so – what you’d you do on Easter Monday? How was your week in proclaiming the risen Lord to all those around you?” Does the energy and excitement from Easter Sunday still flow through you today?

My guess is that after Easter Sunday a lot of that excitement fizzled out. Sure we filled our social media feeds with countless pictures of flowers, scripture texts, and wrote and responded to countless posts of “Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”

But, the pull and the drain of the world quickly sucks us back in. The brief glimmer of hope and grace of the resurrection gets drowned out by the world and its attitudes around us. For the briefest of moments; the locked doors of our lives were opened to the wonder, mystery, and beauty of the resurrection.

But, then the fears and those doors that we hoped to burst open and through came back again.

When given the opportunity to tell someone about God’s love for them – we might’ve thought – “oh they probably already know that. Easter was yesterday. I’m sure they went to their church.”

We may have read something on the internet or heard from a friend about a story that continued to disparage those who are different – that didn’t live into the new commandment of love that we have been given by Christ. We didn’t push back from that line of that and those words of hate because – well, that’s just Doug – he doesn’t really mean it. Stacy is just joking like usual. Besides if I said anything I’d probably just make things worse.

We might have seen someone in need on the side of the road, but we didn’t stop to help because well – they are probably just conning me and others. If I help, it’ll only give them reason to keep doing it.

Or perhaps you want to proclaim and shout and give voice to God’s love in the lives of those around you, but because of what you might suffer from it holds you back.

I can’t proclaim the love of God in Christ our Lord because I don’t feel worthy of God’s love or don’t think there are those that love me. Why would they listen?

I want to point to the resurrection, but I really don’t know how to explain it all and I’m scared of the questions that they might ask me. I don’t want to look stupid.

I want to believe and to share – but, I’m afraid – afraid of what others might think, or say, or ask for. I’m afraid because I have questions and thoughts. It all seems too good to be true. If I don’t have it figured out, how am I supposed to invite others into this life too?

No matter how we hear and experience the resurrection and are called to be witnesses like those first women at the tomb – the locked doors of our lives and our minds seem so strong and sturdy. Impenetrable to the love that God exudes in Christ’s resurrection for us.

Much like Jesus’ disciples, we too find ourselves behind those locked doors.

We too seek the ‘data’ that Thomas asks for.

We step back, we don’t move. We stay locked in the room – even amid the crazy excitement and energy of this new thing that God has done.

And then in pops Jesus.

In our story – pretty literally.

Jesus appears in the room with his friends in spite of the locked doors.

Now, if I was there I probably wouldn’t be too excited. I’d probably be freaking out.

One, because Jesus is there and the door never opened.

Two, because I’m in here and not out there spreading the news.

I’m sure the disciples have the racing thought of, “Oh man, we are so going to get it now…”

Yet, Jesus’ words to his friends and disciples is not one of anger or rudeness or snark or disappointment. Instead Jesus speaks the words that I think all of us need to hear and listen to. Those words that burst through locked doors and fill those ‘rooms’ of our lives where we hide with love and presence.

Peace be with you.

Words so important to hear that Jesus says it twice.

Peace be with you. I’m with you. I send you. The Spirit leads you.

He then comes again the following week to give that sense of peace and presence to Thomas. He doesn’t chastise him or belittle him. Jesus gives to him what he needs to continue to point to the risen Lord.

Throughout our lives – even in the midst of the excitement and energy of Easter – we still find ourselves behind the locked doors of our lives. The locked doors and tombs that seem so stubborn and real to us. Those places in which we hide for fear of how others will see us, view us, or treat us.

Those locked rooms have so many names – fear. Anxiety. Addiction. Stubbornness. Disease. And more.

In the promise and reality of the resurrection – Jesus steps into those locked rooms of our lives. Jesus bursts open the doors with words of peace, presence, and mission.

Peace be with you.

I’m here.

I send you.

We do hide within the locked doors of our lives. We do shut ourselves off from the world even when we hear the grace-filled news of the resurrection.

Jesus continues to step into those moments. Bringing us peace, reminding us of his presence, and sending us out.

Not alone. But with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in the community of the Body of Christ.

