In pm's words
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May 1, 2018, 8:00 AM

May 2018 Newsletter


This year, the month of May is an incredibly important time in the life of the church and in the life of the community. For this is a month of celebration.

We will celebrate those within our community and within the life of the church who will be graduating from high school, college, technical school, or a post-graduate program. We will celebrate those accomplishments for those within our congregation on May 27. If you or member of your family is graduating from one of those educational institutions above, please contact the church office so that we can forward that information on to the appropriate people.

Also, on May 20th Redeemer will help celebrate all those within the community who are graduating from Newberry Academy and Newberry High School with a Baccalaureate Service that is hosted by the Downtown Ministerial Association Churches. This is truly a special event to be a part of, especially for those families who get to see their young graduates walk down the aisle wearing their caps and gowns. Just one more opportunity for them to celebrate this significant accomplishment in their lives! This year’s preacher for Baccalaureate will be Rev. Elizabeth Morgan from St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

As significant as those celebrations are (and they are significant and I’m so happy for Redeemer to be a part of those moments of joy in the life of the community and the congregation), I am looking forward to being able to celebrate our confirmation students this year – May 20, Pentecost Sunday! Six young men and women will complete their three-year journey through confirmation: AC Cary, Emma Chapman, Madeleine Long, Philip Livingston, Ben Lindsay, and Stephen Senn.

They’ve learned a lot (probably more than they’ll admit), they’ve grown, they’ve participated, they’ve been active in the church in numerous ways, they’ve fussed, they’ve laughed, they’ve been a part of my formation in faith during these three years as well.

Of course, there is something a bit different about completing Confirmation studies. It isn’t a graduation. When you finish Confirmation, your life, growth, and study as a follower of Christ doesn’t end. You continue to learn. You continue to grow. You continue to live into this life of faith that you are called into. Confirmation is a continuation of this journey of faith that we are all a part of. I really do love to celebrate it!

May is a busy month, but it is a month full of celebration for the community! Amen!




April 30, 2018, 8:15 AM

the one about pruning...


Sermon from April 29, 2018

Text: John 15:1-8, Acts 8:26-40

Grace and peace to each of you from God our creator and our risen Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ.  Will y'all pray with me; may the words of my mouth and the mediations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen!

Farming. 

Gardening. 

Growing. 

So, those are things of the world, which I cannot do. I really don't have a lick of horticultural skills within me. In fact, if it requires any more than ‘water’ I am almost at a loss at what to do. I can be witness to the great beauty of seeing plants grow, of flowers blooming, and fruit bursting forth from the branch it is on, but asking (or expecting) me to care for it and help it grow and form, that I do not possess the required gifts. I’ve shared the story from my first call that I was gifted a poinsettia plant after my first Christmas there. For months I believed that that little plant was either the most hardy plant ever conceived – or that it was fake. I never watered it. I didn’t care for it. It just thrived! It’s a miracle! Of course, as I recounted to that possibility to someone at the time, I was told the real story. The custodian had been watering it for me since I received it. Without her, that plant would’ve ended up the same as every other potted plant in my life. Scraggled, withered, and dead. Today, I like to joke that the only reason that our kids and animals are alive and well in our house is because I can hear them tell me that they’re hungry.

However, though I don't have a lot of skill when it comes to gardening, tilling, planting, or watering plants, I do know some of the hard things that are required in caring for those plants. I know that at times one must prune a bush for it to yield further growth. At times one must cut off from the bush either that which is not growing or cut the ‘excess’ growth so that more energy in the plant can be given to those areas needed to let the plant thrive. It is not fancy work and the plant itself doesn't look all that great when the pruning is complete. That selective cutting off of what doesn't help the plant leaves it bare and open; vulnerable. But, the plant isn't left to its own devices. It is continually cared for, watered, looked after, and checked upon as it continues to thrive and grow. Without those parts of it that limited its growth no longer a part of the plant, the beauty it will give will be wonderful.

The same can be said for us as we live out our lives as disciples of Christ. In our gospel today, Jesus tells us that he is the vine, we are the branches, and that God is the vinedresser (or farmer). From Jesus we are given life, we are a part of this great vineyard that grows wonderful fruit. Fruit that is bursting with the love and nourishment from Jesus. God is there cultivating us, caring for us, watching over our growth. And yes, God does prune us where we need to be pruned. God does indeed selectively point out, cut off, and cast away those things in our lives that keep us from seeing God's presence and keeps us from growing the fruit of God's gospel - serving God and neighbor, loving God and neighbor, and dwelling in Christ as Christ dwells within us.

There are those parts of ourselves where, while it is growing from us, keeps us from growing fully into the faith and life that is intended. God, working through ourselves and through others, points out and prunes those places that we focus too much on. Those areas which can keep us from growing in the way that God has intended. A snip here, and a snap there. To us, it can feel like God is just taking those gardening shears and just 'going to town' on us as God casts out those areas that we sinfully enjoy and that which comes easy to us, but that which draws us away from God and way from being a part of the vine that is Christ.

God points out and prunes those areas where we draw into ourselves - those areas where we think more about 'me' than we do about 'we.' The part that seeks to horde instead of share of God's creation, that part of us which is quick to judge those around us instead of forgiving out of love. Those parts where we feel compelled to speak without listening to the hurts and needs of those before us. Those parts where we only view ‘our stuff’ as most important, and that other ‘ideas’ or not worth the time, space, or air they are devoted to. Those parts where we are more apt to concern ourselves with just 'us’, yet God prunes us as we are directed to help and serve those in need around us in and through our love and faith.

This is hard stuff and when we are pruned we feel open, raw, and exposed. We ache at the world in which looks at us in this vulnerable state.

My second year in seminary I was able to go on a trip to Mexico City. Mexico City is a beautiful, vibrant, and historic city. There are so many cool things about it - ancient ruins, wonderful museums, delicious (DELICIOUS) food. Vibrant colors, fantastic music, and a lively culture. Mexico City is awesome, but it is also not without its downside.  

Rampant poverty, appalling living conditions for many, crime, violence, hunger, pollution and needs beyond belief. While there, our group went to a shanty town; homes built simply with corrugated steel roofs, cinder block walls, and dirt floors. We helped teach and play with the local children and we ate a delicious meal prepared by the women of the town. It is here that I could see how much I had looked inward in my life. 

