Seventh Sunday in Easter
Alleluia Christ is Risen!
Christ is risen indeed Alleluia!
Well, here we are, at the end of the Easter season,
our celebration of the resurrection
was a bit quieter than what we’re traditionally used to
but perhaps more poignant
for the much needed message of hope,
the proclamation of Jesus’ ultimate victory over death.
We’ve heard how Jesus appeared to the disciples
giving them what they needed to believe
and reminding them of all that he had taught them,
and we’ve heard once again,
of Jesus’ promise
that he will not leave us orphaned
but send an advocate,
the holy spirit to show us the way,
and now here on our last sunday in Easter
we hear of Jesus’ ascension,
his return to heaven and the right hand of the Father
as we confess in the words of the Apostle’s Creed,
we confess this
but I don’t think the ascension is one of the parts of Jesus’ life
that we think about all that often,
in fact, why mention it at all?
As it turns out,
which some smart alec online defined as
“when Jesus started working from home”
is crucial for the spread of the good news of Jesus Christ.
While it seems counter intuitive,
Jesus has to leave
so that the work of the church can begin.
Luke tells us
how after appearing to the disciples in several ways,
Jesus finally gathers the disciples together,
reminds them of all that he taught them
while he was with them,
opens their minds to understand
that he is the fulfillment of the scriptures,
“that because he rose on the third day, repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in [Jesus’] name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
and that they are the ones who will be making those proclamations
Jesus reminds the disciples
“You are witnesses of these things.”
the life, death, resurrection and now ascension of Jesus.
Witnesses who now have the responsibility
to share what they have seen and heard with all nations,
of course Jesus will give them the gift of the Holy Spirit to help,
though that comes next week,
first though Jesus has to leave,
and with a final blessing he is carried into heaven,
the disciples return to the temple blessing God
and soon, next week,
the holy spirit will blow them out into the street,
to share what they have seen with all the nations,
and this wouldn’t be possible without Jesus leaving,
as long as Jesus is around,
he will be the center of attention,
ascending to the Father, fulfills the scriptures
and gives the disciples space
to live out the mission he has given them.
Because let’s be honest,
as humans we tend to get distracted by the physical,
by what is before us,
what we can hold on to,
in Acts the disciples stare heavenward as Jesus ascends
and two men in white
(indicating that they are messengers of God)
come alongside them
and ask why they keep staring up to heaven
when what is important is before them on earth,
Jesus will come back
they remind the disciples
but until then you’ve got work to do,
the work of becoming the Church,
the people of God on earth who,
in relationship with God and partnership of the holy spirit,
grow in their own faith even as they share the hope of Jesus.
This is what Paul reminds the Ephesians of in his letter to them,
a new community in Christ
who heard of Jesus through Paul
who is now encouraging them from afar,
giving thanks to God for them in their growing relationship with God
and reminding them that while Jesus is the head of the church,
they are the hands and feet of the body of Christ
their presence in the world is how Christ works now.
In sharing the good news and loving the neighbor
the Ephesians bring Christ into the midst of their community.
How they do it will be different than the Philippians,
or the Corinthians or the believers in Jerusalem
because of the differences in community,
and that is okay because different communities have different needs
and ways of doing things
but they are all valuable members of the body of Christ.
Wherever there are people whose hope is in Christ,
who look to God for wisdom and understanding,
who listen to the holy spirit that calls us to love and serve our neighbor,
that is where the church is,
that is Jesus present in the world.
And Jesus needed to ascend to the father for this to happen,
it’s like giving kids progressively more independence as they grow up,
as care givers we still direct and encourage
but they need the space to learn to do things on their own.
Jesus being physically separate
creates the space the disciples need
to do the work set out for them,
and with the help of the promised holy spirit
they will take Jesus’ message to the ends of the earth.
And sure, sometimes our attention gets stuck in one direction for awhile
but that is when Jesus sends messengers to redirect our focus,
To see once again
all the people who need to hear of the hope of Christ,
who need a living community
one that adapts to the times and challenges
while proclaiming the timeless message of Christ,
and with the eyes our our hearts enlightened
our hope is renewed
and we work to become a community
that reaches out to the forgotten that need to be remembered
and the hungry that need to be fed,
the lonely that need a friend,
in these acts great and small
whether it is one person or a whole multitude
the church is present
and that means Christ is present.
Today as we reflect on the ascension of Jesus to his father,
we are reminded that distance,
whether it is physical like what we’ve been practicing
or Jesus ascending to his father
is sometimes what is needed for growth,
for new life
and that often the new life that emerges
is even more powerful than what existed before,
because it means that more are empowered.
You are witnesses to these things,
you have heard repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name,
you have the gift of the holy spirit.
YOU are the church. Amen
Sixth Sunday in Easter
1 Peter 3:13-22
Alleluia Christ is Risen!
Christ is Risen Indeed Alleluia!
We are still in the season of Easter,
celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead,
but even as we celebrate
our texts are starting to turn us toward the ascension
when Jesus returns to his Father
and the bodily resurrection appearances stop,
leaving the disciples wondering,
where is God?
Where is God?
I think this is a question that we’ve all asked
at some point in our lives,
whether in the depths of sorrow
or simply musing about the meaning of life,
in fact, how we answer the question
is impacted by who we say God is.
In our reading from Acts,
Paul is traveling,
telling all he meets of Jesus,
when he comes to Athens
he encounters multiple ideas of gods,
each with their own places of worship,
images, and spheres of influence
and though he considers them all idols
he recognizes that the Athenians are very religious
that they have covered all their bases
by even erecting an alter “to an unknown God”
a God without image or idol,
and Paul grasps on to this imageless God,
I know who this God is
Paul tells the people,
this God that you consider unknown,
possibly in part
because you have not been able to come up with an image,
is the God who made the world and everything in it,
God who rules the heavens and the earth
and who created all people
doesn’t live in a shrine
or need the sacrifices of humans,
God cannot be contained in precious metals
or even in the imagination of mortals
because God is so much bigger than all that,
and though this makes it seem like God is far away
and that we humans have to search for God
God is never far from us
“for in him we live and move and have our being”
we are offspring of God,
Paul tells the crowds,
which means we are in relationship with God,
God the creator of heaven and earth is a relational God,
found in relationships rather than places.
