In pm's words
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May 28, 2017, 12:00 AM

the one about prayer...


Sermon from May 28, 2017

Text: John 17: 1-11

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

So, I want to ask y’all a question. How do you feel when you hear someone has prayed for you, offers to pray for you, or you overhear them pray for you? If you’re like me – while it does make you feel ‘good’ and ‘loved’ there is also a little bit of ‘why?’

There are all sorts of interpretations to that question that we all run through. Why should they bother – for I’m not good enough for those words. Why, do they know something that I don’t? Why are they praying for me – I’m sure there is someone else more in need of their prayers. I believe we react in those ways more often than we care to admit – I know I do.

I’ll give an example. Each week we lift up prayers for a community of faith within our synod. We do this every week and we are just over halfway through every congregation in the South Carolina Synod (and yes, when we pray through all our congregations and worshipping communities we will start it all over again). A couple of months ago I happened to be in a Synod meeting at a church that we had just prayed for that previous Sunday. I was talking to a member of that particular church’s staff and they realized that I was the pastor of the church that they had just received a letter of prayer from. The person chuckled a bit and said, “thank you for your prayers. It was also kind of funny though when pastor so-and-so saw it, their first reaction was, ‘Why? What’s going on that we don’t know about?’”

We all do this. We perceive something to be ‘wrong’ when we discover that someone has been praying for us. When in actuality – it is what we are called to do as faithful followers of our Risen Lord.

In those prayers for others it connects us to them on a deeper level. Taking deliberate time where we focus on someone else – someone we love or someone we don’t know – to pray for them. Asking God to give them peace or strength. To ask for our Lord’s presence be made known to them. Sometimes prayer is done without any words. Just being with someone in need. Acting through and in our love of others. Whatever it is and however it is that you pray – it is good.

I think it humbles us to realize that others pray for us. We’d rather be the one’s ‘giving’ the prayers than receiving them. In our American culture today, we have this sense that you cannot show any weakness, you can’t give an inch, you cannot let anyone see you be vulnerable. For whatever reason being told that you’re being prayed for or even that you are in need of prayers constitutes weakness or vulnerability to many.

I’ve talked with several people in my years of ministry who ‘want to be prayed for, but please don’t let others know.’

We crave and we yearn for prayers, for someone to know the struggles we encounter, but we try to put up so many obstacles so that we don’t appear ‘weak’ or as a ‘loser’ to those around us.

So, when we hear someone praying for us, we always want to ask ‘why?’

People pray for you. We are called to pray for one another. It is a mark of our discipleship in following our Lord to be in prayer.

This morning, we overhear a prayer from our Lord. At the end of the meal – the night before he is to hand himself over to the authorities and leave his disciples – Jesus prays for his disciples.

In fact, just a bit further in this reading we read that Jesus not only prays for his disciples, but he prays for all those who will come after them; Jesus prays for you and me. Jesus prays for us.

This morning we overhear Jesus praying for his friends and disciples. We overhear Jesus praying for each of us.

And this prayer that Jesus gives is not locked away in a private room. Jesus isn’t huddled in a corner silently whispering his words to the Father. No, Jesus in the midst of his friends and followers speaking so that all might hear him.

Father, I’m praying for them. They need you. Help them be ‘one’ as we are one. I’m praying not only for them, but for those who will come to believe because of them.

How does it make you feel to know that our Lord prays for you, prays for all of us?

Jesus wants to pray for you. Jesus does pray for you. Jesus is praying for you. I have faith and hope in those words and in that comfort.

Because, there’s something about prayer once we move past the question of ‘why.’ After the shock and astonishment that we are being prayed for (especially if we just overhear it), there is a sense of wholeness and peace that follows.

There’s that warm comfort of ‘wow…’ when hearing someone is praying for you. Whether it be your child, a friend, a spouse, a stranger. You are sort of knocked back when someone cares enough to include you in their mark of discipleship.

When I was in hospital chaplaincy; a part of my responsibilities when I was on-call on Saturday nights was to lead worship in the chapel on Sunday morning. Typically, the only other person who was present was the chaplain to ‘relieve’ you for that day, but the service was broadcast throughout the hospital on television and on the in-network radio system. So, there were any number of people that could be listening in to your words and the service that day.

