Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from God our father,
Jesus our savior
and the Holy Spirit our comforter and guide. Amen
Today Jesus’ disciples ask him how to pray
and he gives them a lesson on the goodness of God.
This is Luke’s version of the Lord’s prayer,
you may have noticed that it’s a little bit different
than the one we usually pray,
that version comes from the gospel of Matthew
who has a different focus to his gospel.
it seems that Jesus is not as concerned
with the exact form of the prayer
as he is with the one who receives the prayer.
Jesus follows the simple petitions that he gives them,
With some scenarios that illustrate who God is
and how God relates to us in prayer
First Jesus says
image that you have a friend come in the middle of the night
and you have nothing to offer them in the way of food.
So you think to yourself,
maybe my neighbor has something I can borrow,
so you go next door in the middle of the night
and bang on the door to ask for some bread.
And your neighbor is not happy with you,
they’ve locked the door and gone to bed,
you are seriously annoying them,
but you keep up your shameless begging,
you’re starting to make a scene
and Jesus says, the neighbor will get up,
not because they’re your friend
but because it is the honorable thing to do.
“When you pray, say Father hallowed by your name.”
God will act to honor God’s name,
even when we act in dishonorable ways,
even when we’re seriously annoying God.
Now there’s something to be said for persistence in prayer,
Jesus has other examples of that,
but the point here
is that God is good
even when we are not.
It is the goodness of God
that drives God’s response to prayer.
And that’s why we pray for God’s kingdom to come,
for that unwavering goodness to be the rule rather than the exception.
Even now, in this world,
God knows what we need,
daily bread and forgiveness
and God provides it, like a parent caring for children.
God, Jesus says,
is better than any parent
again he turns to the crowd and asks them to consider
their own experience as parents or caretakers of children.
“Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion. If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”
God is good.
God is eager to give,
though notice Jesus specifies the Holy Spirit there at the end
God, while eager to give
is not a cosmic vending machine,
where if we put the right amount of prayer in
and specify what we want
we’ll get it.
Prayer rather is about being in relationship
with the creator of the universe, the source of all goodness and life.
and the way to build a relationship
is to spend time together.
That’s what prayer is,
spending time with God,
getting to know God.
And we struggle with this,
the disciples, watching Jesus pray
want what he has,
that intimate relationship with God,
and so they ask him, how do we do that, teach us.
We see others pray and we think,
I want that, that intimate relationship with God
but I’m not sure how to do that.
Professor Matt Skinner likens learning to pray with learning to kiss
“You learn some by watching others do it. You should be discerning about whom you will allow to teach you. You certainly make mistakes. And maybe you always worry deep in your head that you might be doing it wrong.” (www.workingpreacher.org)
Funny but true right?
As much as we pray,
with whatever techniques or words we try
we worry that we’re not doing it right,
but that’s Jesus’ point
it’s not about the how but the who.
God who is good,
who listens, who wants the best for us.
So yes, our attempts at prayer
are probably going to be fumbling and awkward at first,
and we might try a few different ways of doing it
before we find what feels right
and God will be there
even through these times
because God is good, and listens and wants the best for us,
wants to spend time with us.
And gradually through spending more time
we will get to a place where prayer,
if not comfortable is at least familiar
and from there the relationship builds
And the thing about building a relationship with someone
is that we are changed in the process,
think about your best friend and how you became friends,
it took some time to get to know each other
but you learned to trust your friend
with your deepest fears and secrets,
and the things that are important to your friend
became important to you
because of your love for them
and through experience
you know in your heart as well as your head
that they have your back.
That’s what prayer does with God,
we get to know each other,
we learn to trust God with our deepest fears and secrets
and the things that are important to God
become important to us
That’s what we want,
when we say teach us to pray Jesus,
an intimate relationship with God.
and God who is good
Gives us Jesus to show us what that relationship can look like
the Holy Spirit to guide us as we learn
and the freedom to focus on the who rather than the how. Amen
6th Sunday after Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one
who calls us to love both God and neighbor. Amen
When Jesus is pressed to summarize his teaching
it boils down to love of God and love of neighbor.