Where I complained in a restaurant back home if the water tasted a 'bit funny,' while these children couldn't even drink the water in town or they might get horribly ill. Where I could fret here about 'what to wear' while those fathers and husbands only had one shirt to work, live, and play in. I can tell you now, that was a pruning experience for me. After that time, I felt raw, broken, and vulnerable because for so long I could see how much I cared more about 'me' than about those around me, not caring to see the great needs that surround us all.

But, I wasn't left alone, just as those plants in the vineyard are not left alone after they've been pruned. We are not left alone as children of God, branches of the vine that is Christ. After the ‘pruning’ in faith of our lives, we are cared for by God through others around us. Where we seek conversation, dive into prayer, and reach out in relationship with others to help ourselves grow into that beautiful fruit that God has intended all along.

After that experience in Mexico, I’ve wanted to be a part of conversations. I’ve strived to gently correct those who hold stereotypically untrue views regarding are sisters and brothers from that beautiful country. I’ve sought to learn more about the struggles they live with by listening to those who have experienced it.

We are all a part of the vine, grafted into Christ through our baptisms. Where we do live and abide in Christ, as Christ dwells within us. God doesn't prune us and open us to those needs around us so we just feel bad about ourselves and ask simply for forgiveness for our pettiness. No, God prunes, but then nourishes us in Christ and encourages us to grow in ways that the fruit of God's labor is made in us so that we might proclaim the Gospel for all, so that we might LIVE out that Gospel for all, so that we might know that Gospel for all in us.

We are a part of this great and wonderful vine that gives us life, we are a part of the vine that is Jesus the Christ. Without whom we can do no thing.  Without whom our joy is never complete. All of our readings this morning point us to what life in God, life in Christ is all about.

It is a relationship of love and service.

We are part of a vast body, the Body of Christ, grafted and adopted through our baptisms. We proclaim along with the eunuch today that, "What can keep me from being a part of this?" NOTHING can keep us from being a part of the body, nothing stands between us and the holy waters of baptism that wash us and give us new life in Christ. We read today that we love and serve because God first loved us, sending us the son so that sin and death are no more. Finally, we read that we receive life and nourishment from Christ as a branch, which bears wonderful fruit. We are comforted by the fact that God is the vinedresser, watching and caring over us and the world - the entire body, the entire vineyard - that is in Christ our Lord.

We are fed and nourished, we are pruned to grow, and we are encouraged to bear fruit in faith so that others might know that God loves, God cares, and God watches over us in grace just as a farmer cares for his or her crops and flowers.

With this message, with this truth, we are called and encouraged to live out that Gospel for others.  Where we live our lives caring for all instead of looking inward upon ourselves which sin causes us to do and that which is so easy to fall into. Where we are open to God's pruning, where we know that God's pruning isn't to make us shameful or judged, but so that we can continue to grow and thrive in the light of God's love. Bearing fruit in the growing of our faith, the spreading the Gospel message to all, and the serving of others over the inward looking toward ourselves.

Pruning at times isn't a glamorous job. But, when those plants bloom; when faith thrives. It is a beautiful wonder and sight to behold. Amen.




April 23, 2018, 12:00 AM

the one about love (and a seat)...


Sermon from April 22, 2018

Text: John 10:11-18 & 1 John 3:16-24

Grace and peace to each of 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, one of the things that we as people of faith and followers of the Lord Jesus hear very often from these very first believers (and our Lord as well) whom we read from today is this – love. Love one another.

In our reading this morning from First John, we get this two-fold commandment passed down from Jesus’ lips, written by John, and shared with billions of followers of Christ throughout history and around the world. Believe in Jesus’ name and love one another.

Though, sometimes – and I’m guilty of this from time to time as well – that the first part of that commandment overshadows the second part. Where ‘loving’ one another becomes contingent to believing in Jesus’ name. When we practice this incorrect interpretation of this commandment, we only show love to those who are in ‘agreement’ with us.

Yet, they are two equal parts of the same commandment. They build and feed off of one another. You believe in Jesus’ name so that you can love one another. You love one another showing that you believe in Jesus’ name.

Of course, living that sort of love at times is not easy. It isn’t easy to love the one who treats others harshly, who speaks ill of those who are different. It isn’t easy to love the one who takes advantages of others. It isn’t easy to love when you don’t feel very loved by others. It isn’t easy to love when you think you’re ‘better’ in some way than another person or group of individuals.

Sometimes, it isn’t easy to love.

Yet, we are still called to love and to follow in the footsteps of our Lord who compares himself to a good shepherd.

Now, if you haven’t thought about it before, this is a rather odd comparison for Jesus to make of himself. At this point, the ‘image’ of a good shepherd isn’t one that brings warm fuzzies and quaint visions of cuddly sheep and charming caretakers.

In fact, shepherds themselves weren’t looked at very well during this time and still not very well in more under-developed parts of the world (at least compared to places we typically call developed). Shepherds were seen as shifty vagrants who let their flock graze on lands that didn’t belong to them. They were considered unclean by the community at that time because of the work they did. It was hard, smelly, nasty work. If you were a shepherd, it was because you weren’t good enough for anything else.

Yet, this is who our Lord compares himself to; for he is the good shepherd.

Our God has a habit of showing us what love is by giving us examples of that love through non-traditional means. Where God is made known in the least likely expected places – being born to a couple out in the far reaches of life, in the care of a Samaritan – those who were not to be interacted with, calling by his side those that others looked down upon like tax collectors and others who are deemed ‘sinful and sin-filled.’

And even comparing himself to those unclean good-for-nothings who just walk around messing with dirty animals, covered with dirt, sweat, manure, and followed by flies.

That’s our Jesus!

Yet, I think as we look back on that, there is something pretty profound in Jesus saying that he is the good shepherd. The one who does the work that others would care not to be involved in. The one who isn’t as educated as you might like. The one who doesn’t wear the finest clothes. The one whose aroma may not be pleasant to others.

Yet, this is the one who cares for those who cannot care for themselves. This is the one who protects that which belongs to another. This is the one who so deeply loves and cares for those around him that they know his voice so well that they come running along at the mere utterance of his words.

As our Lord calls himself the Good Shepherd, he invites us into that kind of love.

First, in that love God reminds us again and again that God is the one that dives deep into the places that others would rather not go so that we might know how fully loved we are. Our God is the one that has come down to be with us, to mire in the muck, chaos, and stench of life to be with each and every one of us. God doesn’t stand off waiting for us to ‘get somewhere’ before God interacts with us. God dives deep into the unpleasant and murky part of our lives to show how deep and full God’s love is for us and for the world.