I usually ended those services with a prayer – praying for all who needed healing and who were seeking wholeness; those family members waiting by the bedsides of loved ones, for doctors, nurses, therapists and the gifts and skills God has blessed them with. However, I also prayed for those other staff that folks always seemed to look over. Orderlies and custodians – the valiant work that they do to help keep equipment sanitized to prevent the spread of disease, the quiet care they provide patients as they listen, say hello, water plants within rooms. Cleaning up the scenes of death and new life.

I think they play an incredibly important role in the caretaking of many in need – they just happen to get overlooked a lot.

As I was leaving one day and handing over the ‘holy pager of call’ to my colleague – I was run down by a woman in tan scrubs (meaning she was a custodian) who just said thank-you. I’ve never been prayed for – I heard that and I’m happy that God sees what I do as good too.

I was touched by that.

To know that someone is praying for you can fill us with such comfort and peace. Prayer isn’t a solitary thing – nor is it a time to ‘foot it alone.’ Prayer – especially as Jesus shows us this day – is something that we do within the community so others can hear our prayers and be comforted that they are important. To know that they are good. And on top of all that, we hear and read this morning that Jesus is praying for us. That’s how much we are loved and cared for by our God and Savior. That Jesus prays for us.

So, be in prayer for others this day and also know (and welcome) that others are praying for you.

Not because something might be ‘wrong’ or they know something that you don’t. But, they are in prayer for you because you are good enough to be prayed for. You are.

Ask others for your prayers, it might not be because something is ‘wrong,’ but there is comfort to know that others are praying for you. That we are all living into this crazy community of Christ faithfully and truthfully.

Others pray for you – because they love you.

Jesus prays for you – because Jesus loves you.

You are good enough for prayer. No one is beneath or unworthy of prayers. We all need it. We are in this together.

Tell someone today that you’ve been praying for them. Tell someone you are in need of prayers. It isn’t a sign of weakness. It is a mark of discipleship and love.

Each of you are in my prayers and I pray for y’all often. I also need your prayers, so please be in prayer for me too. Amen.

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May 21, 2017, 12:00 AM

the one about the spirit dwelling...


Sermon from May 21, 2017

Text: John 14: 15-21

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

So, there’s a question that I’m always asked that I never really know how to answer. For most people, it is an incredibly easy question to answer. The question? Where do you come from?

For many – like my wife – that’s an easy answer; Lexington, SC. For me? I usually begin with, “Well…lots of places.” Do you want to know where I was born? Then Lubbock, TX. What about the places I first really remember living? Then Austin, TX and San Diego, CA. What about the places I lived the most time in? Then Naples, Italy (4+ years) and Columbia, SC (8+ years). Maybe it’s the last place I lived? Then Mason, MI. Sometimes it’s where I live now. Right here in Newberry. Either way, finding out where someone lives or dwells isn’t always an easy answer.

Where we live or dwell – today – is much more ‘transitory’ than ever before. Our world is in constant flux and people are moving around a lot. It seems the time has (mostly) passed when you are born in a place, you live there your entire life, and you stay there to raise a family, establish deeper roots, and eventually that place is your final resting. Now, of course there are many who have and who still will live into that sort of life, but the movement has already begun that we skip and hop all over the place. We live in different places all the time.

In our gospel text today, Jesus gives further words of comfort to his disciples (remember, we’re still in this text where Jesus is talking to his friends the night before he is handed over to the authorities and leading to his death on the cross). He promises them that they will not be abandoned, they will not be orphaned, they will not and never be alone.

Why? Because another – an advocate – is being sent by God to be with them. They will never be abandoned because this advocate – the Holy Spirit – will abide with them.

Abide.

That’s not a word that we normally hear outside of scripture. We don’t use it all that much – if ever – in our daily conversations. Abide in its simplest definition means to live or dwell. But, it isn’t – in my opinion – live or dwelled in the same sense that ‘living’ means now. Abide has a much more permanent connotation to it.