No matter how strong of a lock or how encompassing of a room in your life that you feel keeps you from proclaiming the good news of the resurrection; know that Jesus comes into that space. Not to chastise, not to reprimand. Not to demean or belittle.

Jesus steps into those rooms to free us from the bonds and chains that shackle us into inactivity. That keep us from being sent. Jesus steps into those moments and places and offers us peace. Jesus has breathed into us the Holy Spirit that guides us in this life of faith – this life of faith that calls and compels us to speak, act, and live out for and in God’s love for us and the world.

Even in our doubts Jesus doesn’t turn from us or turn us away. Jesus comes to give peace so that we might know we are loved and not alone. In that faith of the empty tomb and in that promise of the resurrection – we are sent to proclaim. Amen.

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April 1, 2016, 9:00 AM

April 2016 Newsletter

Grace and peace to y’all and Blessed Easter! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia! It is April, can y’all believe it? The warm weather is quickly approaching, there is a nice breeze around us, and we all impatiently wait for the brief rains because there is a ‘lovely’ shade of yellowish green blanketing everything. I almost forgot about the pollen in the South, but I’d still take it 100 times over the potential of snow.

So, we’ve all triumphantly burst into the Easter season. It has been a long Lent and Holy Week. Incredibly fulfilling and spiritually lifting (as Lent and Holy Week always are), but it’s still a long season. We’ve all begun our shouts of Alleluia! We’ve sung our praises to the new thing that God has done in Christ our Lord. We’ve reflected on what the empty tomb means for us today.

We’ve done a lot, and there will obviously be more to do as we live into this new life that God has given to us – a life that proclaims the blessed emptiness – the empty tomb – because Jesus is risen!

With all those preparations, with all those wonderful moments, with all that excitement we can become pretty tired – some exhausted because of the work we have done together and the glorious work that is still to come. Because of the world and attitude we live into there is the thought that within our tiredness that we just fill the cup with a stronger, richer coffee; suck it up; and keep on truck’n.

The attitude of the world is that you just work, work, work. No matter what. You can’t stop because if you take a break something or someone will pass you by. You have to keep working in order to stay ahead.

Yet, as we do that we continue to fall into the sense that what we cannot do enough so we must do more. In our quest to always be ahead and not to ‘let anything in our work fall behind’ we end up leaving behind family, friends, our lives. As we dive into the culture of the world to always stay ahead and busy, we end up pushing away those who love and care for us. We end up pushing away any sense of rest in our lives.

What I’m writing for us – all of us – this month is that we continue to follow in the lead of our Lord Jesus Christ. As we strive to live into the life that he has called us to – caring for others, inviting others into our lives, getting to know all who are around us. There is another aspect of Jesus’ ministry that we usually fail to live into – the ministry of rest for ourselves.

Many times throughout Jesus’ ministry and recorded in our scriptures – Jesus went away to a secluded place. To pray. To rest. To be with himself. To get away – for a bit – from the many who gathered around him. We read of Jesus pursuing a time of rest in Mark (1:35), Matthew (14:13), and Luke (4:42). Each time of rest is preceded by a lot of activity done by Jesus or knowing that something big was about to happen.

So, what does this say to us?

It is OK to rest. In fact, it’s probably pretty needed. The work can wait. You’ll be thankful for it.

Of course, rest from our work requires an actual time away. That means turning off our phones, closing our laptops, and getting away. As we enter into those moments of rest, we open our minds, our hearts, and our lives to our God, to our family, to our friends, to those activities and hobbies that we find great joy in.

We step away – only for a brief time – so that we can be reinvigorated, recharged, and rested to continue into the work that (hopefully) fills us in so many ways.

Resting is not a sign of weakness. Taking a vacation is not bad – no matter what others in prominent positions might say. Stepping away from the work we are invested in is following in the path and ministry modeled by our Lord.

We step away. We rest. We come back to the work of our vocations.

It’s good. It’s fun. It’s OK. Amen!

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March 28, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one about being a witness...

Sermon from Easter Sunday, 3/27/2016

Text: Luke 24: 1-12

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? 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!