These two things are most important,
and while this seems simple enough
it can get confusing
because as much as we claim otherwise
we humans are pretty bad at multi-tasking,
we tend to focus on one thing at a time
Yet Jesus calls us to both,
and he gives examples of both.
Last week we heard the story of the Good Samaritan
who embodies love of neighbor
by stopping to help a man left for dead
on the side of a dangerous road,
in the story the Good Samaritan
is contrasted with a priest and a Levite
who when they choose their own way of loving God
rather than helping their neighbor
turn out looking not so great.
this week we hear of Mary
who embodies love of God
by sitting at Jesus’ feet
listening to him teach.
She is contrasted with Martha,
who, busy loving her neighbor in her own way
comes off looking not so great.
we tend to see these contrasts
in terms of right and wrong,
one better than the other,
but it’s not that one person is better than the other,
it’s the choices they make in the moment
that Jesus comments on,
Jesus needs both the priest and the Good Samaritan
both Mary and Martha as his followers.
As a disciple
Martha embodies the hospitality
that will further the kingdom.
When Jesus sent the 70 out to share the good news
he told them to depend on hospitality
of the kind that Martha offered
welcoming people into her home
and caring for their needs.
As a disciple
Mary embodies the devotion to Jesus’ teaching
that will further the kingdom.
She is attuned to Jesus’ presence
and hangs on his every word.
Jesus will depend on her
to teach others when he has returned to his father.
Jesus needs both Mary and Martha,
the conflict comes
when Martha gets so caught up in the tasks in front of her
that she tries to make her way of serving
necessary for someone else,
And that’s when Jesus jumps in
and gently chides Martha,
not for serving
but for being so caught up in what she was doing
that the tasks suddenly became more important than loving God and neighbor,
and for trying to spread her worry and distraction to Mary
when Mary is doing just fine
at loving God and neighbor in her own way.
This past week at confirmation camp
we spent our confirmation time
talking about how God made each of us different,
gave us different gifts and callings
and how God needs all of us
to further the kingdom in our own way.
Some of us like to follow the rules,
some of us like to create new ways of doing things.
Some of us like to listen and study
and some of us like to get our hands dirty and learn through new experiences.
Some of us are good at organizing,
some of us are good at encouraging,
some dream up new ideas and others make those ideas a reality.
None of these ways of being a disciple of Jesus
are better than the others,
God needs all of them to further the kindom.
Where we get into trouble
is when we prioritize our gifts or ways of doing things over others,
when we expect others to love and serve in the exact same way we do
or have been doing,
and getting frustrated when they don’t
that’s when Jesus gently chides us
and turns our attention back to him,
because when we get upset
we forget that it’s Jesus in our living room.
Jesus calls his disciples to lives of both and.
Which means following Jesus
is more complicated than following a set of rules
that detail exactly what is right and what is wrong in any given situation.
Instead Jesus has created us as unique individuals
designed to work as a small part of a whole,
it is up to us to choose how to live out love of God and love of neighbor
using our God given gifts and callings
Sometimes that will look like stopping on a dangerous road to help a stranger,
sometimes that will look like saying the dishes can wait
while spending time with this special person who is here right now.
And while what we decide to do
will be different for each of us
the common thread is love of God and neighbor.
We live in a tradition that recognizes the both and of life.
And while some may find the lack of exactness frustrating
both and catches the truth of life in all its complexities.
We acknowledge that we are both saints and sinners.
And while those two seem to conflict
we know the reality that we are not perfect,
we make mistakes, we intentionally harm others,
and at the same time
we know that in our baptisms
God has forgiven our sins
and that nothing will separate us from God.
Both are true at the same time. Both and.
We acknowledge that we need both the law and the gospel.