When you abide in something, it’s something that has taken root in you and where you take even greater comfort in that thought. There is that firmness and permanence in that word and feeling that you know it doesn’t leave you.

When Jesus tells his disciples that the Spirit will abide with them it is bringing even greater comfort because with that word there is a sense of ‘forever’ in his words. The Spirit is coming – and will be there abiding with you – forever.

In that abiding, in that love, you will keep my commandments.

Yet, even ‘keep’ in this sense is not what we initially expect. There is a tendency to think that Jesus is simply telling his disciples that they will OBEY these commandments. And, they will. But, as Jesus is speaking here it isn’t in a ‘you do this, or else’ kind of guilt trip.

In this love that Jesus knows that his disciples (and we) have for him, we will keep these commandments of his. We will hold them close to us and follow because the Holy Spirit is abiding within us.

We hold on to the words and commandments of Jesus. Following them, not because we have to but, we get to because of our thankfulness for what God has already done.

I heard a touching story this week. A mother and her daughter, every morning shared a moment of conversation, love, and coffee as the daughter was growing up. Each morning, her mom had coffee in her mug and they laughed and talked about what the day would bring and what life had brought. They did this for years  and decades – even as the daughter grew up and the mother continued to grow old.

After the mother had died, the daughter received that very coffee mug. And she began to have conversations of love and life with her own children in those daily morning gatherings. She keeps that mug and the love and promise within it close to her.

Her mother gave her that mug to continue to live in the way that she lived for her. To share with her children that special time in the morning of love and conversation. She didn’t say, “You have to do this.” But, in a way much like our Lord in our reading this morning. Keep this mug. Remember me, you are not alone. Share your love like I shared mined with you.

So, she does. Not because she has to, but because she gets to. She holds that life close to her, she keeps her mother’s ‘commandments’ and love with her children.

We are reminded today and shown in a few weeks (as we celebrate Pentecost Sunday) that all is not lost. We are not forgotten. We are not orphans. God has not abandoned us.

Another has been sent. Another has come. This one is to help us continue in the ways that Jesus has set before us. To remind us that we are good – that all are good. That we are to share in the love of God with everyone. That God continues to abide with us through the Holy Spirit.

That this abundant life in which we are grafted into and gifted isn’t an end because Jesus has died, risen from the dead, and soon to ascend to be with the Father. It is instead a beginning of living into a life of abundance that leads to eternal life with God. We get to live in it now. We get to abide in that life of love with and for our Lord and our God.

Where with the Holy Spirit with us – we can continue to live into and grow the kingdom of God before us. Where we continually invite others into this love that we have been gifted. Where we are able to scream from our mountains and valleys of Christ’s victory over sin and death for the world in the wonderfully empty tomb!

Of course – doing that at times is difficult and we get lost in our ways. We get beaten down by the world, we become short, snippy, critical, and depressed because of all the hatred, bloodshed, violence, and apathy. Yet in those moments, we are reminded by our Gospel this morning that the Spirit will be and has been sent to remind us of Christ’s presence in the world – in our lives. The spirit abides in us. In that abiding, we hold and keep our Lord’s commandments and love.

That we are supported and lifted up in and through our love for one another in the Body of Christ. Where we get to see the spirit at work in us and through us. Where we together get to see the kingdom at work in us and in the world.

We are reminded today that in our love of our Lord, because we do love our God, the Spirit has been sent to live, dwell – abide – with us. Taking up permanent residence in each of us. In that abiding spirit, we hold close the love and commandments of our Risen Lord. Not because we have to, but out thankfulness we get to.

Amen.

 

 

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May 15, 2017, 7:51 AM

the one about the here and now...


Sermon from May 14, 2017

Text: John 14: 1-14

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Risen Lord 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, for many of us, this part of John’s gospel is incredibly familiar. You may be even wondering why it is so familiar. Well, I’ll tell you – it is one of the most common readings you hear at a funeral. But, I want to warn you – that is about all I want to focus on that particular use of this scripture. This text does provide comfort in the words of Jesus for those who are and have experienced the death of a loved one.