Which is good news
because it means that we are not tied to any particular place
for the worship of God
but it does mean that we need to maintain relationships,
with other people whom God works through,
and maintaining these relationships
leads to regular places of gathering.
God is not tied to these buildings and locations
and yet it is undeniable
that there are particular places
where we feel closer to God,
where the veil seems thinner somehow
and we seem to more easily slip into the presence of the divine,
and separation from these places is not to be taken lightly
because they play such a role
in maintaining our relationship with God.
I found one of those places in college,
at Gustavus there is an arboretum attached to campus,
with a variety of walking paths,
sometimes it seemed like the only place
for an introvert to go
to get away from all the people on a residential campus.
There was a particular stone I’d go to and sit on
and talk to God,
pour out the anxieties and troubles of my late teens and early twenties
and there I felt the presence of God.
When I graduated and moved away,
I was surprised by the ache I felt deep within
at being separated from that sacred space.
It made me think of the Native Americans,
whose spirituality is so closely tied to the land
and who were forcibly removed from their sacred spaces
and the ache that they still feel generations later.
Even if we acknowledge that God is greater than a single space or image,
we humans still search for more solid connections to God,
whether it is a place, a building, a community,
or something else,
and when we find one of these connections
we hold on for dear life.
The disciples in our gospel
have found one of those connections in Jesus,
in fact Jesus has told the disciples
that in seeing him they have seen the father,
to see Jesus is to see God.
and yet now Jesus is telling them
that he must go away,
that they will no longer see him.
And the disciples are understandably feeling some trepidation,
if they can no longer see Jesus,
they will no longer be able to see God
and then where will God be?
It’s hard not to feel like they’re being abandoned.
And Jesus knows this
and promises the disciples “I will not leave you orphaned”
he’s using the language of relationship,
Jesus’ going away is necessary
but he reassures the disciples
that it doesn’t mean the end of a relationship with God
it will just take another form:
“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth.... You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
The gift of the spirit,
received at our baptisms
means that God is always with us,
is as close to us as the breath we take,
even when we feel separated from God,
God is there residing in us,
advocating for us.
I don’t think we often think of God this way,
even as we acknowledge the gift of the spirit
we still think of God as separate
and far off
and it takes a moment where the spirit makes herself very clear
before we feel the intimacy of God,
for the disciples this happened at Pentecost,
for the rest of us it happens at different times,
perhaps in a special place, through prayer
or in the course of everyday life,
often it happens at times when life has changed in some way
and we are feeling separate from God
that’s when God, through the spirit,
reminds us that God is with us.
We are in a time of change right now,
whether it be anticipated
like the graduation from high school or other life events,
or because of what is going on in the world around us,
we may be feeling separated from God,
but Jesus is with us
sending the gift of the holy spirit,
keeping the promise that he made to the disciples
“because I live, you also will live.”
Christ is alive, Alleluia
Where is God?
Right here with us. Amen
Fifth Sunday in Easter
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
Alleluia Christ is Risen!
Christ is Risen indeed, alleluia.
This week our psalm really caught me,
the image of the psalmist
who has taken refuge in God
seemed to speak to our time
when “shelter in place” and “stay at home”
have become everyday phrases,
the psalmists’ crying out to God
“deliver me” in one breath
and “my times are in your hand” in the next
capturing the multiple emotions that envelope us.
As I mulled over the images,
I wondered what images we might use today
and so as an exercise I paraphrased our psalm for today,
seeking to use the images and emotions of 2020,
and here is what I came up with:
In you God I take refuge
Keep me from acting out of selfishness.
Listen to me!
Be my home
That I may shelter in place in you.
For you are where I retreat to safety.
You hold me like the cushions of my couch.
Take me out of the net of fear
That has been woven around us,
For you are my truth.
Into your care I comment by body and spirit
That you created, called good, and redeemed.
Time is in your hands
Save me from fear, anxiety,
Inadequacy, lethargy, numbness
And from the ones who want me to feel this way.
Shine on me like the springtime sun
That each year
Coaxes bare branches back to life.
Part of the power of the psalms
and why we turn to them for comfort
is that they hold so true to life,
contained within many psalms
are both cries of lament
where the psalmist feels abandoned by God,
and in the next breath
proclamations of trust in that same God,
in these seemingly contradictory emotions
we see our own experience reflected,
the times in our lives
where many things are true
even things that seem to be in opposition,
and we see this in psalm 31 today,
the first part a cry of the heart
and the second part reliance on God
in the midst of the unknown,
and both are true at the same time,
And that’s one thing that I think
will help us get through this time of laments and unknowns
the realization that we don’t have to be on one end of the spectrum
or the other,
we can both and,
We can both want to see the whole way before us
and trust that God will guide us,
we can be concerned about the health of our community
and concerned about the health of the economy,
we can both understand why it is important
that large gatherings not take place
and grieve the loss of connection and communal observations,
high school seniors can be both excited to be graduating
and sad that it won’t take place in the traditional way.
In times of turmoil,
we so desperately want to know what’s coming next
that we often grab onto one image of the future
and that is all that we can see,
even though there may be many different options.
That’s the place that the disciples are in
in our gospel for today,
Jesus is on the way to the cross
and is trying to prepare his disciples,
he has told them what is going to happen,
that he will be crucified, die and on the third day rise again
but they are holding on to their own image
of what the messiah will do,
come in as a military leader and wipe out the Romans,
Jesus knows that they will be sorely disappointed
and tries to give them another idea of what is to come..
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” he tells them
“believe in God, believe also in me”
belief in God is the antidote to the troubled heart,
and he knows that their hearts are troubled
and they are wondering where do we go from here?
And so he paints a picture for them,
of his father’s house,
a place with many rooms,
enough rooms for everyone,
and Jesus is going to prepare a place for all of them,
he’ll go and come back
and go again
but where ever he is,
the disciples know that there is a place for them.
ever the practical one
says this all sounds great Jesus
but we don’t know the way,
how will we get there?
and Jesus responds,
“I am the way and the truth and the life”
which is not really what Thomas was looking for,
he wanted something along the lines of
go north for five miles until you reach a tree, then turn left,
that kind of thing.
But Jesus doesn’t give directions like that,
his answers to questions are not easy
but they are backed up by the promise of abundant life.