There are times when we need a good talking to,
where we need to be shown how we have not been loving God and neighbor,
we need to law to reflect back to us
our need for repentance our need for God.
And then there are times when we feel like we will never be enough,
that we can never do enough,
that the pain of the world threatens to overwhelm us,
and that is when we need to hear the gospel,
the good news that in Jesus we are enough,
that Jesus is present in the pain of the world,
that it’s up to Jesus to save the world not us.
We are both saint and sinner
We need both law and gospel
We are to love both God and neighbor
And Jesus tells us that
In a world of both and
there is need of only one thing. Jesus,
the way, the truth and the life.
when we get worried and distracted
Jesus is there, gently calming us down,
giving us perspective,
calling us to return to the one we need.
When we are loving our neighbor
Jesus is there alongside us.
When we take time to study his teachings
Jesus is there pointing out the important parts.
When we are torn between both and
Jesus is present
reminding us of the gifts he has given us
and the community that surrounds us,
the community made up of many members
that is able to both love God and neighbor
in the name of Jesus. Amen
5th Sunday after Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who calls us to be neighbors. Amen
Did you ever notice that Jesus doesn’t actually answer the lawyer’s question?
The lawyer asks Jesus,
what must I do to inherit eternal life?
this is who you must be.
They’re speaking different languages
the lawyer is speaking of doing,
Jesus is speaking of being
because for Jesus it’s not about what you do,
it’s about who you are
and that is a much more wholistic approach
than the world usually takes
In the world we are able to,
even supposed to
compartmentalize the different aspects of our lives,
who we are and what we do
can and should depend on the situation,
at work we are to be one person,
at home another,
at church another,
and heaven help you if one of those areas bleed over into another.
Compartmentalization it what allows someone
who is loving and kind to family and friends
to be ruthless and unfeeling as a business person,
just doing a job
is what allows seemingly good
people to inflict harm on others.
Compartmentalization allows us
to know exactly where we stand
in a cause and effect world
and we humans like to know where we stand,
mostly so we know just how much we can get away with,
or so that we know we have done enough.
That's what is behind the lawyer's questioning of Jesus.
But that’s not how God works.
God sees all of us all the time,
we are one whole person
and God expects that one person to be consistent whether at work,
among family or even at church.
And yes, while there is some wisdom
to keeping good boundaries between work and home
and in relationships,
the purpose of these boundaries
is to define who we are as a whole person.
With God it’s about who we are,
not what we do,
it’s about identity.
And that is what is behind Jesus’ response to the lawyer’s question.
Because the lawyer knows the answer to his own question,
he quotes the law as written in Deuteronomy
back to Jesus when pressed,
“you shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
this is the law that God gave the people
after they were freed from slavery in Egypt
to teach them how to live as free people,
how to be free.
But the lawyer has turned the teaching into a means to an end
- inheriting eternal life-
his follow up question who is my neighbor, shows that.
And that’s not the point Jesus says,
as he tells the story of the man beaten and left by the side of the road
- the priest and the levite were following the law-
to touch blood would have left them ritually unclean
and the road was dangerous,
they are thinking of themselves
and as far as self preservation goes
they did the right thing,
and yet they don’t come off looking so good
when compared with the samaritan
who allows himself to be changed by encountering the man,
when he sees him in the ditch he is moved with pity,
at least that’s how our version translates it,
but the Greek word is much stronger
it literally means to be moved as to one’s bowels,
which is kind of like us saying his heart was wrenched.
He has compassion,
he feels the pain of the man in the ditch in his gut
and that leads him to serve the man with all his resources,
his time, his animal and supplies, his money
even his emotions in essence his whole life.
And this is the example Jesus gives to the lawyer
of the one who was a neighbor.
