In pm's words
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May 21, 2018, 8:00 AM

the one about the spirit...


Sermon from the Day of Pentecost - May 20, 2018

Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14 & Acts 2:1-21

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’ve noticed something interesting throughout our texts these past few weeks as we have arrived on this particular day of celebration. You see, our texts these past few weeks have led us to this day of celebration, but from opposite directions. Our Gospel texts have shared the words of our Lord as he speaks about the future to come. Our texts from Acts speak of how that future and ‘new normal’ has been and continues to be.

These past few weeks, we have heard Jesus bring that assuring word of comfort to his disciples (and to each of us). Promising that things are going to be alright for he is alive. He breathes, he can be held, he eats, he prays, he promises a helper.

The Book of Acts (and how we have been reading them) has shown us how that ‘helper’ continues to grow and expand what is the kingdom of God. More and more are included; the Spirit has moved through many thought to be those God would never be with. We’ve heard from a eunuch, we’ve seen God declare that which is clean (though the world has said it was not), we’ve been witness to the Spirit moving and speaking through those outside the ‘normal’ life of faith.

The Gospel readings the last few weeks have been leading us to this moment and day. Acts has helped us trace back to this moment and day.

And here we are. The celebration of the Holy Spirit unleashed on the world. We get to celebrate this day with one another and the entire church universal. We get to celebrate this day with six young men and women who complete their confirmation studies. We get to host the community of Newberry Academy and Newberry High School later this afternoon at the annual Baccalaureate Service. We continue to move through how we faithfully respond to the generous abundance gifted to this community of faith.

We stand this day at the beginning of a long road before us. We stand on the precipice of this day and celebration of God’s continued action in the world and we ask the same questions we did the day after the discovery of the empty tomb. What now? How do we move forward? Where do we go from here?

We stand and continue to walk this road on this journey in the life of faith. We stand and walk with those who are affirming their faith this day. Together we remember our baptisms with them and God’s promise and love in and with us. We walk with them.

We stand and walk with those who are celebrating the completion of one chapter in their life as they celebrate their graduations from high school. We walk and guide those who get on this path as they transition into a fuller picture of adulthood in our community.

We stand and walk with one another as we make decisions on how best to live faithfully into this incredible gift of abundance. What ministries can open up to us that we never thought possible before? Where can we support those in need – those we know and those we have yet to meet? Where and how can we model good stewardship for this community of faith and for those in the greater community?

Each of those roads we are on – and all the others we individually walk – can have the dreaded question creep into our mind, ‘is it worth it? What do I get out of this?’

For you six who affirm their faith today, I know that question has wandered into your mind because it wandered into mine, and your parents, and every person who has been in your shoes. It is a question that continually crops up in some of the weirdest and most vulnerable moments in our lives.

The world and the loud voices of faith around us like to make us believe that this life of faith stuff is easy. That if you just believe and follow the path that others before you took – never straying from the lane; or believe in the ‘right’ way – then this life of faith will be a walk in the park. You’ll of course be able to live into the promises you affirm this day.

Hopefully, you remember our last class two weeks ago. Unfortunately, the life of faith doesn’t work like that. The promises you make this day will not be easy. Sure, some are easier than others, but as a whole, they are promises that we all struggle to live into. We, individually and as a community, fall short of those promises time and time again, sometimes we outright break and walk or run from those promises.

Yet, what we celebrate this day is God’s spirit breathed into and unleashed on the world. We celebrate that breath that gives life to the old dusty bones of our lives, fills us with life and faith, so that we can walk this path before us.

What you affirm today is that you hope to live into those promises said over your baptism. In that hope and promise, you affirm that you’ll cling to and hold on to the promise that God will help and guide you. You acknowledge that this life of faith is not one that you can do alone. It isn’t one that anyone can do alone. But, we strive, we struggle, and we journey together as the kingdom of God.