In his I Am statements,
Jesus is proclaiming that he is one with the father,
when the disciples see Jesus, they see God.
So where do we go from here?
In this time where many things are true
and many things are unknown
we cling to Jesus, the way,
who promises us abundant life
and since, unlike the disciples,
we are hearing this teaching after the resurrection,
we know that Jesus keeps his promises,
that he has been through our ultimate fear, death,
and come out the other side
and promises that we will do the same,
guided by him, the way.
This is not an easy answer,
it doesn’t lay out every single step that we will take,
like we might wish,
but it does give us something to hold on to,
Jesus the way, the truth and the life,
who promises to be with us
and guide us all along the way,
who holds us when we are afraid
and comforts us in the face of the unknown,
who brings us to life everlasting. Amen
Fourth Sunday in Easter
1 Peter 2:19-25
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Christ is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!
Today, the fourth Sunday in Easter,
has the unofficial title of Good Shepherd Sunday
as there are sheep and shepherds
all over our readings for today.
as the Good Shepherd
is one of the most common images all throughout the scriptures
and has caught the imagination of many
particularly those who love Psalm 23.
But what does it mean to call Jesus a good shepherd?
Well, what does a shepherd do?
They take care of the sheep.
At text study this week
(done over zoom of course)
we were discussing sheep,
and how well
they aren’t very bright
and if Jesus is the shepherd
that means we are the sheep,
one colleague suggested
that people might be offended
by being associated with such dim creatures,
while another pointed out
that when she looked at her life
she identified with the sheep,
always getting into scrapes
and needing to be rescued by the shepherd,
and her point is hard to deny,
even at our smartest and best intentioned
we humans have a way of getting into situations
where we at least need a little help to get out of,
even if we insist that we don’t at the beginning,
by the end we realize that we have need of a shepherd.
That same colleague mentioned the story of Shrek the Sheep
as an example of this.
It’s been a few years since Shrek was in the news
but Shrek was a sheep in New Zealand
who decided that he didn’t want to be sheared,
and so he escaped,
and hid from his shearers for six years,
by hiding in caves,
which I think is one of the funnier parts of the story.
Now Shrek was a kind of sheep
that was bred for the production of wool,
without a shave his wool kept growing and growing,
when they finally caught him
he looked like a giant cotton ball with a nose and feet.
I’ll post a picture and a link to his story
along with the video of worship
and when they sheared him,
his fleece weighed 60 pounds
and contained enough material to make suits for 20 large men.
Now Shrek may have thought he was free
and hiding would ensure that,
but the longer he hid from the shepherds
the more weight he had to carry around.
Imagine the freedom he felt
when he finally had a haircut after six years!
We humans are often like Shrek the sheep,
there are times when despite the good care our shepherd is taking of us
that we feel like we could be freeer on our own,
and off we go,
we don’t need a shepherd we insist,
hey look a nice comfy cave we can hide out in,
and at first it may seem like fun and freedom,
but as time goes on
we find that there are things we can’t do for ourselves
and these things begin to weigh us down
until we are hauling around a fleece of monumental proportions,
our sins and worries,
mistakes and vulnerabilities
all tangled around us
obstructing our movement
and only the shepherd can set us free.
And the whole time
the good shepherd has been looking for us.
God is not willing to remain at a distance from us
and so is continually calling to us and searching us out.
That’s what we see in our gospel for today,
the story actually starts a chapter back,
with Jesus healing the man born blind,
we read that together about a month and a half ago,
Jesus sees a man blind from birth,
heals him, and when the man goes to the Pharisees
they don’t believe his testimony about Jesus
and kick him out of the temple,
Jesus goes and finds the man,
he seeks him out
and what we have today
is Jesus teaching the man born blind who he sought out
and the pharisees that kicked him out.
Be careful he tells the gathered crowd,
it is perilous to follow the wrong shepherd,
the implication being
that the pharisees are the wrong shepherds.
But they don’t get it.
So Jesus tries another image
saying “I am the gate for the sheep”
the gate open in the evening
allows the sheep into the sheepfold
and closed keeps them safe from anyone not supposed to be there.
Open in the morning it allows the sheep to access food and water.
And Jesus must have received more blank stares from his audience
because he summarizes it for them
whether he’s the shepherd or the gate
or any other number of images he says look
“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”
This is Jesus’ mission statement in the gospel of John.
The Word present at creation in the beginning
becomes flesh and lives among the people
so that they may have abundant life.
Jesus is the way to life
because he himself is life.
And as all of Jesus’ varied imagery shows us,
what abundant life looks like
depends on the time and place,
at night abundant life for the sheep is being gathered together
behind a closed gate that keeps out all the things that go bump in the night
that like to eat sheep.
During the day
abundant life looks like the ability to roam,
to find the tastiest bit of grass
or most refreshing drink of water,
but all the while the shepherd is there watching,
calling to the sheep
keeping them close
so that the shepherd can point them to abundant life
whatever that happens to look like in the moment,
and if one sheep wanders off,
the shepherd goes looking for it,
brings it back to the fold
and the care of the community.
We are like sheep,
to have full abundant life
we need the care of our good shepherd, Jesus,
who knows each of our names,
who calls and gathers us
and leads us to abundant life
and yes, sometimes that may actually feel restrictive
we long to leave the fold
and so we make a bid for freedom,
we strike out on our own
and Jesus notices,
calls out for us,
goes out in search of us
for as long as it takes
and when he finds us,
only he will be able to set us free
from the heavy load we are carrying,
the load that we created.
If you are a sheep who has wandered far and long
and now in this time of uncertainty
would like to return to the fold
but fear that the load you are carrying is too heavy
too much for even the good Shepherd,
it is not,
Jesus knows your name
and is calling you back
and there is no load so great
that Jesus can not set you free.
And if you are a sheep
who has remained close to the shepherd
but is starting to chaff at staying within the pen at night,
remember the shepherd guides us to abundant life,
even if it’s not quite like we imagine
the good shepherd has our best interests at heart.
Whatever kind of sheep we are
Jesus knows us,
and calls to us,
guiding us along
offering comfort and life abundant,
he truly is the good shepherd. Amen
Third Sunday in Easter
Acts 2:14a, 36-44
Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
1 Peter 1:17-23
Alleluia Christ is Risen!