It’s about who we are rather than what we do,
and that’s hard for us,
because it means that when we think about our relationships with God and neighbor
improving those relationships means working on ourselves,
who we are,
rather than a check list of things to do
and that can seem overwhelming,
the first six months of this year
I did a leadership development experience
through the Nebraska synod,
there were about 30 of us
and the goal was to look at leadership
so we took a bunch of those instruments
that told us about our preferences for being in the world,
how we handle our emotions
and other things
and of course all of the reports
came with suggestions for how we could improve our leadership
through improving ourselves,
and it was really hard work
and overwhelming at times,
after one of the sessions one
of the other pastors posted on facebook as his status:
“you know continuing ed is good when you need to finish a cry in the parking lot before you leave.”
working on ourselves can be overwhelming,
overwhelming enough as to seem impossible,
overwhelming enough to feel like you can never be enough,
especially when it come to your relationship with God
and that’s where the grace of God comes into play,
joined to Christ we are enough for God
who loves the whole us,
when it comes to inheriting eternal life
Jesus has it taken care of,
there is a place for us
and nothing can separate us from God’s love
no matter how many times we mess up or fail
and this sets us free
to practice living as a neighbor to those around us,
it frees us to be available with our whole selves
to those who have been beaten and left in ditches,
it frees us to try to be our best
even when we know our best isn’t perfect.
It’s not about what we do,
it’s about who we are,
and who we are,
is beloved children of God
grounded in grace, nurtured for growth.
This is Paul’s message to the Colossians
when he writes them in our second reading
essentially he tells them
that Grace leads to faith,
faith leads to hope,
hope leads to lives that bear fruit in service to neighbor,
and this is something we learn from others,
the ones who reach out to us
when we are in the ditch
and we practice this
when we are moved with compassion
as we move through our lives.
When we mess up there is forgiveness,
when we get discouraged there is the community of saints
and throughout it all
is the love of God
for whom we are enough. Amen
4th Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who sends us out. Amen
In this time after Pentecost
we are exploring how to live as disciples
of the crucified and risen Jesus
and here today in our gospel
Jesus gives concrete step by step instructions.
He has set his face toward Jerusalem
and is calling followers to go with him,
not everyone he meets accepts him
so now Jesus picks 70 followers
to go ahead of him to prepare the way for him
and this is how they are to go:
First they are to go in pairs,
Jesus knows that the disciples
will encounter difficulties
and that hard times are much easier to bear
with a friend by your side.
Following Jesus is something we are to do together,
Next Jesus tells them
that they are to travel light,
as in with only the clothes on their backs,
no extra sandals, no money, no extra food,
now this is a hard one for me,
when I travel I like to make sure
that I am as prepared as possible
and my last check before I head off
is always to make sure that at the very least I have my wallet
so that I can purchase anything I’ve forgotten along the way.
Jesus removes this safety net from the disciples’ journey,
God will provide for them
through the hospitality of those they meet
in the towns they enter.
when they get to a town
the disciples are to enter a house
and say ‘peace to this house’
and now Jesus’ instructions
become like one of those choose your own adventure stories
that were popular when I was growing up,
if the peace is shared turn to page 50,
if you are not welcomed turn to page 65 to see what happens next!
if the peace is shared
Jesus says that’s where the pair of disciples are to stay
and accept whatever hospitality is offered,
that means even if the house doesn’t follow the dietary laws,
or perhaps they are not wealthy
but are willing to share-
Jesus makes sure to say
that the disciples are not supposed to go from house to house
looking for the comfiest beds or best meals,
they are to stay where they are first welcomed,
and while they are there they are to cure the sick and say to the people
“The kingdom of God has come near to you.”
But now we turn to page 65,
if the disciples enter a town and are not welcomed,
Jesus tells the disciples to shake the dust of the town off their feet in protest
and move on,
they’re not to argue or threaten or even try to convince
the people there that they should listen,
the disciples are to move on,
after they proclaim
“yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.”
God acts whether we acknowledge it or not,
the kingdom is promised to all
whether it is received or rejected.
Our job as disciples
is to proclaim that it has come near
and let the spirit do the rest.
