Second Sunday of Easter
1 John 1:1-2:2
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who comes to us in community. Amen
Today we hear reinforced in our readings
that for better or worse,
the way Jesus has decided to come to us,
to continue the relationship post resurrection
is through community,
namely the community of disciples
that gathers in Jesus’ name,
or as we sometimes call it ‘the Church’ with a capital ‘C’
Thomas was absent
the first time Jesus appeared to the community of the disciples,
and while his demands
have been played up as doubt vs the disciples’ belief,
all Thomas wanted
is what the other disciples first received,
to see Jesus,
and when he is with the community the next week
Jesus comes again
and Thomas has his chance
and exclaims “My Lord and my God.’
Out of Thomas’ questioning
comes deep faith,
facilitated by the community gathered.
Then the gospel writer
takes the opportunity to offer a blessing
for all of us who have believed
without placing our hands on the resurrected Jesus
as Thomas had opportunity to.
We may not have placed our finger
in the spot on Jesus’ hands
where the nails when in,
nor have we place our hand in his side
where the soldier’s sword pierced him
but we have all encountered the body of Christ on earth,
we would not be here today
had we not come into contact at some point with that body
and members who make up that body,
who brought Jesus to us and into our lives,
because that is how the gospel message is spread,
through the community.
We heard in Acts,
the history book of the early church,
how the church formed and spread
after the ascension of Jesus,
how the believers were of one heart and soul,
how they gathered together to hear the testimony of the apostles
and how each member of the community was as valued as the next,
as lived out in the distribution of communal property
such that poverty in the community was wiped out.
Other places in Acts
tell how this community attracted more and more believers every day.
Now I don’t know about you,
but to me that sounds like a pretty good community to be a part of.
In confirmation this week our lesson,
was on The Church,
each lesson starts out with a Bible passage
and questions to get us into the lesson
and this week the passage was a very similar passage in Acts
as our first reading,
and the writers of the curriculum remarked
that the description of the early church
sounded like a party that anyone would want to join,
then asked the confirmands to consider
how the actions of the church members
helped or hindered how Christ’s message first spread.
In talking about it
we agreed that the character of the community
had a lot to do with the success of the early church,
and then we agreed that it is still the case,
how church members and communities act
make or break how the message of Christ is spread,
whether or not people want to take part in the community,
the primary place in which God chooses to be revealed in the world.
And if the community is like the one described in Acts,
but we don’t have to think very hard
to find an example of when a community
did not live in a way that made people want to take part in the community
in fact I think it might almost be easier
to think of negative examples,
the times of exclusion, hate,
petty bickering and power dynamics
and all of a sudden
what sounded like gospel
the proclamation that Jesus comes to us in community,
starts to sound like law,
because we are intimately aware of the fact
that the church is not perfect,
nor are the people that make up the church perfect
and yet we’re the primary way
that Jesus uses to build relationships with people?
That’s a lot of pressure,
there is a lot riding on our imperfect selves
and the imperfect community we make up.
But lest our despair at our imperfections
cause us to give up on the community
, as so many have done,
there is a word of grace,
that when we sin we have an advocate in Jesus Christ.
John, in our second reading
addresses the reality of the Christian community,
both the good and the bad,
his description of how the community works is beautiful,
how the older community members share their experiences
and build relationships with new community members
so that in these relationships,
relationship with God is built,
and then John acknowledges the reality
that communities don’t always practice what they preach,
just saying we have fellowship with God is not enough,
we must also live out that fellowship.
John doesn’t seem too concerned
about the particulars of the sin
present in the community,
he acknowledges that it’s better not to sin
but if anyone does
there is forgiveness in Christ Jesus,
what John seems more concerned about
is the failure to acknowledge our sin,
from this passage
we get the line that is used in confession and forgiveness
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, if we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
The key then to the Christian community
is authenticity rather than perfection,
I mean which community would you rather belong to?
one that pretends it’s perfect
and points out others’ imperfections
or one that acknowledges its faults,
asks for forgiveness
and moves forward with the intent of not repeating those past mistakes or harmful actions.
I know which one I choose,
and strive to create.
and perhaps that’s the genius
of God working through an imperfect community
and imperfect people,
it’s the way to connect with others
who are not perfect
and to share with them the grace
that has transformed our lives.
One person who has lived this out in a very public way
that comes to mind
is Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber,
she’s a Lutheran pastor and public theologian and author
and has been quite open about her struggles in life with addiction,
and through her openness about her imperfections
and her experience of grace
God has used her to gather a community of people,
many of whom who have felt excluded by other Christian communities in the past
because of their imperfections.
I’ve heard her speak several times
and a couple times she’s mentioned
that some people at her church
have told her they feel less intimidated coming and confessing to her
because they know that she’s done way worse things
and that God has forgiven her.
When we’re in a less than ideal situation,
it’s comforting to know
that there is someone else who has been through it
and survived and thrived,
and that is the essence of Jesus,
Immanuel, God with us,
who has experienced everything we do,
and who live and loves us still,
in fact on Maundy Thursday we heard Jesus command the disciples
“to love one another as I have loved you, by this everyone will know that you are my followers, if you have love for one another.”
The mark of the community gathered around Jesus
that he first shared in a community,
that he continues to share in community.
Jesus comes to us in community,
Jesus comes to us in community
so that as a community
we can live and share the gospel message of Jesus’ love.