Christ is Risen Indeed Alleluia!
This third Sunday in the Easter season
finds us on the road,
the road to Emmaus.
Luke’s story of the two disciples
traveling away from Jerusalem
that first Easter evening
who are joined by a stranger on the road
who they tell of the events of the last three days,
their hopes and disappointment and confusion,
who then opens to them the scriptures
and when they arrive at their destination,
they invite the stranger to stay for the night and share a meal with them,
in the breaking of the bread it is revealed that Jesus
was the stranger with them all along
and so the disciples rush out into the night
back to Jerusalem and the community of disciples
who are sharing resurrection stories.
The Journey to Emmaus
is a story beloved of the church.
It seems like it has everything,
disciples coming from disbelief to belief,
a resurrection appearance of Jesus,
modeling accompaniment as a way of evangelism,
All these great things that we love to talk about,
for awhile it seemed like every assembly and conference I went to
used the story of the Walk to Emmaus
as the scriptural basis for their theme
and none of the themes were the same
but all fell under the heading of this is how we do church!
There are so many good things in the story,
but this year it seems to me
that the bits that we usually focus on
and rejoice in during the Easter season,
hospitality leading to the revelation of Jesus in the breaking of the bread,
the rush to return to community,
serve more to highlight that which we are missing right now
hitting the tender spots created by the grief caused by the pandemic.
Now don’t get me wrong,
as much as I long to be gathered together once again,
to break the bread,
to not just see but feel the presence of the body of Christ before me
in the gathered congregation,
I want to ensure that everyone will be here
to partake in that joyous occasion,
and that means staying separate for awhile longer.
It means continuing the lenten fast
beyond an arbitrary date on the calendar
journeying to a day both expected and unknown,
and in the meantime looking at old stories with new eyes.
Which is why, this year,
I take comfort in the first part of the story of the Road to Emmaus,
the journey part.
It’s Easter afternoon,
the resurrection has been announced to the women
who have shared it with the disciples
who don’t quite know what to do with the news.
For two of the disciples,
it marks the time to go home.
They followed Jesus,
heard him preach, saw him heal,
and were present for his arrest, conviction and crucifixion
the dashing of their hopes
that Jesus might be the messiah,
because of travel restrictions on the sabbath
they stayed in Jerusalem
but now it’s time to go back home,
to return to life before their hopes were raised
and so they leave,
even with the women and the other disciples finding the tomb empty,
it’s confusing but there will be some explanation,
dead is dead, no one comes back from that.
They are mulling all this over as they travel home
and a stranger,
who is Jesus but they don’t know that yet,
comes near to them and asks
“what are you discussing with each other while you walk along?”
and this question
brings them to a stand still,
“They stood still, looking sad.”
Their grief is such that this ordinary question:
what are you talking about?
Stops them in their tracks.
That’s the way it is with grief sometimes,
it surfaces in the midst of the ordinary
causing us to stand still and be sad for a moment
because we’ve forgotten that life goes on around us
even in the midst of our grief.
Cleopas asks “are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place in these days?”
showing just how consumed his world has been in Jesus,
Jerusalem is a large place,
there would have been many people who didn’t know about the execution of Jesus,
but it is inconceivable to Cleopas
that anyone should not know about it.
And here Jesus responds
not by revealing who he is
but by asking a simple question: What things?
And allows the disciples to tell the story
of their experience of Jesus,
their hopes raised and dashed,
their confusion of the morning.
Jesus listens to their lament,
the voicing of their grief
and when they finish,
Jesus turns them back to the scriptures,
reminds them of the words of the prophets,
reframes their experience in light of the promises of God,
helps them look at the scriptures with new eyes
as he is present with them on their journey.
We might wonder why Jesus didn’t reveal himself right away,
wouldn’t have that answered the disciples questions?
But perhaps Jesus knew that they were not yet ready
for a resurrection appearance,
they needed time to grieve first.
In his article on WorkingPreacher.org this week professor Matt Skinner, reflecting on this says:
“I’m so glad that Jesus doesn’t reveal himself to Cleopas and his companion right away but waits. Why does he wait? Jesus is neither testing, scolding, nor humiliating the shell-shocked couple. He is, literally, journeying with them. There he is, present, as they narrate their disappointment and confusion. He does not cut them off. He knows that explanations will not cure their foolishness and slowness to believe.
The time will come to redirect his friends, but first he lets them proceed one heavy step after another.”
Humans in tough situations need to lament before anything else
and lament takes time,
lament is the manure laid on the field
in preparation for planting the seeds of new life,
it doesn’t smell so great
but it is a necessary step to ensure
that the new life grows healthy and strong
past the initial sprout.
I think this is where we are at right now.
Even as we sing Alleluia
and proclaim the risen Christ,
we are also still on the road to Emmaus,
narrating our disappointment and confusion,
laying the ground work for new life together,
life that will last.
And whether we realize it or not,
Jesus is walking alongside us,
asking us questions that stop us in our tracks,
showing us new ways to look at the promises of God
and preparing us to receive the revelation of the risen Lord
in a way that sustains new life in Christ.
That day is coming,
the resurrected Christ sustains our hope,
and the resurrected Christ walks with us on the way. Amen
Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
1 Peter 1:3-9
Alleluia Christ is Risen, Christ is Risen Indeed Alleluia!
Christ is risen
and today we hear about the disciples
starting to come to terms
with the news of Easter morning
the news brought to them of course
by Mary Magdalene
whose early morning trip to the tomb
was full of the unexpected,
the tomb was empty
and the gardener was the risen Jesus,
who sent her to tell the other disciples
which she did, announcing
“ I have seen the Lord”
Now John doesn’t tell us about the immediate reactions of the disciples,
whether they scoffed at Mary’s tale
or rejoiced with her,
by the time we see the disciples,
in our gospel for today,
the news that something has happened
is starting to sink in
and the disciples are afraid.
They have gathered together
and locked the doors out of fear,
they are wondering, what comes next?
And Jesus comes and stands in the midst of them
and says “Peace be with you”
Jesus comes into the midst of their fear and uncertainty,
despite the measures they’d taken
to keep everyone else out
and offers them peace.