And it is a risk
because the message will be rejected
and rejection is hard to face,
especially again and again
and yet Jesus says to leave the rejection behind,
trust that God was present
and move on.
So the disciples go out following Jesus’ instructions
and when they come back
they are full of joy!
But what they are excited about is the power they have been given,
“Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”
Wow this is amazing they exclaim
but Jesus cautions them
“do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
The success of serving in Jesus’ name
goes to our heads pretty quickly.
We take a risk, it works out,
wow, look what we’ve accomplished we say,
and Jesus reminds us that it’s not about what we’ve done
but what God is doing through us.
What is God doing through us?
God is proclaiming peace
and the promise that God is acting in the world.
How are we to live as disciples?
We are to go out proclaiming peace to all we meet,
and whether we are welcomed or rejected
share the good news that God is near.
This summer each Sunday
we’ll have a discipleship practice
to help us grow as we follow Jesus.
This week it comes from Professor Amy G. Ogden
in her commentary on workingpreacher.org she says: “As Christians, we can reliably root our lives in these two proclamations -- “Peace to this house!” and “The kingdom of God has come near.” This is the good news that we have to share! These keep our gaze on God’s activity right in front of us, rather than turning it to blaming, accusing or judgmental analyzing, symptoms that reactivity holds our lives in bondage.”
Then she suggests that we “experiment with these two proclamations
by offering them daily for a week…”
first putting these proclamations into our own words,
something like ‘welcome as you are’
or ‘God’s love is near to you’
a way that sounds natural to whatever situation you are in
and sure sometimes these proclamations may be rejected
or seen as odd,
but you may also be surprised
at just how many times they are exactly what the person needs to hear in that moment.
So give it a try,
take a risk and remember:
Peace be with you,
you are in God’s care,
God’s love surrounds you whether you know it or not. Amen
3rd Sunday after Pentecost
1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who sets us free
to love and serve our neighbor. Amen
Welcome to the time after Pentecost,
the long green season
that will take us all the way to the end of November and Christ the King Sunday.
Sometimes this season is called Ordinary Time
and that fits in with our lessons
that seem to address the question:
how do we live as disciples of the crucified and risen Jesus in our ordinary lives?
what our lessons tell us
is that Jesus’ understanding of ordinary
is very different from the world’s understanding of ordinary
and that can be uncomfortable for us.
The Jesus of our gospel today
is an uncomfortable Jesus
because he’s not accepting any excuses,
there are times Jesus says,
that are so important
that everything else must take a back seat,
even very important things.
Jesus has set his face towards Jerusalem,
he is going to his death,
which he will die on behalf of all humanity
Jesus knows that there is nothing more important than this
and he calls for followers to accompany him
but what Jesus is about to do,
is so difficult, so painful, so inconvenient
that some he encounters simply don’t receive him,
they can’t handle Jesus headed toward Jerusalem
so they don’t even try
There are others though
that make a half-hearted attempt,
it’s the soft rejections,
they say sure I’ll join but first let me take care of this other
important thing then I’ll follow,
and Jesus is having none of it.
He says “follow me” to one person and their response is:
“let me first bury my father” But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."
no “but first let me”
And this is uncomfortable,
because the reasons the people cite
for delaying their following of Jesus
seem good and reasonable,
it’s hard to argue with caring for family obligations,
and it’s hard to argue with letting loved ones know where you’re going
and yet Jesus calls them excuses
for avoiding the hard yet crucial task in front of them.
There are times, Jesus says,
when following him
is so important that there is no excuse to be made for delay,
not even those that seem good and reasonable.
And we struggle with that,
because the crucial moments of following Jesus
are the most difficult,
and we as humans are very good at coming up
with seemingly good and reasonable excuses not to act,
not to follow Jesus,
or to delay following Jesus.
And Jesus is having none of it.
We are in such a moment in our country
where Jesus is calling us to follow him and is accepting no excuses.
This is the moment where children are being separated from their families
and kept in prisons without adequate food, water and sanitation.