Our God has come down to live life with us. To sit with us, to celebrate with us, to cry with us, to laugh with us. To live with us. To die with us. To rise in new life with and for us.

Our God embodies that love that knowns no bounds.

Then, Jesus – our God and Lord – invites us into that love as well. To be that sort of loving for others. That love that puts others first. That love that values another more than ourselves.

And it’s hard. We get caught up in ourselves – and we’re really good at it – that it makes it difficult to love others and be loved by others.

Yet, our God continues to reach out to us in ways we wouldn’t expect so that we might notice that love and then, again, live into that love for others.

I heard a story this week that I believe showcases that sort of love pretty well.

There is this guy, his name is Thomas, who is currently in college somewhere out in the United States – where exactly doesn’t matter. As with lots of places in life, when you go to class (or a meeting) you don’t really have assigned seats, but there are those seats that you prefer to sit in. Kind of like showing up at church each week. We don’t have assigned seating, but because we are creatures of habit, there are those places we prefer to sit in over others.

So, this guy has a seat that just happens to be next to a man – a little bit older than him – who doesn’t speak English very well. He appears that he is from the middle east. Now, Thomas has decided that his ‘seat’ in class is next to this guy. It’s one of the closest to the door. He can get in and out pretty quickly. So, he sits there every class.

Now, for Thomas, he doesn’t mind this man too much and is always greeted warmly by him and the man even asks for a ‘high-5’ before every class.

Yet, the thing that bugs Thomas – frustrates him to no end – is that every day when he comes to class he sees this man in the seat next to his, and this man’s stuff is always in Thomas’ seat and desk. Every day before class, the man sees Thomas and makes a hurried attempt to clear his stuff – his books, papers, cell phone, and everything else from Thomas’ seat so that he might have a place to sit.

It annoys Thomas. The man knows he sits there every day – why can’t he just keep his stuff out of ‘Thomas’’ seat.

This of course goes on for most of the semester, yet one day recently Thomas was running a bit late to class and when he arrived he had to take care of a call and a few texts. As he is finishing up a text, another student walks in even later and goes to sit by this man.

The man stops him and says, “I’m sorry – this is my good friend Thomas’ seat. I’m saving it for him.”

Thomas noticed that, and he was floored. The whole semester, he had assumed that this man just had a different (and annoying) concept of personal space, but in fact he had been saving Thomas’ seat for him the entire time.

That day Thomas took him out for lunch and learned so much more about his new friend.

As Thomas shared this story on the internet, he invited and asked people not to be so self-absorbed that they miss out on those trying to love and care for them in ways that they wouldn’t and don’t expect.

I have a different take. Our God – our Lord Jesus – calls us into a life of love that looks different from the world. Our God invites us to love others over ourselves. This love that we are called into will put us in places and moments that might seem weird, perhaps even annoying to others.

Yet, we are called to love like Thomas’ new friend. The one who – in spite of the other not knowing or even understanding what that love looks like – continues to love. Continues to care. Continues to reach out.

Love like Thomas’ friend. Even and perhaps especially when that love isn’t quiet understood.

Remember that God’s love to us is like Thomas’ friend. Reaching out to us and extending to us even when we don’t notice. The one who greets us each day with a ‘high-5’ and asks if we’re ready.

Love one another. Be active in that love. Be reminded of God’s love for you and for the world. Amen.

 




April 16, 2018, 8:07 AM

the one about a witness...


Sermon from April 15, 2018

Text: Luke 24: 36b-48

Grace and peace to each of you this morning in the name of God our Creator and our Lord and Savior 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!

So, as you heard the gospel this morning, how many of you thought, “Didn’t we hear this one last week?” If you noticed – and hopefully you did today’s gospel reading is very similar to the gospel reading from last Sunday. Today we read from the Gospel of Luke, last Sunday our gospel was from John.

In both stories we are told that the disciples are gathered somewhere together – possibly away from others. This is still all very close to the time after Jesus’ resurrection. Emotions are still high, there is still a lot of confusion, doubt, and worry going around. Not to mention, there is still a heavy sense of fear as well.

In the midst of this moment of chaos – again – we hear that Jesus makes an appearance with his disciples.

I always chuckle a little bit when Jesus appears, and the disciples freak out and become terrified. I don’t think it’s funny because they are so silly. I chuckle because I too would probably be afraid. Imagine if you’re the disciples – the guy who you said you’d follow to the end, but when that eventual end came how did you react? Did you stand by him? Or did you turn tale and run? We know how the disciples acted, they really didn’t stick around, but hung back in hiding. Naturally, if the guy you abandoned in his desperate hour came back to be with you – you’d be scared.

I chuckle because of course the disciples are terrified. Jesus is alive and they probably think he’s probably pretty upset!

Of course, that isn’t the case at all. Jesus isn’t mad. Jesus isn’t out to seek revenge. Jesus isn’t even here to chastise his friends.

Much like we saw last week, Jesus appears to his disciples and gives his assurance and peace. Last week it was in his breath. That comfort that is given to each of us as we see our loved ones breathe.

This week, at this re-telling of Jesus’ appearance there is a focus on his body. Jesus isn’t a ghost, and his disciples shouldn’t be afraid. He can be touched and held on to. He’s real. He’s here. You can give him a hug and he can hug you back.

And because he is real – with a real body – no spirit, no ghostly apparition – it is a real body, so his tummy is rumbling. I imagine you build up quite an appetite being dead for three days, getting up and talking to people. I know how hungry I get if I don’t eat for 6 hours or so.

So, Jesus appears to them and assures them that he is in fact alive – just as the women had said, just as the two on the road were telling them just now. He’s real. He has a body. He is resurrected. The words he told his disciples are true. Oh, and by the way, can you pass the fish to Jesus, he’s a little hungry.

And then, Jesus says something that I don’t want us to overlook – something that we just might read quickly past because of all the extraordinary things given to us in this short story from the bible.

After he makes himself known, eats a little fish, and confirms the truth of his words that he’s be telling them this whole time, he says, “Y’all are witnesses of these things.”

You are witnesses.

When you hear ‘witness’ in the church, or at least stereotypically through the media portrayal of the church, a preacher is usually asking for one and getting an amen in response. Yet, that’s not really what Jesus is asking for here.

Jesus tells his disciples that they are witnesses of the things they’ve seen. The things they’ve seen just now – that Jesus is alive, real, and eats. He isn’t some ghost. But, they’ve also been witnesses of the miraculous deeds, actions, and signs that he has shown to them throughout their journeys together. They are witness to so much. They have seen so many wonderful things.