Welcome to each and every one of you who has gathered here to worship this morning as together we get to celebrate our Lord Jesus Christ’s resurrection. No matter how you got here this morning – because it’s tradition, because you were curious, because you were dragged here – know this; today is the most important day of the year. This is the day that God’s promise to creation is made known to the world.

This is the day in which we celebrate that in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ – God is victorious over sin and death. Where God has shown this great love to us in Jesus’ death and in his rising from the tomb. We get to celebrate all those other wonderful, holy, and special days in our life and in the life of the church because this day we remember that the tomb was empty.

This is a day that we celebrate and we do. Our worship this morning is packed with symbolism and with the gifts shared by all of you this morning – in our presence, our voices, our music, our words. Today is a wonderful day.

But, I think at times there is a part of this day that gets only a little attention and screen time. Which is understandable, the image of the stone rolled away is a pretty powerful one.

But, let’s break this story down a little bit. Perhaps to hear it again as if for the first time.

Throughout this week we have been walking through the story of our Lord’s final days before his resurrection. Jesus has shared a meal with his friends where he gives them – and us – a new commandment.

To love one another as he has loved us. To live and show that love so all will know who and whose we are; even if it means placing yourself into situations and stations in life that others would think are beneath you – much like Jesus stooping down to wash the feet of his friends and disciples.

We then journeyed to the cross. The place where Jesus died. We remembered the sin of our lives. We remembered the price God paid to show us what love looks like.

Even some others continued on in remembering the promises that God has made throughout history. Where God was and had been made known in countless ways throughout our shared history as a part of God’s people.

All of that – a meal, love, death, promise, presence and more have led to this morning, to this moment where we are gathered here to celebrate the blessed emptiness. The empty tomb. The stone rolled away. The burial clothes neatly rolled and folded.

And we know all this – not only because God has done this – but we know and celebrate all this because of one word that is usually rushed over in the excitement, confusion, and the general ‘what the what?’ attitude that comes from hearing and reading this wonderful story.

That word of course – is witness.

Witness is a cool word. A word that for many of us is pretty familiar. We’re familiar with that word because really it’s all around us. Especially on our televisions. Dare Devil. Better Call Saul. Matlock. The Good Wife. Law & Order. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Law & Order: LA. There’s a lot of legal drama shows on TV – lots of them.

But, as familiar with the word and role of a ‘witness’ as we are, I think we take it for granted quite often. It is used so often in our lives that we have kind of lost its true meaning. Some might know witness from the numerous legal dramas. Some might know witness simply from the depiction (and in some cases the reality) of churches portrayed in the media – where a witness is someone who yells ‘AMEN!’ as a pastor calls for the witness, any witness, during his or her sermon.

The way we usually define a witness is someone who sees something; who happens to notice a person, an action, or an issue. They see it. They’re a witness.

But, being a witness is more than just seeing something. It isn’t so much that the women who came to prepare and tend to Jesus’ body saw that he wasn’t there. It isn’t so much that they saw the stone rolled away. It isn’t so much that they saw a stranger telling them that Jesus had gotten up.

What they saw was and is important. But, that isn’t what makes them witnesses of the resurrection – witnesses of the holy emptiness.

These women are witnesses because they told others what they saw – or actually what they didn’t see.

The women shared the story. The women told those around them. The women spread the news. The women proclaimed. The women preached. The women were witnesses.

Being a witness not only requires seeing, but it also requires action. It requires telling others of what you saw and experienced.

We are here this morning because the women saw, shared, and proclaimed. They were witnesses to God’s love and new-life.

And where does that leave us this day? Where does that lead us this day as we begin the Easter season?

It isn’t so much that we see and hear the good news of what God has done in Christ’s victory over sin and death. It isn’t so much that we gather this morning to hear this story. We are called to be witnesses of Christ’s resurrection.

To share, to be with, to show, to point, to walk with others so that they too – so that we all – can continue to share in the love that God has blessed us with because of the empty tomb.

We are called to be witnesses of Christ’s love and resurrection. To share in this love and this story for all when others feel that those around them because of how they look, act, or where they might be from are unworthy to be here.

We are called to be witnesses of God’s presence in the world because the tomb is empty. So that we can proclaim the gospel to a young couple that because the tomb is empty God is here with them in love as they bury their infant son who never breathed life.