But, this text doesn’t just focus on the hereafter, but on the here and now as well. Probably even more so.

I’m going to tell you a story – and for those who participated in the Animate Faith series we did during Lent this will be very familiar. There was a man who was excited to go to a fancy restaurant. One of those restaurants where you’re given each portion of the meal and when everyone finishes that particular part, the plates are removed and the next course is given. A friend of this man told him how amazing the final course was and so this man greatly waited for it after each dish. Of course, the longer the night went on he kept thinking about that last course and because the latest one that was placed before him didn’t look that appetizing, he decided to skip it and save room for the final course.

The waiters came and removed the dishes; when they returned they handed the bill. The man was despondent. He’d lost count. The very part of the meal he was waiting for was the one he skipped. He was so focused on the ‘future’ that he forgot to enjoy the present.

I share that story because of how we use this text and how we often view our life of faith. Simply as a ‘means to an end.’ I live this life solely to get the ‘reward’ in heaven. As we focus on that ‘goal’ that becomes the end all be all of our lives. Everything has to line up in order to ‘get there.’

Where instead of words of comfort, this text becomes a tool and a weapon to beat people in to specific shapes – to fit into the ‘narrow’ door of God. A threat to get people to accept Jesus – or else. Doing so robs this text from context and we lose sight as to what Jesus is actually doing with his disciples.

So, what is Jesus doing? This is an odd text to read during Easter; the seven-week season celebrating Jesus’ resurrection. This morning we listen in on Jesus’ conversation with his disciples on the last night that he was with them before his death. It is after this conversation that Jesus will be handed over to the authorities and begin his very clear path to death on the cross.

Understandably the disciples are beside themselves. Their friend and leader is telling them that he is going to die. That’s not news you want to hear, especially when you believe that friend is the very literal incarnation of God. It doesn’t make sense. If they could kill him, what hope is there for you?

Yet, Jesus’ words provide comfort in this trying time. Don’t let your hearts be troubled. If you know me (and you do) you know the father. If you believe, you’ll do even greater works than me.

Nowhere in this short conversation is Jesus saying, “If only you’d do this, then you’d be good. Good enough to go where I’m going.”

No. That is not what is going on here.

Jesus is telling his disciples and in turn telling us – you already know the way. I’m right here. Always. You know me, you know God. In fact, because you know and believe you’re going to do even greater things than me.

Jesus is telling us of the promise in him. Jesus is not laying out a contract for a transaction later down the line.

Jesus is calling his disciples and calling us to live into the here and now knowing that he is indeed fully present with them and with us. Always. In that truth, great things will happen.

Now, that’s where people can be a little put off right? How in the world can we do ‘greater’ things than even Jesus?

I don’t know about y’all, but I haven’t seen anyone multiply a few loaves and fish and feed thousands. I haven’t seen anyone be healed through the act of simply touching someone’s clothes. I haven’t seen anyone call someone out of their grave. And, as much as I’d love to see it, no one has turned water into wine in my presence.

So, what exactly might Jesus be getting at?

In Jesus’ name, we have established hospitals. In fact, looking back through history, very many times it followers of Jesus who cared for the least of those in their communities. It was a prevailing thought at that time (and in some cases still today) that it was taboo to care for or even simply touch the sick and dying. In a world and time that was centered on cleanliness, you didn’t go near those who were sick or dying. You let them ‘handle’ it in some way. Followers of Jesus have followed in his ministry to be with and touch even the most ill and potentially contagious and have provided health and care to millions upon millions and still do today.

In Jesus’ name, we have helped and continue to provide relief for hunger throughout the world. It may not have been a miraculous multiplying of loaves and fish, but through creativity, intellect, and faith we have helped increase the yield of harvest in so many ways. Out of our abundance of our gifts, wealth, and time we share and provide need to those most vulnerable in our society and world.

In Jesus’ name, we haven’t called anyone literally back from the dead by simple words, but we have fought back and conquered disease in so many ways that people indeed are given more life and time.

In Jesus’ name, children and families are united and made whole through adoption and foster care. Homes are continually filled with love and life as parents say to children of all ages, “You are my child. I love you.”