Then just so they know that it’s him
(although who else could it have been?)
he shows them the marks on his hands
from the nails that fixed him to the cross
and his side where the soldier’s sword had pierced him,
and the disciples rejoice.
Then “Jesus said to them again,
‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’”
And with the gift of the Holy Spirit,
the disciples are sent out to spread the good news.
And they make it as far as Thomas.
One of their own
who was not with them
and they excitedly tell him “we have seen the Lord”
and Thomas says
‘no’ I don’t believe you,
I need the same experience you had,
to see Jesus and the marks in his hand and side.
Now I think this must have taken the wind out of the disciples’ sails,
they were all excited to share the news just as Jesus had instructed
and when they do,
with someone who knew Jesus,
who heard his passion predictions,
who has the best chance of anyone at believing them
and Thomas says no,
they realize that this is a harder job than they thought,
and as the reality sets it
we find them once again,
a week later,
gathered together in fear
behind locked doors
only this time Thomas is with them.
And once again
Jesus comes into the midst of them saying
“Peace be with you”
and offers Thomas what he needs,
showing him his hands and side
and Thomas not only believes that Jesus is risen
but he goes a step further and confesses
“My Lord and my God”
understanding and proclaiming the full truth of who Jesus is.
Then with the truth proclaimed
Jesus turns to the rest of us
those who have read the story of Thomas throughout the ages
and looking right at us says
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
And yes We may not have seen Jesus
in the same way as the disciples
but Jesus has come to us,
in water and word, bread and wine,
the community of believers,
in other ways that we only realize well after the fact.
Again and again,
Jesus appears among us
offering peace in the midst of fear and uncertainty,
knowing that our moments of joy
will be tempered by the reality of rejection
and the fear of the unknown future,
again and again
Jesus appears among us offering peace
because unbelief in one moment
doesn’t prevent faith in another,
indeed Jesus comes again and again
because faith is a gift from God,
a gift that Jesus keeps offering
even though we’re sometimes reluctant to accept the gift,
even though at times we misplace it,
buried at the back of a closet
or lock it behind closed doors out of fear
and then Jesus comes once again
and stands in the midst of our fear
and says ‘peace be with you’
We are in a time of fear and uncertainty,
and like the disciples
the novelty of the situation is starting to wear off
and we’re left wondering,
what comes next?
How will we continue to live out Jesus’ call to us
when we are physically separate?
And even when we try new things
the reaction might take the wind out of our sails
and then what will we do?
I don’t know the detailed answers to all of these questions,
we will uncover them as we go,
what I do know,
is that God will be with us,
renewing our faith as we figure it out,
because that’s what God does in these situations,
we are not the first Christians
to have our faith and way of being challenged
nor will we be the last
and all along the way
Jesus will come to us,
offering peace and faith.
We hear that promise
in our second reading for today,
the author of 1 Peter writing to communities
wondering what is next?
Hear those words again:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith-being more precious than gold, that though perishable, is tested by fire-may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
God’s mercy has already been acted out for us
through Jesus’ resurrection.
God has already given us salvation
and is keeping it safe for us.
And the difference that makes in our lives?
It gives us a living hope,
hope that is able to adapt to the changing circumstances around us,
hope that takes disappointment in stride,
hope that continues on even as our faith is refined.
It's a romantic image,
the process of purifying gold,
we tend to focus on the end result
but what we forget in the romanticism
is that on the way to pure gold
things are lost,
the unnecessary parts burned away.
And that’s the moment we are in right now,
the uncomfortable part of the process
where we are finding out what is gold
and what is just pretending,
what is faith and what is just pretending
and like the disciples on that first Easter evening,
we will first gather around what is familiar,
we will lock the doors against the outside world,
and Jesus will appear among us
in the midst of our fear
and offer us peace
and with Thomas
once we have realized who is among us,
what is true
we will proclaim “My Lord and my God”
our hope as alive as the risen Christ. Amen
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the risen one. Amen
Christ is Risen! Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!
Today we celebrate the empty tomb,
God’s victory over death
that changed the world forever.
We usually celebrate with fanfares and lilies
and lots of singing,
we celebrate at the table
with two thousand years of saints
whose lives were changed by the good news of Jesus Christ
and who changed the world as they lived out that good news.
We celebrate with signs of new life
adopted from other cultural celebrations of spring,
and we will do some of this today
but not all of it,
some of the celebration will have to wait
until we are physically present together
when our voices can once again mingle together
and we can gather around the table as a community
and then oh what a celebration it will be.
But not yet,
and we’re not sure when
and because of this,
I think this Easter feels more like the first Easter morning,
the Marys going to mourn at Jesus’ tomb
as soon as they possibly can at daybreak after the Sabbath,
where they are met with an angel,
who moves the stone away
and shows them an empty tomb,
who tells them not to be afraid
even as the earth shakes under their feet
then sends them on their way with a message for the disciples,
into a future they could not predict or imagine
but one which was full of hope.
Matthew in his telling of the story of Jesus
wants to convey just how tremendous and unsettling
Jesus is to the world
and he does that in the story with earthquakes,
the ground literally shaking under the characters’ feet.
I grew up in earthquake country out in Oregon,
instead of tornado drills in school we had earthquake drills
and learned to duck and cover under our desks
then quickly leave the building lest it collapse around us.
At home we learned to never hang anything heavy over our bed
that could be shaken off a wall and fall on top of us,
by code the water heaters are secured to walls
and the thing is, as much as you can drill and prepare with common sense measures
you are never truly ready for that moment
when the earth moves under your feet.
You go along with your life
and even though you know earthquakes can happen
it is still startling and unsettling
when what is supposed to be solid starts moving.
As he journeyed toward Jerusalem
Jesus tried to prepare his disciples for what would happen,
that he would be crucified die
and on the third day rise from the dead.
But as many time as Jesus told them that this would happen
they were still unprepared,
unprepared for the city in turmoil
as Jesus entered on Palm Sunday,
unprepared for the earthquake
at the moment of Jesus’ death
that tore the curtain in the temple in two,
and the Marys going to mourn the one thing that cannot be changed,
were not prepared to feel the earth shake under their feet
as an angel of the Lord descended from heaven,
rolled away the stone and showed them that the tomb was empty.
Matthew tells us that the guards that had been placed at the tomb
were so afraid that they shook and became like dead men.