There is no excuse,
no but first let us,
that could make this okay,
there is no reason reasonable enough
to justify turning our heads
or making excuses for why this is the way it is right now.
And to be clear It is not a matter of lack of resources,
multiple news agencies have reported on people
bringing donations of diapers, toothbrushes and toothpaste for the children
only to be turned away by those in charge.
This is a crucial moment in following Jesus,
who brought children close to him,
who valued bodies so much that he healed all the suffering who came to him,
who though he was God became human,
body and all,
a body that got tired and hungry and thirsty,
a body that was broken on the cross in the ultimate form of suffering,
a body that experienced death just like all bodies will.
But, Jesus body and all,
rose from the dead,
he changed the rules,
now death no longer has the final say
and by changing the rules
Jesus freed us from fear.
When we are afraid we serve ourselves,
when we are released from fear
we are to serve others
this is the heart of discipleship.
Paul in our second reading
reminds the Galatians:
“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.”
then he reminds them that
“for the whole of the law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Freedom in Christ
is freedom that is to be used to set others free,
as opposed to freedom of the world
which is license to do whatever we want,
to work for our own benefit
often at the expense of others,
often to calm our own fears
that make self-preservation the order of the day.
But again Paul reminds us, Christ has already preserved us,
“those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires”
joined to Christ in baptism
we have been made citizens of heaven,
so that, in Christ
death is not the end
just a stop along the way
and this frees us to face the fears of the world.
We affirm this at the beginning of funerals with these words:
“When we were baptized in Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (ELW Pastoral Care, 233-234)
Christ has already done this for us.
Past tense, completed action.
The challenge of discipleship
is to become who we have are.
To live following Jesus,
this ordinary time,
we will be exploring how we practice living as disciples,
and because we sometimes practice better with tangible tasks
we will offer a discipleship practice for each week,
a simple exercise that will help us to live into who we already are.
Our discipleship practice this week
is to name an excuse you have made
to avoid following Jesus,
and then to do one small thing
to follow Jesus in spite of that excuse.
You are called to freedom brothers and sisters,
the freedom of Christ works through you to free others.
Let us live into that freedom together,
and may Christ be with us all. Amen
Festival of Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one casts out fear with love. Amen
Happy Festival of Pentecost,
Easter was 50 days ago
and now we celebrate what is often called the birthday of the church,
the moment when the spirit came upon the disciples
and in as many languages as there were people to hear
they preached the good news of Jesus
and many heard, believed and joined the Jesus followers
in their quest to share the news.
That was just the beginning,
the work of the spirit continued on through the faithful
all the way to here today,
where we are gathered as followers of Jesus
who have heard the good news
and have been tasked with sharing it with others.
It’s quite a remarkable progression,
and yet when we humans work together
we often make what at first seemed impossible, possible
though the result isn’t always good,
it depends on our motivation,
which has a way of coming back around to us at the end.
We heard just such a story this morning for our first reading,
the building of the Tower of Babel.
To put it in the context of the larger biblical narrative
after God saves Noah and his family from the flood
God instructs them to repopulate the whole earth.
we get one of the Bible’s famous genealogy passages
detailing the descendants of Noah and his sons
and then we hear about a time in the midst of this
when there was still one people with one language
but they were getting big enough that people might start splitting off,
forming their own tribes and going their own way,
and while this is what God intended
the people were afraid of this happening
so when in their wanderings
they reach what seems like a nice place
with plenty of space
they decide to settle down
and to make sure people stick around they decide to build a city
“Then they said, ‘come let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”
and that’s just what they do,
they begin building the city
and they make a great tower
and then God decides to come see what they’ve been up to
and upon seeing the great building project
what the people have accomplished
“the Lord said, ‘look, they are one people, and they all have one language; and this is the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will not be impossible for them.”
but because this project was built out of fear and self-interest
rather than obedience and service to the Lord,
the Lord gives them different languages
and scatters them all over the face of the earth-
the very thing that the people feared,
the reason they built the tower in the first place.