If we’re not careful, we’ll leave it at that. Where we might think that a witness is someone who just saw something. Where a witness was someone who was just in the presence of what happened. If we’re not careful, we’ll just let that word slip right by without understanding that there is something vitally important to being a witness.

Yes, a witness is someone who was there. Yes, a witness is someone who saw. But, being there and seeing isn’t what makes a person a witness. What makes them a witness is that they share and tell their story.

Jesus is laying before his disciples a plan of action. There is responsibility in being called a witness in God’s kingdom. For a witness is one who shares what they have seen, heard, and been a part of. A witness is someone who tells their story in support of what has happened.

And when people share their story, they don’t always look quite the same. Perhaps that’s why in Luke this morning after Jesus invites them to touch and hold his real body he asks for some food, where last week after Jesus asks his disciples to touch and see his wounds he breathes on them to bring further and deeper reassurance.

Even though these two stories diverge slightly, the fundamental message itself is still the same – Jesus has risen. You can hold on to him. You can see his wounds. He breathes. He eats. He is alive again.

You are witnesses of these things.

You are a witness – share this story. Tell of this good news.

We too are witnesses of the risen Christ. We too are witnesses of the messiah’s new life. We also are witnesses of the renewed life that our Lord invites the world into. We might not receive the same experience that the disciples had mere days after Jesus’ death. But, we too are witness to Jesus’ risen body as it is lived out in the world. Lived out through this community. Lived out throughout the kingdom of God in the world.

Lived out in the story of a man who said, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” Lived out in the life of the ones who welcome the outcast into community through love. We see the risen Christ at work through those who venture into moments of peril and anger and proclaim love, mercy, and forgiveness.

We are witness to the risen Christ as we gather together in community this day to share a meal – a little bread and wine – and in that act of nourishment are sent to live out a life of witness to the world.

We live out our call and title of ‘witness’ by sharing this story of Jesus’ resurrection and hope for the world through our words, through our service, through our love for those around us.

We are witnesses of God’s new thing in Jesus’ resurrection when we hear the news of a great gift of abundance to this community of faith and the first things on people’s lips have been, “How can this help others?”

We bear witness to Jesus’ resurrection when we live into the life he called for us – where we care for those around us, we boldly stand with those who are oppressed, we sit-with those who are mourning and hurting, we celebrate in joy of blessing and thankfulness; where we do all of this not for ourselves, but because of others – no matter who they are, where they came from, or where they are going.

You are – all of you – all of us – witnesses to the Risen Christ our Lord. We live as witnesses to the world as we share this incredible story of truth to the world. We share it through our words, through our worship, most importantly through our service to those around us.

Yes, witnesses do see and experience the risen body. But, what makes them – what makes us witnesses – isn’t because we see and experience, what makes us witnesses is that we share what we’ve seen, heard, and experienced.

Everyone’s witness may be slightly different, yet we tell the same story. We share in the love that has been gifted to us with the entire world and with all – all – who we meet. Proclaiming this radical inclusion and hospitality that our Lord has modeled for us and all of creation.

Be witnesses. You are witnesses. Share what you’ve seen and experienced of the Risen Christ in the world. Amen.




April 9, 2018, 8:00 AM

the one about peace and breath...


Sermon from April 8, 2018

Text: John 20: 19-31

 

Grace and peace to each of 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!

So, there are a few texts that we hear every year as we gather for worship week in and week out. There’s the story of our Lord’s birth – those are the same texts every year. There’s the reading about discipleship that we hear on Ash Wednesday as we begin Lent each year. And, there is even this text from John’s Gospel – this story of the disciples’ immediate response to the news of Jesus’ resurrection – that we hear every year on the second Sunday of Easter.

Now, I know there are a few reasons for this. Logically, it makes a lot of sense. It’s the story that immediately follows the first preaching of Jesus’ resurrection according to John’s gospel. Mary and the women preach Jesus’ new life and then we get the immediate response. It’s the logical and chronological next step.

Hearing this story every 2nd Sunday of Easter is also practical as well. Many, many pastors after the grand festival of Easter naturally take this Sunday off, so it gives those who are supplying for this Sunday a ‘go-to’ text that they don’t have to worry and fret over too much.

But, though I think each of those logical and practical reasons to hear this text each year are valid, there is another reason that I think might get to the ‘root’ of why we hear this text so often. I think spiritually, we need to hear this text as often as we can. And it isn’t for the reason that this text is usually titled and preached more often than it should.

I want to ask y’all a question. When you receive wonderful news – unexpected news – how do you usually respond? What happens in your brain and in your life when you hear news that you never thought could be possible, yet it is headed your way?

Around this time of year, I love to watch videos on the internet about kids receiving the news that they got into the college they’ve always wanted to be a part of. Whether it be Harvard, Stanford, or even the premiere of the premiere – Newberry College. I love watching the reaction of those who receive that good news.

Sure, many are surrounded by exuberant and celebratory family members and friends, but – most of the time – if you watch the one who the good news is about, they kind of sit dumbfounded. They’re rooted in their spot with an astonished look upon their face. Everyone may be getting super emotional around them, yet they are left with this kind of non-emotional face of ‘whoa.’

It’s as if they cannot believe that it is really real. It really happened. Now what do they do?

How do y’all react when you get that sort of news?

Do you doubt that this could be true? Do you fall down exasperated? Are you so overcome with emotion – and such full emotion – that you root in one spot trying to figure it all out?

I think all the disciples are experiencing those things as they cower in a locked room. They’ve heard this amazing news, and they don’t know what to do. They gather in fear, in confusion, in exasperation on what to do next.

What does it all mean.

I cannot imagine all the emotions and thoughts that are running through their minds. I think we like to believe that we would be hooping and hollering and out shouting the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, but in actuality, I feel we might have a lot more in common with our disciples than we care to admit.

It’s dangerous stuff to proclaim to the world that the one that the powerful of the world killed isn’t dead anymore. It just might be why they are locked in fear.

So, all these emotions, feelings, and thoughts are coursing through these close friends of Jesus and they don’t know what to do. And this is the moment that Jesus appears to them.

In the midst of their biggest (up to that point) struggle, as they’re trying to cope with the reality of what they saw and experienced – Jesus’ death, with the story of the good news preached to them from the women who went to the tomb – that is when Jesus comes alongside them.

Think about that.