You’ve come to this moment not by your lonesome, but because your parents and families have walked with you to this moment. You’ve been surrounded by the saints of this congregation, you’ve been nudged along the way by people you know well and people who you still don’t know all that well. You’ve been taught, you have taught us, we have lived and walked this path of faith together.

You’ve been guided to this moment by the Spirit – the one who does know you completely. The one who does hold you tight and breathes life into your bones. Who has breathed life into all our bones.

You are here, because we’ve come this far and set out further together. The journey before each of you and the journey we all take together is not one we venture off into alone, but it is one that we travel with companions, friends, and more. The Holy Spirit guides us together, opening our eyes, shattering our notions of community, and continually forming and molding us in our faith.

This same Spirit is the one who fills this space with song and voice in our community. The same Spirit brings us together to celebrate accomplishments even in the midst of our moans and groans. As this place will be filled this afternoon as parents, families, and friends get to see their loved ones dressed in their graduation gowns walk this aisle. They’ll hear the word of God and the message that they are not alone as well. They will be surrounded by the community here. Many won’t know one another, but we all celebrate with them and the future that God holds them in and walks them through.

As a congregation and community of faith, we walk this road before us as we faithfully respond to the gifts we have been given. The Holy Spirit breathes into us that hope and promise of proclamation and truth. The Spirit guides us in the ways that are faithful, and seemingly scary because of the size of this gift.

As we walk all of these paths before us. We do so together. Whether you are affirming your faith this day, whether you are celebrating your graduation, whether you are wondering where God might be leading this community in ministry – we walk this life of faith, breathed into by the Holy Spirit of God, together.

As we walk there will be moments and questions of ‘why, and how, and when?’ But the thing that we will fall back on is not what we have done, not relying on our intellect, our skills, our knowledge. But falling into and clinging to the trust that God is present in this. Having faith that we are not alone in these decisions. Having hope that the Spirit still moves and breathes within us, within these walls, and throughout this community.

That the Spirit that so burst upon the world that Day of Pentecost so long ago is still alive and active today here in this place and in each of us. Breathing us into life, moving us into the unknown, being present with us the entire way.

We are not alone in this, and we have never been. The road is long, but we travel it together. Not just with one another, but with God right by us, right in us, right before us leading the way.

That is the work of the Holy Spirit. That is the celebration of this day. Amen.

 




May 14, 2018, 7:58 AM

the one about prayer...


Sermon from May 13, 2018

Text: John 17: 6-21

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

So, I’ve been here for almost three years now (it surprises me too, time flies when you’re having fun!). Throughout these three years, we have been praying each Sunday for a church within the South Carolina synod. We’ve prayed for almost every church in the entire Synod; which is pretty amazing when you think about it. And when we complete this final conference and then the Synodically Authorized Ministry sites – we’ll start over from the beginning again.

One of the really neat things that comes from these prayer letters are the responses I and the church receives from them. There are a few responses that I’ve received in reaction to our prayer letters that mostly focus on a profound sense of thanks. Churches are grateful that someone out there is praying for them and their participating in God’s ministry.

But, there is one type of response that I have received that makes me kind of chuckle. It’s only happened a few times, but one story sticks out. Probably about a year and half ago, we prayed for a particular church that I happened to be going to later that week. They had already received their prayer letter and the first thing the pastor said to me was, “Thanks, but what do you know that I don’t? Why pray for us now?”

We just wanted to let you know you were being prayed for.

Have y’all had that reaction before to someone finding out that you were praying for them? Have any of you reacted that way when you discover that someone has been praying for you?

That sense of, “What do they know that I don’t?” “What am I to do with this?”

In our reading this morning we get to eavesdrop on a private moment between Jesus and his disciples. This is the last night that our Lord is with his friends before he is to be handed over to the authorities and begin his bold march to the cross. Interesting that we end the season of Easter with this story.