In Jesus’ name, we have gathered those who have fled in fear for their and their families’ lives from war torn areas and welcomed them here.

In Jesus’ name, last night we gathered with members across so many different parts of our community to share in stories, laughter, song, and more. And yes, alcohol was indeed present there – just as it was present in those same shared conversations, stories, laughter, and song as Jesus walked and gathered with his disciples and those who he met in his ministry. Though – to my knowledge – no one turned water into wine or beer.

Jesus has called us to live this life of faith now. Not so that we get something in the end, but in thankfulness of the promise that we have already received it from God in our Lord. That our Lord is indeed present with us today, filling us with new and an abundance of life to proclaim, share, and care for those in the world.

In the words of Rev. Dr. Elisabeth Johnson – professor at the Lutheran Institute of Theology in Cameroon:

Jesus promises to be with us through the power of the Spirit, to work in and through us to accomplish his purposes in the world. This does not necessarily happen in easily visible, spectacular ways. Yet, wherever there is healing, reconciling, life-giving work happening, this is the work of God. Wherever there is life in abundance, this is Jesus’ presence in our midst.

Amen.

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May 8, 2017, 7:24 AM

the one about gates and walls...


Sermon from May 7, 2017

Text: John 10:1-10

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

So, today is Good Shepherd Sunday and our Gospel focuses a bit on that. But, there is something kind of startling about the text we read on this day. Jesus makes a few ‘I am’ statements, but he doesn’t make the one that we expect to hear. At least we don’t hear it in this part of the text that we get to read courtesy of the Lectionary. Though, if we extend the gospel selection by one verse we do get that ‘I am’ statement that would fit so neatly into the celebration of this day, but then it would kind of mess with the theme of those first 10 verses.

Nonetheless, today is indeed Good Shepherd Sunday, but instead of hearing Jesus matter-of-factly state that he is the Good Shepherd, we hear instead that he is the gate or the door to the sheepfold.

As I pondered about and talked with my colleagues and friends about this text this week, something struck me. If Jesus is the gate or the door to the sheepfold it means that there must be a wall. For what would the thieves and bandits be climbing over if not a wall?

Walls, borders, and more are pretty loaded terms during our current time and day. In fact, today you can’t mention the term ‘wall’ without thinking (or being asked) about what side of that ‘proverbial’ wall you place yourself.

When we think of walls what tends to come to our minds first? We’re keeping something away, right? Separating what is mine and what is not yours. You stay over there. Keep out. Not for you. Members only!

We put up walls for privacy, for protection, for separation. And, they don’t have to be literal walls either. There are walls that we place within ourselves, that we lock ourselves behind so that we feel we cannot be hurt by others. Perhaps, anyone who has ever shared a room with a sibling or a roommate has probably gone through the stage of dividing your stuff from their stuff. If things got heated, you may have even drawn a line down the middle or around your ‘side/portion’ of the room to announce to any and all where people were freely welcome and where they needed invitation and permission.

Our gospel reading this morning invokes the image of a walled garden and because of the world we live in today, I think we are tempted to say that even our Lord is keeping out what doesn’t belong. There is a lure to believe that Jesus has setup this exclusive club and only admits those who are worthy. Would make sense, wouldn’t it? He’s the gatekeeper, he’s the one who opens the door. It would be easier if it were that way, wouldn’t it? Where Jesus clearly marks and separates us from them, we from they, me from her.

But, that’s not really how Jesus works from what I can read in the gospels. Jesus has been more about breaking down the walls and borders that we continually set up to separate one from another. In fact, Jesus makes not one literal mention of a wall, we just allude to that. What Jesus does say is that he is the door – he’s the gate to the sheepfold.

If there is a wall to keep out thieves and bandits it isn’t to prevent them from being a part of the sheepfold. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know too many thieves or bandits whose desire it is to be a part of what they are sneaking into. A thief doesn’t break into your home to claim his or her spot around the dinner table. The thieves and bandits that Jesus is talking about here are not seeking to be a part of the sheepfold.