Today, the world likes to tell us that ­when you get your house in order, when you get the lines straightened out, when you come to your senses – that’s when Jesus shows up. Once you pull yourself up by your proverbial boot-straps, that is when God shows up. Once you’re ‘clean and presentable’ that’s when Jesus enters into your life.

Yet, that cannot be further from the truth. It isn’t scriptural, it isn’t biblical, it isn’t a faithful interpretation of what we read of in our history of faith.

Jesus enters into this moment of ‘chaos’ experienced by his disciples and friends, and what are his first words in those moments?

Peace. Shalom. Health. Tranquility. Wholeness. Calm. Still. Quiet.

I’m here with you.

And with that word of peace, they are breathed upon.

Now, when I first read that many, many years ago my first reaction was, “Gross.” Give some personal space Lord.

Yet, as I’ve grown older, as I’ve cared and prayed for people, as I’ve become a parent, there is nothing that is quite as ‘peace giving’ as seeing someone you love to breathe. There are nights when I’m struggling the most that I just want to hear, feel, and see Erin and my children breathe. There is safety and security in those acts for me – and I would daresay for many of y’all as well.

In those moments in the hospital when a parent, friend, or child is laboring in sickness – the very first thing you want to see and hear is their breath rising and falling. There is comfort in that sight.

So, here among their struggle and excited joy, Jesus proclaims to them peace and in the midst of all those old and new emotions, he breathes on them.

He’s really, really, really here.

Now, of course Jesus breathing on and into his disciples is a bit different than me watching those in my family breathe, there is something else attached to this act as well.

Not only does it bring comfort and deeper peace to a life full of chaos in that moment, but we know that God’s Spirit moves creation to live life faithfully. The Spirit of God – she breathes us into moments and spaces to live according to God’s word. That breath pushes us into moments of holiness and strength with God. That breath moves us past the Monday after the resurrection – the fall from the celebratory high – to live into this new normal of resurrected life.

That breath of God which may put us in places that are uncomfortable and put us in confrontation with the powers that be in the world. But, we remember that our Lord offers peace and is breathing next to us, on us, and into us so that we might live into this new and renewed life of faith.

Caring for those on the outskirts, proclaiming this bold and dangerous good news, helping shape the narrative of the world so that others might know that there is another way at work.

The one that beats swords in to plowshares, the life that is lived for others and not for ourselves, the love that encompasses all and lived out for all. The life that is lived knowing that we are already good enough. Good enough already for our Lord to be with us. Good enough already to be sent to proclaim this good news. Good enough already to be loved fully and completely.

On this day, we get to experience the fullness of wholeness that our Lord gives to each of us. The Spirit has been breathed into the disciples and has been breathed and poured into us in our baptisms. We are fed at the table. We are nourished in the Word. We are sent from this place with the Spirit’s breath at our backs. Moving and guiding us to proclamation of God’s word, to live for others, to care for the world.

We hear this story every year on this second Sunday of Easter. We hear it because we easily forget that presence, that comfort, that peace. Yet, in spite of that forgetfulness, just as the disciples forgot about the promise of new life and resurrection – here again is our Lord appearing to us in numerous ways to give us – to speak to us – that peace once again. To breathe on and into us, to send us out into the world once again. Bringing us comfort, assurance, and mission to the world. Amen.




April 2, 2018, 12:00 AM

the one about the joke...


Sermon from April 1, 2018 - Easter Sunday

Text: Mark 16:1-8

 

Grace and peace to each of you this wonderful morning of the Resurrection! 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!

We’ve arrived again! Again, we get to shout and proclaim – HE IS RISEN (HE IS RISEN INDEED, ALLELUIA!)! Again, we are able to gather in joy and glory to celebrate what God has done in the world. Our Lord Jesus, who is the Christ, is victorious over sin and death and we are invited into that victory. This is a good day. It always will be. It always has been. The gloom and sadness of Good Friday and the holy quiet of Saturday is overshadowed by the hope and joy this day proclaims. Our sin that has led to that death, has been wiped clean because of the empty tomb.

So, of course it seems only appropriate that this day – this year – falls on what the secular world calls ‘April Fools.’ The ‘gotcha’ day! A day full of jokes and moments and times that we have to be ever more thoughtful about the news we see on the screens we won’t be able to tear our eyes from (because we want to see what outlandish jokes can be perpetrated).

I still remember the first ‘gotcha’ that someone used on me – as my dad declared boldly that a triceratops was outside our apartment balcony while we were living in San Diego. Sadly, there was no ancient dinosaur. Though, as I remember it – the joke wasn’t all that funny, not to me.

And that’s mostly what we experience on April Fools. Excitement about something new and then the devastation and underwhelming reality that this too isn’t true. It’s just a joke. Nothing to see here.

As we view and experience this day of April Fools, we get to do so in the context of celebrating Easter Sunday. It is as if this day that God has pulled the wool from own eyes. We’ve been had in a ‘gotcha’ moment as well!

Of course, there’s something different about this one. In this ‘gotcha’ no one is coming into this event and potential reality of death feeling excited, joyous, or looking for a good time. In fact, those who are entering the holy place of the tomb are in deep sadness and frustration.

The one they believed to be the Son of God, the messiah come down to bring freedom and salvation to the world has died. They watched it happen. They saw the nails forced into his body. They experienced his final breath. The women cared for their Lord’s lifeless body, helped wrap him in burial clothes, and placed him into the tomb.

For all they’ve seen, they know what to expect. This day isn’t going to be a good one as they began that early morning trek to the graveside. As they walked to the tomb, they even pondered how it was that they were going to roll away the stone so that they might ritually attend to their Lord’s body.

Yet, when they arrive they experience God’s foolishness. The one who has gone to the cross and died is no longer present in the tomb. A messenger has informed them that he has been raised from the dead. Death no longer lurks here, only new life.

Astonishment and bewilderment abound. And, not so surprisingly a heavy dose of fear as well. So, much fear that our text ends with the women who came to ritually prepare the body, they hear the news, and run in fear and we are told that they won’t be telling anyone.

Yet, we know that that last part isn’t true – April Fools again, or should I say, Easter Fools! For the women did tell, preach, and proclaim. We know this because we are here celebrating this day. The gospel of Mark is the earliest written gospel, so it only makes sense that their fear was eventually overcome by a desire to share this good news. Because not only are we hear, but three other gospels were written to share this news with the world.