And on this night – a night that anyone else would be filled with anxiety and worry – he prays for not only his disciples, but for all of us as well. It is why I added that extra verse this morning. I think we need to hear that even our Lord Jesus prays for each of us.

But, when we look at this prayer, it is a little odd and a little different than I think how most of us might pray for others.

Within this prayer, Jesus knows and alludes to his disciples that the road before them won’t be easy – it hasn’t been easy. And that hardship and struggle won’t be removed from them. They are not to be ‘snatched’ away and removed from the life of the world.

But, they are to be at work in the world, living what life offers to them and living into the faith that has been gifted to them – gifted to each of us. That our peace that Jesus prays for doesn’t come because the struggle and hardship has been removed or that our great and devout faith will pull us away from those difficult times, but our peace comes from the knowledge that God is present with us in those moments and times.

That kind of punches a pretty big hole in some things that we hear from others doesn’t it? If you just pray a little harder, have a stronger faith, do a little more service – than all this struggle will end. That life will be good and easy and fulfilling in all the ways it needs to be, if you were just a little better at this faith stuff.

Yet, here is Jesus saying almost the exact opposite of that; praying (and knowing) that God will be present with us through it all. Protecting us in the ways that God can and does.

Here’s Jesus praying for his friends and for us. Knowing that life will not be altogether easy, but that God will be present with them throughout it.

I think we’ve been fashioned to think that prayer only happens when things are ‘bad’ or are ‘needed.’ It doesn’t help that Jesus literally does that in our reading today. I’m guilty of that too. If someone tells me they are praying for me, I begin to respond like that pastor who I mentioned earlier. Like that pastor I too wonder – ‘what have I been doing that makes them think I need to be prayed for?’

But, there’s something else about prayer that I think we forget which I think brings us some really good peace when we sit down and think about it. I’d be willing to bet that Peter, James, John, and the other disciples are thankful for it as well.

Jesus prays for his disciples because he wants them to know that they are known and loved. That they are important enough to be prayed for. That they are not abandoned and alone. Jesus offers prayers to his friends – and to us – to remind us that we are indeed loved and cared for. Loved and cared for so much that even in one of the most desperate times the messiah faces, he sits down to pray for others. To let them know that they’ll be OK. That they are held close to God and to one another in community and relationship.

Those reactions are the ones that I receive that humble me so much when someone contacts the church about our prayer letters.

That sheer sense of, “Someone remembers us. Someone knows us. Someone loves us. Thank you.”

I think that is what Jesus is conveying this morning in our readings. Giving to his disciples and to each of us, as we are included in that prayer, that all are loved and remembered. But, not only all, but each of us – each of you – are specifically loved and remembered by Jesus.

Jesus invites us into how prayer for others might be pursued. It isn’t just because someone is hurting or in need. It isn’t just because you’re feeling good for another and wish that to continue.

But, as we pray, we pray because we care for that person we know personally or by extension through another. We pray because that other one is a beloved child of God – even when it is difficult to pray for that individual.

A few days ago, I picked my daughter up from school and she told me about an incident that happened that day. She and her friends like to collect and care for beetles while playing outside. Her friend had her beetle taken by another child, he squished it and threw it over the fence. My daughter and her friend were beside themselves.

After telling me that story, she crossed her arms and said, "Daddy, I don't know why God created him." I was first taken back by that comment, I've asked those same questions too sometimes. But, I questioned her, "Why do you think God created him?" With a sigh in her voice she said, "Becaus God's loves him." "So, what should we do then?" And begrudginly she replied, "Pray for him."

So we did. We prayed that this young boy would come to know through those around him that he is loved and cared for and doesn't need to act this way to gain attention. As difficult as it can be at times, we are called to pray for all of God's children because they are loved by God even when it seems we shouldn't or couldn't.

A few days ago, I picked my daughter up from school and she told me about an incident that happened that day. She and her friends like to collect and care for beetles while playing outside. Her friend had her beetle taken by another child, he squished it and threw it over the fence. My daughter and her friend were beside themselves.