We are called to be witnesses of God’s love and grace. To talk in love with those who feel all hope is lost, who feel unloved, unworthy, who feel no one cares, or would notice their absence. To talk of God’s love for them in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus – for us.

We are called to be witnesses – just as those first women at the empty tomb were.

And that can be scary and crazy – just as those women were bewildered and awed as well.

Yet, that is the call that God has placed on us and we don’t do it alone. We witness together. We witness in community. We witness with Chris dwelling – living – within us.

We see and hear. We share, tell, proclaim. We are witnesses to God’s love and grace in Jesus’ resurrection. Amen.

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March 25, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one with a new commandment

Maundy Thursday Sermon from 3/24/2016

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? 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 I mentioned on Sunday, we continue with this big long worship experience that is Holy Week. On Palm Sunday we got to hear all of the story of Jesus’ life before his death on the cross. During this week – and beginning today on the first day of the Triduum – the Holy Three Days – we get to dive in a little deeper to certain parts of this wonderful story.

This evening we read the Gospel of John’s account of the last supper. Except – there really isn’t a whole lot of eating going on, nor do we hear the traditional language that we have come to expect from this story. There isn’t any real focus on bread or wine. There’s no mention of – do this in remembrance of me. All the things that we expect to hear because of our own celebration of communion in remembrance of this night don’t appear in John’s telling of this last night with Jesus and his disciples.

This particular version of Jesus’ supper with his disciples focuses a bit more on things that are more active and for others.

Throughout my life – especially as I have been on this path of ministry, leadership, and being a pastor – I’m usually asked a few things. First; why? My response? I don’t know. Because I feel called. For those outside the faith or nominally connected to the faith of the church that just seems like a really poor answer. But, it’s all I can give.

The other question – the deeper question – is usually, “Well – how do you know you’re following God? How do you know you are a disciple of Christ? How will others know you’re for real?”

Now, there are many ways to approach that question and there have been countless individuals and theologians who have tackled it in our collective search to know the true workings of God in the world and in us.

Some people will say – “We know because this is what we believe.” Normally what people say they believe is usually a list of what others believe that they themselves don’t.

We do this a lot – I’ve done this before – plenty of times.

An example – someone asks you, “What’s a Lutheran?” Our response at times – Well, it’s kind of like being a Catholic, but not quite. Or – well you see those people on the TV that talk about Christianity and stuff, the ones that seem mean and a little crazy? We’re pretty much not like them. We’re different.

How many of y’all have identified yourself in that way before? I know I have. Sometimes it is hard to put into words what we actually are without first stating what we are not. It is a problem that a lot of organizations that strive for the same ‘goals,’ but by different means have.

Other times in responding by ‘this is what we believe’ they’ll use ‘inside baseball language’ full of doctrine and theological ideas and tenants. Using phrases, words, and ‘marketing’ bullet points to tell others who we are.

We are Lutherans. We believe in justification by grace through faith. We are simul justus et peccator.

For those outside the faith and tradition – those words don’t mean anything – especially the Latin which means ‘simultaneously righteous and sinner.’

Yet, this evening we hear a story from Jesus that gives us not only language, but also action into how others might know who we are.

Agape. Love.

Now, love in our modern day and in our woefully ineloquent English language has a few hang-ups. Whenever we say ‘love’ we don’t know what love we actually mean. The love between spouses? Our love of food? Do we love someone or do we love-love someone?

Unlike some other languages – in particular Greek – we have to do a lot of deciphering to figure out what kind of love we are talking about.

In our gospel reading this evening Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved y’all. By this everyone will know who y’all are if y’all have love for one another.”

Because of English and it’s inadequacies we don’t know what exactly that kind of love is. Thankfully, the Greek language that this gospel was originally written in can help us out.

This love is not epithumia – desire or lust. It is not eros – romance and where we get erotic from. It is not storge – which is general affection. It is not phile – friendship.

No, it is agape. Selfless, giving love.

The love that Jesus commands of us is a love that is selfless and bountiful to others.