But, when we hear the ending of this gospel – the true ending that is – it doesn’t sit well with us. It really doesn’t. It is why someone much later felt like they needed to add something else so that the gospel didn’t end on this note (that’s where we get the longer ending which was written much later according to scholars and research). Where those who are the first to hear such wonderful news run away in fear. It doesn’t make sense. Yet, I heard a story that I thought fit pretty well to how we can experience this ending and what it can lead us to do in response.

So, everyone knows of Beethoven right? Well, the story goes that Beethoven was notoriously difficult to rouse from slumber. He just never wanted to get up and on with the day. He’d rather stay in bed than anything else. So, his maid after numerous attempts to wake him came up with an ingenious plot. She’d go to the piano in his room and play a small part of one of his pieces. But, the kicker is she would intentionally end that piece early. Hearing just a small part of his music, but not finished, was the thing that would finally get Beethoven to get out of bed, to finish the piece, and begin his day.

Has anyone ever done that to you? I’m not good at remembering (most) music, but I know that there is a good chance if I say – ‘Shave and a hair cut.’ Someone is going to finish it. (thank you)

Perhaps we are left on this intentional cliffhanger in Mark’s gospel to rouse us from our own slumber. Perhaps Mark knows that the women shared this story (he had to hear it preached from someone right?!?) but, as an encouragement to wake us in our faith to share this good news of Jesus’ resurrection, he only shared the first part of this particular story of sharing so that we might feel compelled to finish what he left off.

Endings like this bring questions, helps us dive deeper into the story. We want to know more.

The season of Easter reminds us that God has, and God is reaching out to the world – to each of us – and inviting us into this story. Inviting us into this life and love that is always and forever ours. God has come down to be with us and lives life and death to full and completeness. We remember this story of the one who has come to be with us and has risen from the grave ­for us.

We get to share that story. We get to share the good news of this day. We get to proclaim and shout of this love to the world. What great news it is. The ‘joke’ of today is that death has lost its sting, that death no longer reigns over us. The death is no longer the last word. April Fools indeed!

In Jesus’ resurrection we have been given new life – renewed life. So that we might live this life for others and with others.

We don’t live our lives of faith in accordance to how our Gospel story ends this day. We don’t run in fear without telling anyone. But, we do live out our life following in the footsteps of those bold women at the tomb. We know they shared this story because we are here. We are here gathered with one another as we hear this story again all the while knowing that we aren’t he only ones hearing and sharing this story. We are gathered in the body of Christ – around the world – literally billions of people – who are sharing and proclaiming this empty tomb this morning. We aren’t alone in this endeavor, but we gladly and boldly share this good news together.

We live our life sharing this good news of new life. Inviting others to be a part of it. A life that welcomes, encourages discussion, asks questions, and builds relationships. A life that is lived out in love for others because our God, our Lord, has lived and continues to live out that love for the entire world.

We get to share the biggest ‘gotcha’ of all. We get to share the joke that puts death in its place. We get to share the story of the tomb. The one they thought was fully, but is completely empty. Easter Fools! Amen!




April 1, 2018, 12:00 AM

April 2018 Newsletter


Grace and peace to each of you this wonderful month of April! Spring is definitely in the air! The pollen is everywhere! I try to remind myself that it is the beautiful process of creation that God has implemented; the pollen on the ground is a part of renewal and new life. Still, it makes it difficult to remember that when everything is covered in a thin layer of yellow and our noses are stuffed with watery eyes.

We also know that it is a time of new life and renewed life because as you receive this we will have celebrated another Easter Sunday! He is risen (He is risen indeed, alleluia!). We get to be a part of a life renewed through the resurrection and the empty tomb. We are constantly being renewed and brought to new life because of what God has already done and continues to do in our lives.

With that continues good news of being made new in Christ’s resurrection, there are some exciting things in store for us as the people and community of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. First, a letter will be mailed to your homes shortly from our Council President, Beth Singletary, with a little more information regarding some great news. Be on the lookout for that letter and be open to being a part of all that this opportunity brings our way. It is really, really exciting. I cannot wait to see what God has in store for us and how we can bring even more impactful ministry to our community, state, and beyond.

Another thing that I’m really excited for Redeemer to be a part of will occur at the end of this month, April 29th, to be exact. We, along with other congregations in our community, are invited to a viewing of the movie Selma. This is the 2014 film chronicling Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. White and Black congregations from our community will gather to view the movie at the Newberry Opera House at 3:30pm and then head over to Redeemer’s Family Life Center to have a small meal while being in conversation about the movie and our lives.

We live in a world that is indeed divided in so many ways – race, privilege, wealth, class, and more. This is an opportunity for us to confront those realities and forge new and deeper relationships both within our churches and with individuals in our community. This could open us up to even more opportunities to proclaim God’s word of radical love in even more thoughtful and meaningful ways to those in our community who need to hear of and experience this love.

The season of Easter reminds us of the new thing that God has done in Christ our Lord. That new thing continues to shape and form us even today – in ways that we never thought possible.

New opportunities abound at Redeemer. We – as a community where God is definitely at work – are at the cusp of something great. Great for God’s Kingdom lived out through Redeemer and great for God’s Kingdom for the community around us.

So, keep a look out for your mailboxes in the near future for a letter from our church council president and be open to participate in honest conversations about life that will bring us to new opportunities for ministry in our community!

I love y’all, I really mean it!




March 30, 2018, 12:00 AM

the one about love...


Sermon from March 29, 2018 - Maundy Thursday

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

 

Grace and peace to each of you on this – the beginning of the three most holy days in our lives of faith. 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 enter this Maundy Thursday – Command Thursday – hearing from Jesus this new commandment that he has given them. Love one another.

Love each other, like I have loved you. When you do this, everyone will know who you are and who you follow because of the love that you share with and for one another.

Love. In English it is a strange word. It’s strange because it is a single word that is designed to encompass so many different meanings. One of the more ‘fun’ things that I get to do as a pastor is to teach confirmation. It’s always enjoyable to look at those young middle schoolers and ask, “Do you love your friends?”

Most of the time, especially from the boys. You hear, “NO WAY! I don’t love them!”

But, then we get down to what love means. Do you care for them? Are you happy when they are happy? Do you like to hang out with them? When they are hurt (or you are hurt) do you want to see them feel better? Do you worry about them? Do you hope that they get to do the things that they want?

Almost all of them say, “Well, yeah…”

So, again… Do you love your friends? If you put it that way pastor… Yes.