In fact, their desire is to sneak in, to climb over ‘the wall’ in order to take the sheep from the shepherd. To entice the sheep away with false hopes, puffed up words, and insincere gestures of love, truth, care.

And here’s another thing. It’s hard to ‘break-in’ to a place when the door is opened. As Lutherans, we believe that Jesus is at the door – outside the door – and calling us each by name into the fold. The sheep know the voice of the shepherd and that’s who they listen to and for. Jesus isn’t holding us back at an arm’s length to make sure we are ‘good enough’ to be in the fold. That isn’t how this works.

We are called and welcomed by the one who knows our name. In that voice – in that call – we find comfort and grace. We find hope and acceptance. We find forgiveness and love. All are welcome – I’m certain even those bandits and thieves – to enter into the sheepfold by the wide-open door.

Sometimes it is hard to differentiate those two voices – the one of the thieves and bandits; and the one of our shepherd. It really is. We live in a world that constantly is seeking to know whether the voice we are listening to is the right one. And sometimes we might just be wrong. Many times, we may be correct in whose voice we listen to, but sometimes we might be wrong. Yet, even in those moments of error our Lord – our Shepherd – does not push us away, but is still calling to us out of love, grace, and forgiveness. The door that our Lord gracefully proclaims that he is, is always open still.

This week I read a quote from Frederick Buechner that one of my friends shared. It’s a quote that I think helps us find comfort in the fact that we cannot always tell with certainty where God is calling and is present, but how we still live into the faith and hope of Christ’s presence here among us and within us. Buechner writes, “A Christian is one who points at Christ and says, ‘I can’t prove a thing, but there’s something about his eyes and his voice. There’s something about the way he carries his head, his hands, the way he carries his cross – the way he carries me.”

You see, the ‘wall’ that we’re talking about isn’t about keeping things separated. It isn’t about dividing the good sheep from the ‘bad’ sheep. Perhaps, it is instead a wall that gathers the sheepfold. A wall that gathers the faithful under the love and protection of the shepherd.

It’s hard to ‘break-in’ when the doors and gates are opened and the only ‘requirement’ to wander in is to hear the voice and listen to the call of the shepherd. The one who knows us, who knows you by name.

Of course, we will still have walls. We always have walls. We are broken, sinful, and fallen creatures that try in desperation at times to separate ourselves for a multitude of reasons. Separate one from another, separate ourselves from those around us. Yet, our Lord’s ‘I am’ statement this morning continues to ring loud and true. Jesus adamantly proclaims that “I AM THE DOOR.”

Jesus is the door. Jesus is the gate. He’s the one breaking through the boundaries that we set up. Jesus is the one calling you by name. Calling in comfort, love, peace, and forgiveness.

Hear it now. Listen. Come. Follow. Be gathered. Amen.

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May 1, 2017, 8:22 AM

May 2017 Newsletter


Grace and peace to each of you during this joyful Easter Season! This month, I wanted to share an article from LivingLutheran.com that really spoke to me in the past few weeks. It was posted on April 14, 2017. I hope and pray that each of you will be stirred by these words and live into what we are called as followers of Christ on this side of the empty tomb. This article is written by Rev. Brian Hiortdahl pastor of Atonement Lutheran Church in Overland Park, Kansas at Living Lutheran.

Robert Goeser was leading his class at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, Calif., through Martin Luther’s treatment of Jonah. As Jonah languished in the belly of the fish, Luther (and his spellbinding, disheveled mouthpiece, my professor) made a point that has stuck with me for 25 years: we know how the story ends; Jonah did not. Too much familiarity can strip a story of its emotional power.

Do we recognize how much Matthew’s account of the resurrection convulses with terror? God’s megawatt angel appears and slides back the hulking gravestone, causing an earthquake. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men (Matthew 28:4). When some of them finally wake up, they are bribed by frightened authorities into lying about what had happened. Meanwhile, the women are told: Do not be afraid—twice! The entire scene is drenched in fear.