This love is not passive. It does not sit at a distance. Agape love – the love that Jesus has for us and in which we have for one another and for those around us is an active love. It is a verb. It is an action

It is an action rooted in the goodness and grace from the one who has given it to us.

We love those around us.

Every so often I ask my young friends during the children’s sermon time – how do you know you are loved? Is it only because someone tells you?

Children know they are loved because they are held, they are involved, they are cared for, they are listened to, they are supported, they are provided for. They know they are loved because they are hugged, kissed, clothed, fed, sheltered, given medicine, taught.

They know they are loved because others share their lives with them. Not to get anything from them. Not to hold something over them in the future. They are loved because others selflessly give of themselves to be with them fully.

Just as God has selflessly given Godself in Jesus to be with each of us.

We celebrate that this week as we look forward to the meal shared this evening, the sacrifice tomorrow evening, the victory over death on Saturday, and the empty tomb on Sunday.

Our new commandment from God is to love one another. To give ourselves in service to those around us.

Sometimes that giving puts us in awkward and difficult positions. Like stooping to our knees to wash the feet of those that others would think should be ‘beneath’ us. By sacrificing the life we live so that others might live more fully in God.

It might mean caring for, listening to, and knowing the person across the proverbial and literal street, aisle, and ‘life.’

It might mean doing things that we thought we’d never do or others would steer us from.

And that can be downright scary – just as anxious as those gathered around Jesus in the upper room might have been as they witnessed and experienced Jesus washing their feet and sharing himself with them.

Yet, the grace and comfort we have from God is that we do not do this alone. Jesus does not send out the disciples this night to go off as lone ‘love wanderers’ upon the dust of the earth. No. We do this in community, we do this in God’s love for us. We do this with Christ living within us. We do this in faith and hope.

Martin Lutheran in his work, An Introduction to St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans he describes it this way:

Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God’s grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace.

In that faith and trust we are able to love and share.

This night we hear from Jesus a new commandment – to love as he has loved us. We love in faith that God is leading us, feeding us, filling us, living in us, and sending us in that love for the world and everyone in it. Amen.

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March 14, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one about smell...

Sermon from March 13, 2016

Text: John 12: 1-8

Grace and peace to you from God our Father 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!

As we approach the end of Lent as this is the fifth and final Sunday of Lent before we begin the long remembrance and celebration of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection; we come to this interesting story. Now, usually I focus on the fact that for many of us we can totally see where Judas is coming from. He speaks the truth (obviously unintentionally) when he says that the amount of money spent on this perfume of nard that Mary is using to anoint Jesus’ feet could’ve been better spent to help feed and care for the poor. As much as it pains me to say it – Judas is probably right. The only thing that we can know for sure is that Mary has abundant love for Jesus – grace upon grace for the one who first gave it to us.

That’s where I usually go with this sermon, but that is not what sparked my attention this year.

Instead, I wanted to focus a bit on something else. Something that our senses would’ve been keen to pick up on if we were physically present in that room. Throughout Lent our Wednesday services have been on the theme of “Open my Life, Lord.” In each service thus far, we have called upon God to help open our eyes, hands, ears, and heart. One thing that we didn’t call to God to open was our noses. But, if we did this would be a perfect text to use.

For anyone who has teenagers or has entered into a room full of pre-teens and teens knows – even a little bit of ‘perfume’ can fill  and overwhelm your sense of smell. With the advent of aerosol body sprays – let’s just say that I have been bowled over by the smell of those younger than me more times than one.

Smell is easily one of those things that can quickly bring to mind memories of our past. The smell of a pie baking in a house can remind us of our grandparents. The smell of a particular cologne will make me whip my head around and wonder how my grandfather was here. The smell of cut grass and spring flowers reminds us – me – that baseball is about to start. Vladimir Nabokov was right when he said, “Smells are surer than sights or sounds to make your heart strings crack.”

This morning our senses would’ve been overwhelmed with smells. The smell of the perfume of nard that Mary uses to anoint Jesus’ feet. The smell of the coming death that was and is quickly approaching Jesus. Even the lingering smell of death from the story of Lazarus’ raising from the dead that are only a few verses before this one.