This evening as we hear Jesus speak, he helps broaden that definition of love. The love that Jesus has for them is to be lived out in their love for others.

When we began this trek to these three holy days and Easter, we heard from Bishop Munib Younan about what our faith lives encompass. Where – as followers of Jesus – our lives, our actions, our very beings are wrapped up in the care and love of those around us.

We live this life of faith for others. This life of faith isn’t about us. It never has been. We continually proclaim and follow our Lord who is adamant about that. That we follow in the ways of the one who goes out of his way to care for those in need; who cares for those who are hurting; who cares for those who need to hear of God’s love.

Doing that put Jesus and his disciples in interesting situations. It meant that he dined in the homes of those that have been socially outcast. He ate and surrounded himself with those who the majority thought were ‘worthless.’ He broke bread with tax collectors. He cared for those with disabilities. He mingled with foreigners. He touched the untouchable. He treated everyone he interacted with equality through love.

He gave space to those who had no voice. He gave prominence to those who were put down. He entered into the presence with those who no one wanted to be near.

He showed what it meant to love one another.

And in that love, he put himself at odds with those in power. He put himself at odds with those he grew up with. In that love, he constantly pushed back against the ‘status quo.’

In that love, he was proclaimed as a blasphemer, a rabble rouser, as someone needed to be killed because of who he gave hope and new life.

In that love he put himself below the title and accolades that others foisted upon him. He was questioned – constantly – about why he could/would/should do such a thing. Questioned by those outside his band of followers and questioned by inside that circle.

The love that Jesus showed stretched and continues to stretch what we know of as ‘comfortable.’ Stretching to include all the things, actions, and people that we have been told to ‘not do or be around.’

Where the world tells us – you can’t love this person because… Jesus has gone to them too and invites us as well.

Where the world tells us – this is something unbefitting of a person in ‘our’ stature… Jesus continues to call us to serve in that love.

Jesus has shown throughout all the gospels what it means to love in the way that God loves. What it means to love one another as he has loved us. It isn’t easy, it continually shatters our views of what we think the kingdom should look like and forms and shapes it into what God has intended all along.

When I was a beginning ‘baby pastor’ I remember having a conversation about the life of faith with the people I served. One individual stated, “I don’t see why everyone can’t do this. Just be nice and show up to church. It’s easy!”

I asked, “What about the person we read about in the papers today who caused so much hurt and pain, do you love him? What about that jerk in school so many years ago who made you feel small, how do you pray for her? What about those people that the world has told you to ‘be against’ because of where they are from, can you help them move into their new home?”

With those questions, “well when you put it that way…”

Loving one another is difficult, not because of what God calls us into, but because we have such a twisted view on what love is and how and who we should love. It’s easy to – so much easier – to allow ourselves to turn away from those that need care. Where we might fear what will happen to us – we’ll be rejected, taken advantage of, won’t be able to do enough. Where we live into the words of Peter in our reading this morning and say, “No Lord, don’t wash my feet.”

Because sharing and receiving love in such ways makes us uncomfortable.

Yet, our Lord calls us to live into that kind of love. And we know that our Lord will be present with us in those moments. Our God has promised to be present with us and we have been reminded that there is nothing that separates us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The love that our messiah calls us into puts us in positions that will be uncomfortable, puts us in moments that we will be vulnerable, leads us into actions that others might view as ‘less than’ in a multitude of ways.

It won’t be easy – it never is. But, we do not enter into these moments of love alone. Of course we have our Lord with us every step of the way, but we also are gathered together in service and love as well. We don’t ‘love’ alone.

We all are called into these opportunities to love as our Lord has loved us.

And there’s this really cool thing about being a part of this community and kingdom of God that is formed, shaped, and lived out in love. When you’re living this life of faith loving the person – all the people – in front of you, that means someone else is loving and caring for you. All are being loved and our Christ is continually guiding us in that love, service, and faith.

Love one another as Christ has loved us. In this way, people will know who we are. Love each other. Love. Amen.




March 26, 2018, 8:46 AM

the one about the whole thing...


Homily from March 25, 2018

Reading: Mark 14:1 - 15:47

Grace and peace to each of you this day.

Now, there is a lot that is going on in our service today. We’ve entered into worship proudly waving palm fronds as we shout Hosanna! Hosanna in the Highest!

We enter into this day in celebration and victory much like those who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem so many thousands of years ago. We get to remember that joyous moment. A moment full of hope, joy, and more.

Yet, as we will soon discover, that moment of joy was only fleeting. For we quickly move from the triumph of victory to the agony of defeat. As we celebrate Palm Sunday, we also remember the Passion of Our Lord today as well.

This morning we get to hear the penultimate story of our Lord’s life before the resurrection. Today we get to hear of the distrust, the fear, the distress, the betrayal, the hurt, the death.

Today, we get to hear and participate into the entire story leading up to the resurrection. But, different from today is that I (once I stop this little homily) won’t be ‘preaching’ on what we hear this morning. We get to hear the scripture – in its fullness – alone. We get to hear this story once again.

I invite you therefore, to listen to this story (and participate) as if you’re hearing it for the first time. You might be surprised in how you’ve remembered this story of our Lord.

As we listen to this Passion of our Lord I also invite each of you to fully participate in our Holy Week services this week. Today we get most of the story in one big bite, but we get to dive deeper into this story on Thursday as we look more closely at this story leading to Jesus being handed over. On Friday, we take the opportunity to commemorate the darkest day of our lives of faith – we enter into Good Friday as we hear the story of the passion after our Lord is handed over.

Yet, we still know the fullness of this story and we know where the story goes. We know that today’s words and the words of Thursday and Friday are not the end. This not the final word for us as people of faith and especially as people of faith on this side of the resurrection. But, in order to experience the fullness of that joy to come, we must first endure the whole story. All it’s pain, all it’s sadness, all our complicity within it.

So, it is here in that knowledge that we hear the Passion of our Lord according to the Gospel of Mark…




March 19, 2018, 8:57 AM

the one about death and (new) life...


Sermon from March 18, 2018

Text: John 12: 20-33, Jeremiah 31:31-34

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, we come to the final week of Lent before we begin the story, remembrance, and celebration of our Lord’s passion and resurrection. We are at the cusp of something great as we look forward to that eventual celebration of new and eternal life. That time where we can once again shout that A word that ends with ouya! Where we end the fasts of our lives – the ones we’ve tried to hold on to during this season of Lent – not so that we can indulge ourselves with those things we’ve gone without. But, to remember that though we have been without those specific things, we have never been without God. That our Lord takes precedence in our lives and that is who we are directed by and leading towards.