After telling me that story, she crossed her arms and said, "Daddy, I don't know why God created him." I was first taken back by that comment, I've asked those same questions too sometimes. But, I questioned her, "Why do you think God created him?" With a sigh in her voice she said, "Because God's loves him." "So, what should we do then?" And begrudgingly she replied, "Pray for him."

So, we did. We prayed that this young boy would come to know through those around him that he is loved and cared for and doesn't need to act this way to gain attention. As difficult as it can be at times, we are called to pray for all of God's children because they are loved by God even when it seems we shouldn't or couldn't.

We pray for others because they are connected to us in the body of Christ; the kingdom of God. We pray for them because we follow the example our Lord who prayed for the disciples and for each of us.

We pray so that they might know that God is with them and that we are present with them as well. That as they struggle, as they celebrate, as the live – they are not alone, they are not abandoned. They are loved.

Likewise, let us remember when we hear of someone keeping us in their prayers – we are not alone, we are not abandoned, we are loved.

On this last Sunday in the season of Easter before we venture into the long season of Pentecost. We remember that our Lord prays for us. Not that the long road might be removed from our travels and our journeys, but that we might remember that God is there with us on that road. That we might notice God present with us in those valley moments as well as on those mountain tops. That God is present with us in this life. Always. Forever. Never ceasing.

Remember that prayer. Known that that prayer is just as much for you as it is for Jesus’ friends surrounding him at that table before he marches to the cross for the world – you included. Amen.




May 7, 2018, 9:56 AM

the one about shattering and reshaping...


Sermon from May 6, 2018

Text: Acts 10:44-48 & John 15:9-17

Grace and peace to each of you from 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 to you O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, as I read over the texts we have before us this day, I was greatly intrigued by our first reading from Acts. As I read of Peter and those who gathered with him in Cornelius’ home, I couldn’t help but think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community. It’s a short book, but it is deeply packed with such a good understanding of what living this life of faith in community is meant for and looks like.

You see, Peter and those with him – those who were at that time devout in the Jewish life of faith – we’re accustomed to the thought that they were God’s people. And they are. They truly, truly are. Nothing can take that promise and covenant away from the Jewish people. That promise, that covenant is valid and still stands today and for all eternity.

But, as happens with any group, they began to believe that they might be God’s only people. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Especially since there are many stories within scripture showing God ever so often expanding what the community of God might look like and include. The culmination of that expansion is in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ our Lord.

Where, according to Bonhoeffer, the entire community exists through and in Jesus Christ. It doesn’t and cannot exist apart from him. For those gathered that day in Cornelius’ home and even especially for us today, God continually shatters our idealized notion of what community is and reshapes it into the community that God intends.

A community that is far greater, broader, and more diverse than ever thought possible.

In our text this morning from Acts, we read of those other faithful Jewish people with Peter who are bewildered and amazed that these others are proclaiming God. The Holy Spirit is made known to them and in them, so much so that all those around them are able to see it.

In fact, Peter earlier in this chapter, had a dream and vision from God that informed him that God is the one who makes things clean, and that which is named clean is not to be called profane.

Peter’s ideal notion of clean and unclean, of those who are a part of the community of God and those who are outside that community is shattered – deliberately – and reshaped into the intent of God’s kingdom.

So, too are those who are gathered that day in Cornelius’ home having their notion of community reshaped by God. They entered that day knowing one thing about what it means to be loved by God and they left with a much fuller and more complete understanding of who God loves and includes in the community. In Christ, it is much deeper and wider than ever before.

This reminds me of a story in my life. Last week I talked a little about my time in Mexico City, today you get to hear another short story about that experience.

One of the greatest gifts we received during those two and a half weeks, was the ability to listen and learn from those within the indigenous communities of Mexico. Specifically, how their community is shaped around God and living into that faith that Christ has given through the Holy Spirit. The individual we spoke to and learned from told a story of those first missionaries who came to ‘save’ her people.