But not the women,
they manage to stay standing and the angel greets them
“do not be afraid”
a phrase used in response to visible fear.
“Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He had been raised from the dead and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee, there you will see him.”
And having seen,
and been given a task,
Matthew tells us that the Marys
“left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.”
They left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy.
The earth has shaken under their feet,
the only thing they know about the future
is the next immediate step,
to go and tell the disciples,
after that it remains a mystery.
The women are still afraid,
and added to that fear they are filled with great joy.
These two emotions are not contradictory,
both are true for the women.
This Easter, we like the Marys
are filled with multiple emotions
as we come to the tomb to find it empty.
We are filled with great joy at the news announced to us,
but there is also perhaps some fear for the uncertainty of the future
and sadness that we cannot be together
at the place that Jesus has promised to meet us.
But we rest secure in the fact
that Jesus keeps the promises he makes,
even the ones that seem impossible to us.
The Marys go to tell the disciples the message of the angel,
that Jesus has been raised from the dead
and promises to meet them in Galilee,
to gather them around him again like a shepherd gathers their sheep,
to forgive them and renew their sense of mission
in a shaken and changed world.
And Jesus will keep that promise
but as the women are running
suddenly Jesus meets them,
greetings he says,
now in the Greek, the word used for greeting is literally “rejoice!”
and the women do
they take hold of Jesus and worship him,
and after a brief interval
Jesus sends them on their way
“do not be afraid” he repeats,
“go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
I like this moment,
because it seems like Jesus just couldn’t wait to see some of his disciples.
He has promised to meet them,
the angel has delivered his message
and the women are on their way
but he just couldn’t help himself,
he had to go see the Marys
so he shows up suddenly
he will also be in Galilee just like he promised.
Jesus promises to be in the midst of us
as we worship as a community,
and present in the bread and wine, his body and blood,
and Jesus keeps those promises
which is why we long to gather as a community
to be with Jesus and one another.
Jesus can’t wait to see us,
as we go through our lives with fear and great joy
on the way to where Jesus has promised to be
Jesus also appears for us
suddenly along the way,
saying greetings, rejoice,
and offering times for worship in unexpected places,
the middle of the road,
a worship service done online,
a funny picture or story that makes us laugh
and aware that Jesus is right in front of us
do not be afraid,
and sending us on the way with our appointed mission.
Jesus is with us
because nothing stands in Jesus’ way,
not even death.
The tomb is empty.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen. Christ is Risen Indeed, Alleluia.
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who saves us. Amen
Welcome to Holy Week,
the high point of the Christian calendar
where we remember Jesus’ last days
and his saving acts.
Usually this is a time where we gather together more frequently
Sunday and Thursday, and Friday
and then a big celebration Easter morning.
But not this year,
this year we are practicing our own acts of sacrificial love,
we are sacrificing gathering together
out of love for our neighbor,
and as we walk this most familiar week
in an unfamiliar way
we will get to see things through new eyes,
our experience apart
will deepen our experience of Holy week
This year I have noticed with new eyes, two things,
the cry of the crowd
and the state of the city as Jesus enters Jerusalem.
We are coming to the end of Jesus’ ministry,
much of which has taken place in and around Galilee
with a few side trips to visit the gentiles and Jerusalem.
Jesus has been ministering to the crowds of people
who have come to him,
longing for meaning, healing, food,
most of them are living day to day
under the oppression of the Roman Empire
and now they are all traveling to Jerusalem,
the holy city with the temple where God lives,
to celebrate the Passover,
the remembrance and celebration
of when God freed the people of Israel
from slavery in Egypt.
I’m sure they can’t help but notice
the juxtaposition, the celebration of freedom
in a city that isn’t free.
The Romans have noticed it,
that’s why Pilate and more soldiers than normal are in residence,
in case these Judeans take the idea of freedom to heart,
they are on the watch for any disturbance that might break the peace.
This is the city Jesus enters into with the crowds
and he doesn’t keep a low profile,
he enters in the ancient equivalent of the ticker tape parade,
fulfilling the scripture by riding on a donkey
that his disciples have “borrowed” for him,
a humble steed in comparison to the war horses
the Romans ride into the city on.
And the people praise Jesus,
they cry out Hosanna!
Now Hosanna is a cry of praise,
but it literally means “Save us”
The crowds are crying ‘save us’,
not to the power of Rome,
but to an itinerant preacher riding a donkey.
And what’s more they name him Son of David,
the one who comes in the name of the Lord,
the long awaited messiah,
the one who will once again free the people.
Hosanna in the highest heaven.
Sometimes our song of praise
Is also a cry for help,
the two mingling interchangeably together.
We will do well to remember that this week,
especially as we look to Easter
and the celebration that it’s supposed to be
when all we want to do is cry ‘save us Lord’
these two impulses are not as contradictory
as they might initially appear.
So Jesus enters Jerusalem,
on a donkey, surrounded by crowds shouting Hosanna to the Son of David,
and Matthew tells us that
“when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil”
The whole city was in turmoil,
the Greek word used for turmoil
is a cognate of earthquake,
the city is shaken,
what once seemed solid has moved
and people are unsure of how to proceed.
We’re intimately familiar with turmoil,
the country is in turmoil,
the world is in turmoil,
what once seemed solid has moved beneath our feet
and we are unsure of how to proceed,
in fact, the one thing we know for sure
is that we don’t really know what is coming.
Jesus enters the city,
the city is in turmoil,
the people are asking, ‘who is this?’”
Who is this
that is powerful enough to create such a disturbance?
and the answer they receive
uncovers a truth that not all are comfortable with,
This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth.
The people believe that Jesus is the Messiah.
But what does it mean for the Messiah to come?
There are as many different expectations
as there are people,
for some the Messiah is supposed to be a military figure
who will drive out the Romans,
for others a King in the tradition of David.
For some it doesn’t matter who Jesus is,
he’s causing a scene,
the religious leaders who are also the political leaders,
the ones the Romans look to to control the masses
see Jesus as a threat, to their own power
and to the safety of the people
because they know that the Romans impose peace at the tip of a sword,
the Pax Romana, the Peace of Rome
is less peace than a suppression of violence
by the threat of greater violence.