But, as Jesus reminds us today – again – that before that celebration there will be something not very fun to celebrate and remember. That in order for the new to come forth, the old has to go away.

Jesus tells a story that I think a lot of us can relate to – even if our understanding of it may be a little different. Jesus tells the story of a seed. In order for that seed to bear fruit, it has to die. It has to cease being a seed. There isn’t any way around that. No matter what, the seed must be no more so that the plant can grow. No matter how long it has been a seed, it has to end. It has to ‘die’ so new life can be born.

You plant a seed, you water it and care for it. As it takes root a plant sprouts from the ground. If you dig that plant up after it bears fruit, you won’t see evidence of the seed that it once was. It’s ‘gone,’ it is ‘no more.’ It goes through change.

Most of us are pretty frightened of change. We don’t like it, we don’t want to experience it. Even though change – in all aspects of our life – is the most common thing each of us experience. We resist change; even if going through that change might lead to something great and better than where we are now.

Have you heard the joke about how many Lutherans it takes to change a light bulb? One to change the light, one to hold the ladder, and the other to complain about how much they liked the old bulb.

I remember when I started running competitively. My parents remember it vividly. They couldn’t believe that I wanted to run cross country and track. They remember the kid in Italy who didn’t want to play soccer because, “There’s just too much running.”

Now, anyone who has participated in a sport or talent of any kind, whether it be running, baseball, soccer, football, playing an instrument, and so many other wonderful talents knows where we want to be. We see the likes of the ‘superstars’ in our world. Those in our small networks – the ‘best ones’ of our schools, but even more so the ‘truly elites’ of the world. We see that and think, “man, I want to be able to do that!”

Of course, in order to get there, it requires practice, patience, change, and even ‘death’. To hone our skills and craft, work and change must take place.

A story from my life. In high school I wanted to break 5 minutes in the mile. That meant that my ‘old’ way of life had to die. No more being inactive. No more taking the ‘easy’ way in training. No more eating of the not so great foods (that taste oh so good). It meant changing almost everything. The seed that was born – the one that wanted to run had to change – it had to ‘die’ to become something even better.

So, I went full bore into it. Gave up pizza – kind of. Was invested into running and training. To the point that when I returned a movie to the video store for my family – I didn’t drive there. I ran the 5 miles to the store and back.

Eventually those ‘old ways’ finally fell away and new ways emerged. In that process I was changed. I was fit and lean, strong and agile, confident and daring. I didn’t just break 5 minutes, I smashed that goal. I ended up 6th in the state of South Carolina during the state championships my senior year. Running a time of 4:31.6 in the mile.

During the time from when I set my sight on where I wanted to be to the eventual surpassing of my own goals – it stunk – for the most part. It was hard. There were some days that I fought mightily against the change. I didn’t want to get up and go run - again. It would be so much easier (and faster) to just drive to the store instead of running. I really wanted to eat pizza at school with my friends. Man, it would be good to have a Coke instead of just water. But, I knew what I hoped to achieve and the sacrifice that came with that goal.

Jesus gives us a similar goal as well. Jesus has come to this world – come to us – to free us from the bondage of sin that enslaves and wraps us. Those places and things that bind us into the thinking that we are not enough, that we ‘can’t,’ that pull us away from God and that which is so good for us and creation.

As a church God has planted those seeds of faith where we can see how great we can be at bearing fruit for God in our community. Those new opportunities and new ways of being church – of being followers of Christ – of serving those in our community.

But, in order for that time happen – the old nut has to die. It has to. The hardened nut of ‘we’ve never done it that way before.’ The nut of ‘it’ll be hard’ or ‘we aren’t enough.’ And so much more.

As we go through the season of Lent – we began with Ash Wednesday where we remembered that one day we will die. That we will die both literally and physically. Where we remembered that our life of faith is wrapped up in the care and the life of the person before us and the people – all of them – around us. The old way will pass away and a new way will shine forth. But, in that death – in that change – God will be and has promised to be with us.

We again are reminded of that eventual reality in Christ’s words this morning. As Jesus talks about how a seed must die (foreshadowing his own death) and how if we are to serve Christ – we must follow. Following Jesus leads to death. It does.

There’s no way around it. Serving and following Jesus leads to death. One can’t be done without the other, and both will lead to death.

But, we know that death is not the final word. That we – as the church – as the ones who serve and follow Christ – that we are a people of the resurrection. That death and change are difficult and adverse to what the world offers to us.

That though Christ talks about seeds dying, that the seed must do so to bear much fruit. And we are to follow Jesus in those ways.

As we approach that time of death – the darkness appears ever so dark. It’s easy to fall into that. To be consumed by that darkness. That darkness, in many ways, is ‘safe’ because even though it might be bad for us, it is what we’ve known and what we’ve grown comfortable with. But, Christ calls us to follow the light. To leave the safe conformity that we know to venture out into the harsh light of life. The light that leads us to new life. That in that service and following – we will die. Those ways that the world lifts up will die and fall away and we will walk into the new life that God has promised us in Jesus Christ.

Where our death might mean that we are looked sideways by our friends and families. Where we don’t participate in the jokes that continue to spread harm and untruth. Where we stand up for those being pushed down, even though standing up might mean being shunned ourselves. Where we share our hurts and pains, even though the world might see that as weak. Where we follow in the footsteps of our Lord and Savior and mingle and associate and befriend those on the outskirts of life, fully expecting the backlash to come from those in the majority. Where we stand up and say, “No! This isn’t right – that is not how God’s people are called to act.” Where we don’t disparage, ridicule, bully, taunt, hurt, or worse – no matter who among the world’s powerful might do the same. As we live into that sort of new life, we invite others to be a part of this as well.

Our ‘death’ buries the old life, so that the new life of hospitality, welcome, and radical inclusion might bear fruit for the kingdom of God.

Where that new life leads us to the vision that Jeremiah gives his people and shares with us. That life – those days that are surely coming – where a new covenant is made between God and creation. Where that law and grace of God are printed on our hearts and lived out through our lives. That new covenant where there is forgiveness and sin is forgotten.

That new life that bears so much fruit. That new life that serves and follows the one who has gone before us. That new life where death must come first. Where that single grain must give way to bear so much fruit.

Come and serve. Come and follow. Come and die with Christ. God is with us. Do this so that we might all live full and abundant. Amen!


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