The missionaries were amazed at how well they received God’s Word and promise for them and the entire world. Those they came to minister to were equally amazed that these missionaries were so surprised at this reality. As one leader within the indigenous community said to the missionaries, “You came here to bring us God, but you did not bring us God. We know that God was already and has always been here. We don’t give you thanks for that, but we do thank you for giving us God’s name – Jesus who is the Christ, the savior of the whole world.”

I can only imagine the look of astonishment on those missionaries’ faces when they heard that. They came into this country expecting to bring Jesus to those who did not know, yet they discovered that God had already been present there. Their notion of the community of God was shattered, reshaped, and made far larger than they had known before.

Last Sunday, we read of the Ethiopian Eunuch – another individual who was considered ‘outside’ the community of God based on their country of origin and who he was and how he lived his life. Yet, as he and Philip spoke and read scripture together, the Ethiopian stated, “Here is water – what is to prevent me from being baptized?”

The answer to that question is of course – nothing. Nothing can prevent you from being baptized. Here is water – here is God’s word. You are welcome to the font of living water, you are welcomed to the table of life. You are a part of God’s community and family. Nothing prevents that from you, nor is there anything that can take that from you.

Last week, we heard from the one on the outside of the community asking if anything can prevent them from entering into it in baptism. This morning we hear from those on the inside asking, “Can anyone withhold the waters of baptism from these ones?”

Again, the answer is no, no one can withhold the waters of baptism. All are welcome. Here is water – here is God’s word. Come, be washed, be fed in Jesus’ name and life.

As Bonhoeffer writes, God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. God shatters those dreams and visions of what we think the Kingdom and community of God might and even should look like.

This sense of community – who belongs and who doesn’t – is still something we struggle with even today. Where we attempt to exclude from those being a part of us on account of where they are from, who they are, how they live, what they look like. We do it subtly and unfortunately at times more overtly.

Last Sunday, many here gathered with those in the community to watch the movie Selma. A film chronicling Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s epic march from Selma to Montgomery, AL to advocate for equal voting rights. I had never seen that movie before and, for me, it was quite emotional and powerful to watch that movie surrounded by the diverse community of Newberry.

Where in that film the sin of racism was being shown during that time – and where unfortunately that sin still exists today. That film gives each of us a window into seeing how difficult it can be to undergo that shattering and reshaping of God’s community. It is such a struggle that we are still adjusting to it today.

We are still being reshaped in our community so that we might know more fully and completely what God’s love is for the world.

In our Gospel reading this morning, we hear the word ‘love’ spoken quite often, nine times to be exact. It is a continuation of Jesus’ talk with and to his disciples that we heard begun last Sunday. Though, this day we read and hear a very, very important word from Jesus’ lips.

That as we idealize our notions of community – who is in and who is out. We hear Jesus say to his disciples and in turn say to each and every one of us.

You did not choose me, but I chose you.

Jesus has chosen you. Jesus has chosen others. Jesus is the one who chose. Jesus chooses all. Our Lord’s love is so great and wide that all are welcome to the waters of baptism. All are welcome to the table. All are included in the community of God.

God has chosen you through Christ. God has chosen me through Christ. God has chosen even those through Christ. God has done this through the great love that only God can bestow and live fully into.

God’s love, grace, and mercy continually shatters our idea of community, but in that love, grace, and mercy God reshapes us and the community into what God has intended all along. In that new and intended kingdom of God, we are invited to live into that love that God has for us through Christ through and for others.

A final word from Bonhoeffer about community, “The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us.”

Let us live this life of faith knowing that we are shattered and reshaped. That in our reshaping, God has made this community that much more full, complete, and whole. Let us live into this reshaped community and kingdom of God so that we might all know Jesus and his love for all more fully. Amen.

 




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!


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