That is why we are all here,
imperfections and all,
to experience the love of God
through one another,
and to share that experience with the whole world
so that like Thomas
all may exclaim “My Lord and my God.” Amen
All Saints' Sunday
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who names us children of God. Amen
Our readings for today,
this All Saint’s Sunday,
make it abundantly clear
that life as a saint,
that is a baptized child of God
is not easy.
John of Patmos, in his vision,
sees a great multitude gathered around the throne of the lamb,
and what seems to qualify them to be there
is that they had passed through some great ordeal,
persecution and martyrdom perhaps
and now finally, having washed their robes in the blood of the lamb,
a rather ironic image symbolizing forgiveness from Jesus
they are free to worship God day and night,
no longer afflicted by hunger, thirst, heat or sorrow.
In the beatitudes from Matthew
Jesus names those blessed by God
whose earthly life indicate that no such blessing is present,
those who mourn,
are poor in spirit,
who seek righteousness
and especially those who are persecuted for the sake of Jesus.
And Jesus makes clear
that his followers can expect to be persecuted,
‘those who want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me’ Jesus tells the disciples.
Contrary to the false gods of society
who promise to make life immediately better,
given the right incentive of course,
our God names the reality
that it is often darkest before the dawn,
that things will get harder before they get easier
and God promises that it will be worth it,
it will be worth it to participate in the struggle
to live on earth the ways of heaven.
Because in the words of the great multitude
standing before the throne and the lamb
“Salvation belongs to our God”
that is the simple truth of it,
salvation belongs to our God,
and what is interesting about this great multitude
proclaiming this great truth
is that it is an all inclusive crowd,
people from every nation and tribe,
proclaiming in all the languages of the earth
that salvation belongs to our God.
I think we’re suspicious of labeling something as true,
especially when it seems like many of the things
we have trusted as true
have proven themselves false
but truth transcends nationality and language
and here all nationalities and languages
are proclaiming the truth.
truth transcends time as well,
it was this truth that our ancestors knew,
the saints whom we remember today
and it is the truth that we intend on passing to the next generation,
and in all honesty,
that is a struggle,
we wonder how do we pass along this message of salvation from our God
to people who are suspicious of truth claims
and who are skeptical of the need for salvation
Well, we build on the work of the saints who have gone before us.
We remember their faithfulness and perseverance
as they faced the struggles of their time,
we are inspired by how their legacy continues
and we are thankful for the faith
that they passed on to us,
entrusting us with the present and the future.
This past week I attended the fall theological conference
for the Nebraska synod pastors.
The topic was reformation,
particularly looking to the future
now that the commemoration of the 500th anniversary is past.
The gospel and our tradition call us to continue to reform,
to live on earth as in heaven.
One speaker, former presiding Bishop Mark Hansen
made an important distinction,
in his discussion of the future of the church,
the distinction between nostalgia and living memory.
Nostalgia, he named as a virus,
a virus that gets in the way of living in the present.
Nostalgia, is remembering the good old days,
naming them as a better time
and longing to go back so badly
that churches infected with the virus
attempt to replicate the good old days
using the same techniques, with the same expectations.
Nostalgia provides a buffer against cultural change,
which is another way of saying that it prevents churches from being culturally relevant.
It is okay for us to remember when Sunday school was filled to the brim,
it’s okay for us to lament that for very practical reasons
we don’t have that kind of attendance anymore.
What is not okay
is to throw up our hands and say it’s hopeless,
and it’s a shame that people just don’t come anymore
and then continue doing things the way they were done
in the good old days.
What the gospel calls for,
what God calls for is living memory,
which Bishop Hansen defined as
being oriented in the narrative of the people of God
and through it being turned toward God’s promised future.
In other words
If you don’t take time to remember where you’ve come from
you’ll have a hard time knowing where to go in the future.
We see God calling for living memory again and again in the scriptures,
the Israelites are told to tell the story of their ancestors,
before they enter the promised land,
to remember how they were a wandering people
so that when they take possession of the promised land,
they will remember what it was like to be wanderers
and they will treat other wanderers with hospitality.
Jesus started his ministry
by going into the synagogue,
reading from a scroll of the prophets
and telling the people that the scripture had been fulfilled in their hearing,
he was locating himself within the memory and the mission of his people,
to provide a way to understand why he was going to do the things he did,
heal the sick, preach good news to the poor
and ultimately give his life for the sake of the world.
Jesus calls us to this living memory as well,
each time we gather around the table
we hear the story of Jesus’ last night with the disciples
and his command to remember,
to break the bread and drink the wine in remembrance of him,
a remembering the recalls us to the gift of forgiveness
that Jesus has given us,
a gift he has called us to share with others.
In this command to remember
Jesus calls us even deeper
toward the promised future of God,
where there will be enough for all to eat,
as people from all nations, tribes and languages
gather together to worship God and the lamb.
We remember the saints today, and each year
because we love them and miss them yes,
but also because remembering them
locates us in our story,
a story of a people who came as immigrants and refugees,
who worked hard to form a community
where they could worship in their own language
and serve the God of salvation,
and when the younger generations spoke a different language
the worship changed with the community
so that the message could continue to be shared,
we are a community that supported missionaries both near and far,
a community who took seriously the job of instructing children in the faith,
this is a community that has been present for over 125 years
one that still holds the values of our ancestors
even as we find new ways to achieve the same goals of worship, service and learning.
And yes, this is not always easy,
we struggle with change
but there is one thing that will never change,
who we are and whose we are.
Baptized children of God.
Hear again the words from 1 John
“Beloved we are God’s children now, what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”
Amen Thanks be to God
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.