We humans can do great things
when we work together
but motivation matters,
when we act out of a place of fear,
what we fear often still comes to pass or even something worse.
Which is why, ultimately
Jesus came and living among fearful humans
preached love as the motivation for action,
Jesus preached love as the law,
then destroyed the thing we fear most, death
and gave us a new project to focus on,
sharing this message with the whole world.
But of course it’s not quite as simple as that is it?
Because there are times when we are afraid
and times we act out of fear rather than love
that while we were made saints at our baptism,
until Jesus comes again we also remain sinners,
and it is that part of us that gets afraid.
Jesus knew this too
so he gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit to help guide us,
the spirit moves us to act out of love,
even when that itself scares us.
Fear is something the disciples are very familiar with.
When we join them in Acts
they are all together in one place,
they’ve stuck pretty close together since Jesus died.
Even after Jesus rose,
appeared to them
and told them to bring his message to the ends of the earth,
they’ve stuck together in one place
and into that place,
into their fear
the Holy Spirit rushes
with the force of a strong wind
and the energy of fire,
and filling each of the disciples it rushes them outside,
out of that place where they’ve been staying put
and outside they begin to preach in different languages
and the crowd that has gathered because of the commotion
understands what they are saying!
This crowd who has gathered from the ends of the earth
now hear the message of Jesus
and will return with it to the ends of the earth
and the apostles will go with them.
But first they have to figure out what is going on.
The gathered crowd hears this group of Galileans
speaking about God’s deeds of power in their own languages
“All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’”
What does this mean?
The gateway question to faith,
those of you who grew up Lutheran
and went through confirmation will recognize this question
as it is posed again and again in Luther’s Small Catechism,
and if you are unfamiliar with this little document
come and see me
because one of the gifts of our heritage
is understanding questions as crucial to faith.
When we ask questions
it means that we are open to hearing what God has to say to us,
to hearing what new adventures the Holy Spirit is calling us to.
Of course some in the crowd explained the events away
by saying that the disciples were drunk.
When faced with something strange and new
it is much easier to find a reason to dismiss it
than to engage it
because if you engage it, you might be changed yourselves.
So though some dismissed the disciples,
others in the crowd asked
‘what does this mean?’
Having asked the question
they were open to hearing Peter’s interpretation
that what they were experiencing
was the fulfillment of the prophet Joel’s words,
that the Lord’s great and glorious day was coming
and those who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.
And though we didn’t hear it read out loud
Peter goes on to proclaim Jesus as Messiah.
When Peter finished with his sermon
those listening “were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles. ‘Brothers what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that yours sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’” (Acts 2:37-39)
and that’s what the people do
and Luke tells us about three thousand
were baptized because of this.
it seems like an impossibly large number
and yet with the help of the Holy Spirit
the disciples are no longer afraid
and stuck in one place
but begin working together
to start making the impossible possible
and this work continues
and people respond to it
because it is a message and a movement based on love.
When we are loved as deeply as we are by God
any fear we feel is momentary,
sure sometimes we get stuck for awhile,
but then the Holy Spirit blows in,
and blows us out into the world
uniting us in the mission to share the love of God with others,
and our fear disappears
because the answer to the question what does this mean?
Always starts with the love of God
Who gathers us together
To make the impossible, possible
You are loved by God,
tell others of that love. Amen
6th Sunday of Easter
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who is revealed in love. Amen
In this season of Easter
the theme running through our texts
has been the disciples asking ‘now what?’
Jesus has risen from the dead and ascended to the Father
leaving the disciples with the instructions
to go out into the world sharing the good news about Jesus.
And while that sounds simple
the actual doing of that is proving to be difficult for the disciples
even though Jesus tried to prepare them
with his teachings for just this moment.
At the end of the section of Jesus’ last teachings to the disciples
that we read today
Jesus says “and now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.”