In fact, if you think about it – these past few weeks have been filled with stories that would’ve overwhelmed our olfactory senses; fertilizer on a fig tree, the pig pen and troughs, and the perfume of this morning.

I think this morning of the smells of those things that our scriptures tell us as we read of the life of our lord and Savior Jesus. The smell of good wine, the smell of broken bread. The smell of the river. The smell of the mud spread upon the eyes of a man born blind. The smell of a decomposing body.

What is it about smell that conjures in us so many different emotions and reactions? How we can link smell to so many wonderful and not so wonderful moments in our lives? It is no wonder how in some traditions of the church that the sense of smell is used to connect and bring to even greater life and affect that which we do in our life of faith. The smell of oil, incense, bread, wine, and more. All of it helps connect and deepen our faith to know that God is present in each of those moments.

This morning we are thrust into this story and are consumed with that smell of perfume that would’ve stuck in every nook and cranny of the room they were in. The smell that would’ve lingered still there as Mary and the others returned from the scene of Jesus’ crucifixion and would’ve been present just a few days later upon his resurrection.

There is one thing about smell that we try desperately to overcome, yet we still cannot – no matter how much it may be advertised on TV and radio. It’s really hard to get rid of a smell. New smells don’t replace others. Even though we’d like the smell of perfume of nard to drive out the revolting smell of a decomposing body – it won’t.

Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with perfume and oil doesn’t change what is going to happen. It doesn’t change what has already happened (both bad and good). Death still happened for Lazarus. Death is still coming for Jesus. But, it does offer the counterpoint of grace and new life that Jesus points to.

Nothing changes with Jesus’ resurrection. Death will still smell as it does. Death will still seep through every crevice that we might try to substitute. Death will still find the smallest crack to invade our assurances that resurrection is true.

And yet everything changes with Jesus’ resurrection. Just don’t let the smell of abundant love and life allow you to think that the smell of death won’t be there as well.

There is a tendency in our life to think that because of the resurrection of Jesus and the new life in which we are promised and in which we have faith to think that death doesn’t exist anymore. People just go to ‘sleep’ only to wake up later. That the pain, struggle, and the smell of death are foolish to notice and be aware of.

If we believe that death no longer matters, that it isn’t a part of our life, that it no longer pertains to us we end up speaking out against the truth and grace of incarnation.

God doesn’t become flesh and blood in Jesus so that we might be saved from death. The pain, the hurt, the smell of death still comes. Yet, in Jesus’ resurrection and the promise of new life that is extended to each of us is that death is not the final word. That not one thing separates us from God – not even death. That is the grace-filled truth of the incarnation. We will still die, but we will also live. The smell of death and new life are a part of us in this life that we have been given by God.

It is while we smell death that we can smell life. It is while we smell a rotting body in a tomb that we can smell the earth underneath the stone as it is being rolled away. It is while we can barely stand the smell of Lazarus that Mary pours perfume on Jesus’ feet.

Mary’s anointing of Jesus with perfume will not ‘febreeze’ his coming death away. Not even the resurrection changes the pain we feel when Jesus dies. We can’t choose to smell one thing over another. The smell is there – in all its power – and we cannot help, but smell it. As we smell; the emotions and memories that it brings to us we cannot control. It pervades our life with the good and the bad, the powerful and the aching, the elated and the challenging. That is smell’s power.

And as we read this story we see that at work as well. As we look ahead to the last two weeks of Lent before we charge into the celebrations of Easter. We remember that in order for the resurrection to occur there needs to first be death. No matter what we do or think – that isn’t going to change. Resurrection cannot exist without death. Smell so tightly holds Lent and Easter together; you cannot choose to smell the celebrations of Easter without smelling the death that precedes it. You just can’t.

Yet, the celebration that is coming in the Resurrection gives us hope and promise that the smell of death is not final. It is real. It is unavoidable. But, it is not the last. It isn’t that we choose to smell one or the other, but the grace that God has given us in the resurrection is that the smell of death is not the only smell, but we get to smell new life as well. Amen.


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March 9, 2016, 7:00 PM

Open My Heart, Lord

From our Mid-Week Lenten Series theme on "Open My Life, Lord."