Jesus entering the city causes turmoil
because it reveals truths,
truths about who people are,
what they expect,
their real priorities.
The leaders of Israel will defer to Rome,
the crowds will disappointedly move on to the next glimmer of hope,
the disciples will stick around longer than most
but eventually flee,
Peter the most ardent of disciples
will in one moment promise to die for Jesus
and in the next breath deny him.
These truths once known
can never be unknown
the question then becomes now what?
What will be done with the truth?
Some are excited for the change these revelations can bring,
others will work to prevent it
in their longing for things to return to normal.
The world, our country is in turmoil
and truths are being revealed.
Truths about how much we expect of our schools,
the truth of how crucial those who work in grocery stores are,
truths about the priorities of leaders.
These truths once known
can never be unknown
the question then becomes now what?
What will be done with the truth?
Some are excited for the change these revelations can bring,
others will work to prevent it
in their longing for things to return to normal.
These are questions that we will have to ask ourselves in the coming months and years.
The whole city was in turmoil.
And what is Jesus doing?
Jesus is being the messiah as God defines it,
living as a humble servant,
bringing about the kingdom of God,
a kingdom marked by compassion and self-giving acts of generosity,
all that create peace,
which rather than an absence of violence
is marked by the healing of relationships,
the healing of the world.
And nothing that anyone did,
the crowds, the leaders, the disciples, the Romans,
none of their actions could stop Jesus from doing the work of God.
Arrested, tried, denied, abandoned, crucified,
none of these human actions prevented
Jesus from doing what he came to do.
Save the world.
God’s saving action is just that.
Whether we cry hosanna, save us,
Or are silent
Whatever choices we make in the face of revealed truths,
whatever we do to face the uncertainty of the future,
whatever expectations we have,
whatever mistakes we make
God will continue to work for good,
God will save us.
In the midst of the turmoil of the world,
God comes to us,
we cry out Hosanna,
and our cry of praise
also a petition.
Save us Lord. Amen
Fifth Sunday in Lent
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who goes through death into life. Amen
This lent we are telling stories of faith,
we’ve heard from congregation members
about their own stories
and from our weekly readings,
we’ve considered how stories shape our identity,
our understanding of what is necessary,
and how we interpret the unexpected.
This week, our readings ask us to reflect
on how we tell the story of death.
This is a crucial story to tell,
because how we tell the story of death
directly impacts how we live our lives.
Lately, in our society,
we have chosen to avoid telling this story
and that has had an impact on how we view life,
part of it is that through advancements in medicine
and the continued separation of people
from the production of their food
death is less of a daily reality than it once was,
we can go long periods in our lives
before directing experiencing death.
I was in my early twenties
and on my rotation of clinical pastoral education in a hospital
before I came into close contact with someone who had died,
with a dead body,
going in I realized that I needed the experience
and that I would probably get it,
but I was also afraid.
Death scared me,
on many levels,
some of which still admittedly exist,
but what was most scary was the unknown.
I knew on an intellectual level that death was part of life,
but I hadn’t experienced that reality in the flesh
and I didn’t know how I would react.
It’s the unknown that lies at the root of many human fears,
fears that turn into anxiety or anger
or other emotions that tend to separate us from our neighbors
rather than bring us closer together
and there is no greater unknown than death.
Now the way we usually tell that story, as humans,
is as a cautionary story,
death is something to be avoided
as long as possible because it is The End,
as far as we know it
and even if it isn’t The End
as many world religions suggest
we don’t know exactly what that looks like,
and so we hesitate to talk of it
because no matter how we tell the story
we just don’t know
and we are frightened.
Which is why we need so desperately
to listen to the story God tells about death
because this story is very different from the human story
and we have two such readings appointed for today.
In the first, the prophet Ezekiel is speaking with God,
the spirit of the Lord takes Ezekiel and places him in the midst of a valley strewn with bones,
there’s a lot of them and they are dry,
they’ve been there for awhile,
and God asks “Mortal, can these bones live?”
which seems like a trick question,
these bones are very dead,
but since it’s God who is asking the question
the prophet chooses the wise response
“O Lord God, you know”
and God instructs the prophet to prophesy to the bones
to say “O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord”
and at the word of the Lord,
the bones come together
and bodies become covered in flesh,
but they are not alive until the prophet prophesies to the breath,
to the spirit of God
and then these bodies become living beings.
Then God explains the vision to Ezekiel,
the dry bones are the people to whom Ezekiel is sent to speak,
they are exiles in a foreign country
who witnessed their city destroyed
and their civilization stamped out,
it seems like THE END
from which there is no coming back,
and yet God says no “O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live”
this is not THE END God tells them.
Now we might wonder why God,
who has the power to breathe spirit into dry bones
would allow the bones to become dry at all,
just as we wonder why,
Jesus in our second story,
when he hears that his friend Lazarus is sick,
waits two days before going to him.
Martha and Mary both voice this wonderment
when they say to Jesus
‘Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died.’
Yes we say, wouldn’t it make more sense to just prevent Lazarus’ death?
And we think this way
because we’re still telling the story of death from the human perspective,
where the best thing to do is to avoid it in the first place.
But the way God tells the story,
death is not something to avoid,
death is something to go through.
As commentator Melinda Quivik notes in her commentary on working preacher this week (https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4411)
“Jesus does not do the easy thing (keep bad things from happening),
Jesus does the hard thing, which is to reverse destruction.”
The easy thing is to keep bad things from happening,
the hard thing is to reverse destruction,
and Jesus has chosen the hard path.
Now, if we can set the question of why aside,
this is the choice I’d rather God make
because the reality of the world that we live in
is that no matter how hard we may try to avoid it,
and rather than a god who could have chosen to avoid it,
we have a God who weeps with us,
and then through God’s own power,
brings about new life.
Did you notice that in the story of Lazarus?
That the bystanders were just that, bystanders
Jesus goes to the tomb and sees the weeping of the mourners
and he weeps with them,
then he orders the stone in front of the tomb to be removed.
Martha ever the practical one protests
“Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days”
or as the King James Version puts it “Lord, he stinketh”
but Jesus insists,
the stone is rolled away,
Jesus publicly thanks his Father for hearing him,
and then he commands Lazarus to come out.