He’s preparing them for what is to come
even as he knows that they will struggle with it.
Sometimes as students we don’t realize the full importance of a lesson
until after we’ve been in the situation
that lesson tried to address,
We heard some of these teachings in Lent
on the way to the cross
and perhaps we heard them one way
but now we are in the season of Easter,
and these teachings appear again
with the disciples we look at them from the otherside
through the cross and the empty tomb,
we look back at Jesus’ words of preparation,
looking for the answer to the question, now what?
A question Jesus knew we’d be asking.
Jesus has been teaching that he’ll be going away
and Judas- not Iscariot- asks “if you’re going away how will you reveal yourself to us?”
Yes we wonder,
how will Jesus reveal himself to us
now that he has ascended to the father.
Jesus answers “Those who love me will keep my word and my father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
which is the complicated way of saying
that God is revealed in the loving relationship
between Jesus and his father,
and those who love Jesus
are joined to that relationship.
Jesus reveals himself to us in love.
Why he couldn’t have just said that I don’t know
it sounds so simple,
and maybe it’s the simplicity of it that trips us up,
I know I’ve been tripped up by it.
Before you start school to become a pastor you have to go through a series of interviews, one of which is a psychological evaluation, it’s for a good reason, to protect the church but it’s very intimidating because at the time it seems like your whole future and your ability to serve God is on the line, so no pressure right? I did my psychological evaluation in the year after I graduated from college, and I was a little late to the interview because I’d had trouble finding a parking spot so I was a bit flustered and the guy doing the interview told me he did these things for a bunch of different denominations and at one point he asks me about my concept of God and this I could talk about, I was 22 years old and I’d just graduated with a Bachelors in Religion and so I go off on this topic for quite awhile, and when I finished the guy looked at me and said “A lot of people say God is love…” and then moved on and I was left with the horrifying thought that I’d gotten the God question wrong.
A lot of people say God is love.
It sounds so simple
and yet Jesus knew that we’d struggle with it,
after he tells the disciples how he will be revealed
he gives them two gifts to help
the Holy Spirit and his peace:
“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
What Jesus is saying
is that we don’t have to get the God question right
in order to be in relationship with Jesus,
we don’t even have to understand it,
and we should not be afraid if we don’t,
we are not alone in our experience of God,
simply by loving Jesus
we are in relationship with him and the father
and this love is shared within a community of people.
The ‘you’ in Jesus’ teaching is plural,
it is not just an individual relationship with God
that Jesus is talking about
but a communal relationship with God,
a communal promise,
which is what allows the community to grow
beyond the first generation of disciples who knew Jesus in the flesh.
I had a professor in college who didn’t like the Sunday School song
‘Jesus loves me’
‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so”
His point was that yes the Bible tells us that Jesus loves us,
but we know that Jesus loves us,
especially the little children meant to sing the song
know that Jesus loves them
because they are loved within a community
that shares the love of Christ with them.
The community of disciples grew
because of the shared love of God that people experienced in community
love comes first,
and that’s where Jesus’ first gift comes in,
the gift of the Holy Spirit,
given to remind us of Jesus’ teachings,
to help us through the unexpected things that come up
no matter how well we prepare for the future.
And while the thought that we can never be fully prepared
might cause us some anxiety
Jesus has given us one more gift
the gift of his peace.
Jesus makes sure to emphasize
that this is the peace of Christ
not the peace of the world.
The peace of the world is conditional,
a false promise of security,
an absence of conflict,
it is momentary.
The peace of Christ is lasting,
rather than quickly putting a bandaid on a conflict
it works through the brokenness
to get to harmony and wholeness,
a place where everything thrives.
The peace of Christ is everlasting
and it is ours.
Christ has died,
Christ has risen,
Now we live in the peace and love of Christ,
guided by the Holy spirit
we seek to share this peace with others,
not through understanding or force
but through love.
Because you know,
A lot of people,
say God is love. 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.