The implications are mind-bending. Everyone knows that death is how our stories always end. With its sadness also comes a dreary sort of comfort—we know what to expect. Resurrection changes everything. If angels can invade and freeze security while a corpse returns to life, what kind of reality are we in? All rules are broken; all bets and safeties are off. Easter is scary.

This has enormous, fresh potency in our present climate. The cross and resurrection of Jesus testify to humanity’s seemingly endless capacity for horror-making, and also to God’s power to work both with it and against it for goodness and life. When chaos and fear overwhelm us, our faith repeats: Do not be afraid. Upheaval means God is up to something.

Remember Jonah, Luther teaches us. Remember Luther too. As we recount his story in this Reformation anniversary year, notice all the chaos and fear. The church put a bounty on his head.  He was captured and locked away. He married an escaped nun. All this and much more in a time of high political anxiety and sweeping change across a bloody Europe. Our Lutheran story’s opening scene is drenched in fear.

Remember Luther and Jonah and the risen Jesus when reading news feeds about immigration politics, international saber-rattling, new technologies, environmental and human rights crises, and even the global dynamics of the church, which is growing in the south while shrinking in the north. We also live in a time of deep uncertainty and anxiety. As terrorists and politicians grasp at opportunities to leverage and exploit fear, Easter brings a different, stunning word: Do not be afraid. God is up to something here.

This is both good and news. As Richard Rohr explains in his book Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, “people have always been afraid of God,” seeking to control or placate God with religious efforts to keep God from showing up to bring death. Easter flips this on its head. The God who terrifies humanity shows up to bring life.

It begins with Jesus—and that’s scary too. One of the many things Easter means is total, cosmic validation of the heart-stopping things he said and did. Love your enemies, for example. Violence and self-protection give way to meekness and mercy. Healing and restoring others is prioritized over personal survival.

Follow me, he beckons on his way to the cross. Now Easter kills our excuses. Of all the people and prophets and teachers God could have raised from the dead, God chooses Jesus and gives him all authority in heaven and on earth. How does that change our lives and priorities? Easter is scary.

You can feel it in the sanctuary.

For many people, stepping into a church is scary. Old wounds, fresh judgment and desperate people may lurk inside. But Easter expectations prevail upon reluctant worshipers. Will Christ’s church comfort and welcome them with good news? Will the worship experience communicate Do not be afraid? Will they be surprised with joy?

Church leaders are scared too. Council members monitor attendance and offerings, warping Easter into a numbers test like a cholesterol level or a credit score. The pastor sweats her only chance to reach guarded and wary souls. Choir voices and altar servers suffer graceless demands of perfection. Will an anxious church communicate Do not be afraid?

Remember Jonah and Luther and Jesus. The outcome doesn’t depend on us but on our trustworthy God who is heaven-bent on overcoming death and fear with life and joy. God doesn’t insulate us from trouble but guides us through it. The great fish, the angry pope, even the brutal cross were no match for God’s saving, life-giving power.

So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples (Matthew 28:8). We still don’t know how this story ends because now it’s our turn to live it. Everyone’s afraid. We can either be shaken guardians of a vacated past or stirred disciples racing forward with urgent good news. Let’s go.




April 30, 2017, 7:03 AM

the one about the basics


Sermon from Sunday April 30, 2017

Text: Luke 24: 13-35

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes the best solution is the simplest one.

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

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

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

Sound familiar to anyone’s life right about now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Folks – sometimes the simplest answer is the best one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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April 24, 2017, 7:50 AM

the one about stepping off...


Sermon from April 23, 2017
2nd Sunday of Easter

Text: John 20: 19-31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And his first words? Peace be with you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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April 16, 2017, 12:00 AM

the one about celebrating empty...


Sermon from Easter Sunday
April 16, 2017

Text: Matthew 28: 1-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full of life.

Full of grace.

Full of hope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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April 13, 2017, 12:00 AM

the one about a meal and a command...


Sermon from Maundy Thursday
April 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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April 2, 2017, 5:36 PM

the one about those words...


Sermon from April 2, 2017

Text: John 11: 1-45

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lots of emotion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, even now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, even now.

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

But, even now.

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

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

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

But, even now… Amen.

 

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