And he does,
still wrapped in the grave clothes,
and Jesus commands the crowd “unbind him and let him go”
And those who witness this
believe in Jesus.
Belief comes after witnessing the power of God,
power that does not depend on prior belief or petition from humans,
God takes action because that is who God is,
confronting the stench of destruction
brings about new life.
But I want us to notice one last thing about this story,
Jesus’ last command to the crowd,
“unbind him and let him go”
Jesus has faced the stench and reversed destruction,
but he leaves it up to those gathered witnesses
who now believe in him,
to clean it up.
In order for Lazarus’ new life to be fully lived,
those around him must also face the stench of destruction,
peel away the layers of soiled cloth
to free the man beneath.
Even as God goes through death to reverse destruction,
God expects us to follow that path as well,
there is no other way to get to the new life on the other side
than through death.
And that’s hard for us who tell the story of avoidance
We’d much rather prevent the stink in the first place,
and on our own, that’s a good strategy,
that’s why we’re staying apart from each other right now,
to avoid sickness and death,
and sure there is some fear involved in that
but also love and common sense.
But if that is the only story well tell of death and adversity
we end up missing out on the new life God creates
when we are faced with death and destruction,
new life that must be reached by going through, not around.
And that’s the difference listening to how God tells the story of death makes
The promise and experience of new life on the other side of death
allows us to face the unknown with hope
and when we have hope
we are released enough from our fear to look for opportunity,
opportunities to face the stench,
to unbind and let free the Lazarus’s of the world,
and in this way we too are unbound and set free.
Set free to move through death
To new life in God. Amen
th Sunday in Lent
1 Samuel 16:1-13
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one
who walks with us through unexpected times. Amen
This lent we are hearing and telling stories of faith,
we’ve heard from fellow members of Christ Lutheran
and from our ancestors in the Bible,
we’ve heard how stories shape our identity,
our faith and our understanding of what is necessary.
Today our stories tell of God working through unexpected servants.
That’s a word I think we’re all too familiar with these days,
if you’d asked me last week
what I expected to be doing this week
it was certainly not leading worship via youtube.
But I had already looked at our texts for this morning,
I try to go through a season at a time,
go through the readings to see what’s coming
and make a few notes on what I might focus on
when I get to the day,
and when I opened the page in my sermon prep notebook
at the beginning of the week
I found a note I had made,
That says “Things are not going as people expect.”
now when I made that note I was referring to our scripture readings
but it equally applies to all of our lives right now
and I think it’s comforting to know
that at least God is familiar with this territory of the unexpected,
in fact we find that God often seems to prefer to work through the unexpected.
Take our first reading for today,
Samuel the prophet,
expected that he would serve King Saul until his death
but God removed favor from Saul
and instructed Samuel to go anoint a new king,
one from the family of Jesse of Bethlehem,
Jesse has a lot of sons
and all God has told Samuel is that God will show Samuel which son it will be.
Now when Samuel sees Jesse’s sons for the first time
he sees the eldest and thinks,
‘this has to be the new king, he’s the oldest, he’s tall and he already looks like a king should look.”
and the Lord tells Samuel
“nope, it’s not him, don’t look at his appearance, the Lord is choosing a king based on what’s in the heart.”
and so it goes with all of Jesse’s other sons
until it seems like there are none left,
‘do you have anymore?’ Samuel asks,
and is told there is one, the baby of the family who is out with the sheep.
‘Go get him’ Samuel instructs, and sure enough when he sees David
God says ‘that’s the one’ (I paraphrase of course).
None of this went as Samuel expected
but God chose to work through David
who would go on to become the greatest King of Israel,
so important that the messiah was supposed to be a descendant.
We see this again and again in scripture,
God choosing to work through the least likely in any situation.
We see that in our gospel,
the story of the man born blind.
Jesus and his disciples are walking along
and they see a man who was blind from birth.
The disciples ask a theological question
“Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
they are following the prevailing wisdom of the day,
that illness was a result of sin
and are curious because it is hard to imagine a baby sinning before birth,
so perhaps it was the parents.
Implicit in this question is the thought:
how do we avoid this?
And Jesus responds,
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
then Jesus heals the man
who becomes an unexpected witness to Jesus,
one who testifies on his behalf.
First it’s the neighbors who are confused
but hear of Jesus through the man,
then it is the Pharisees,
now the Pharisees really grill the man,
‘were you really blind?’ they ask
and even go as far as making the man’s parents
come and tell them if he really was born blind.
At the root of this investigation is the question: how did this happen?
Again and again they ask the man
who has no explanation other than Jesus
the pharisees are confused
because to them Jesus fits the definition of a sinner,
he broke the law by healing on the sabbath,
but how could he be a sinner if he has the power to heal?
So “they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, ‘Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.’ He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” and the Pharisees drive the man out of the temple.
The way the pharisees told the story
of who could be a servant of God,
Jesus didn’t qualify.
He acted in unexpected ways
and yet God worked through him
and this threw them for a loop
so much so that they took it out on the man who had been born blind
and healed by Jesus,
who did the only thing he could,
testify to what had happened to him.
But the story doesn’t end there,
Jesus, hearing that the man had been driven out,
goes and finds him
and reveals to him that he is the messiah,
he makes sure that the man is a member of Jesus’ community.
God works through unexpected servants,
again and again God chooses the least likely,
the youngest sons,
the ones labeled as sinners,
those at the margins of society.
And it makes us uncomfortable
because we can’t explain it
using the stories we usually tell,
the stories that say good things happen to good people
and bad things happen to bad people
and then define who is good and who is bad.
because along comes God
who tells us “do not look on appearance... For the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
the Lord looks on the heart
and calls into service
whoever God needs
in whatever way God needs
and often the who and the how are unexpected.
In this time
we have all been called to serve in an unexpected way,
by refraining from gathering together.
Loving God and neighbor
suddenly looks like empty pews and houses of worship,
as we now worship from couches in our own houses,
it looks like turning handshakes into phone calls,
hugs into emails,
finding ways of staying connected
without physically being together.
And all the while,
even as we long to gather in one place
and shake the rafters with our hymns,
we know that God is with us,
leading us to sources of nourishment we wouldn’t have found on our own,
guiding us through the valley overshadowed by death,
promising goodness and mercy
and to always be with us,
in the unexpected. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.