Grace and peace to each of you this evening as we gather for our fourth Lenten Wednesday service.

We’ve called upon God to open our eyes, our hands, and our ears. This evening we begin to look inward to ourselves as we call upon God to open our hearts. To open our hearts to the ways of God, to hear the words of Jesus, and to open our hearts to be present and in relationship with those in need around us.

When I look back on my life I know that I’ve been pretty lucky. Unlike many I have not only been able to travel around the world, but I’ve always been blessed to live around the country and world as well. I’ve been blessed to see, to know, and to be present with so many different types of people.

And yet, I notice as I get older it becomes more and more difficult at times to see others with an open heart. As individuals come into the church office to receive help; there is that in-breaking thought of – how is this person trying to swindle me? Am I going to be taken advantage of? Am I doing the right thing?

The older I get there are times where I become cautious with those around me who are in need because somewhere I’ve either had an experience or been told of an experience where ‘that type of person’ did me/someone wrong so I should be wary – I should be guarded.

And, I think I remember the first time that I thought that. I was living in Italy and I believe we were traveling with my family in the historic area of the Campagna region – the former seat of royal power in Italy, we lived in Naples which is the historic capital of this region. One day my family and I went to visit the historic downtown sections of Naples as it is filled with wonderful art, architecture, history, and culture.

I remember watching a man approach a woman sitting on the street with her hand outstretched while she held on to a baby wrapped in a blanket. As he got closer, he took his wallet out to help this new ‘mother.’ When he got about a foot away and he was pulling some Lira out of his billfold, the woman threw the bundle in her arms at him. Naturally he went to catch the baby and he dropped his wallet. The woman snatched the wallet and she and an older girl ran away as fast as they could. Turns out, the ‘baby’ was just a doll with a cassette player with a tape of baby sounds wrapped in a thick blanket.

I remember thinking – well if that’s what they are going to do. I’m not going to help.

Another story. I was in high school and involved in my church’s youth group. We went to the Oliver Gospel Mission in Downtown Columbia to help serve the homeless food. While I served mashed potatoes and chicken, I remember being yelled at by a few men because I was being ‘stingy’ with the food. Couldn’t I see that they were hungry they would ask me – give me more. Yet, I couldn’t because the leaders of our group had given specific instructions on how much food is to be given so that more could eat.

I was torn. How much do I help – does the church help – without the thought that I’m just going to get swindled or taken advantage of or told off because it ‘wasn’t enough.’

I imagine that there are many of you who have felt the same way. Wanting to help – but, not knowing how to help, but also not wanting to be taken advantage of or to fall in the trap of enabling a person to continue living in the space and way that they are in.

It's tough. Yet, I am convicted by our scriptures this evening to open my heart to God’s call. To open my heart – our hearts – to what Jesus proclaims. To open the heart of the world to the Spirit’s guidance.

And, that’s not easy. It doesn’t help that our hearts close to those in need because of an experience we had or a story we’ve heard. A story we’ve heard from a friend (or friend of a friend) or something we saw on the news.

There is so much around the world that attempts to tell us that it is silly, foolish, dangerous to open our hearts to those in need. Don’t place yourself in that position.

And, yet we hear from Paul’s words to the church in Corinth this evening about how those things that the world sees as ‘bad’ that are lifted up in God’s eyes as righteous and good. And then Paul throws in that line that really tugs at us – he speaks as to children – open wide your hearts.

Children are amazing. Their love and hearts are always open wide to those around them. It ceases to amaze me and fills my heart with joy about how caring my children can be to those they don’t know. They’ve never met. And to those they never will meet.

They want to help and love because they are helped and loved. They know – even at that young age – that when people are hurting you help. You care. You love. You open your heart.

As we call on to God to open wide our hearts we know that it can be difficult and it won’t always be easy. But, we are called to open wide our hearts. To open our hearts so that we can proclaim Christ through our words, our actions, and our thoughts to those around us. Where we are called to err on the side of grace.

Where we pray to God that our hearts might be so opened as Lydia’s was. As she listened to Paul proclaiming the gospel – she and her household were baptized to live into the faith that God has called for all of us. Opening her our hearts and our life to the ones around us. Amen.

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