2nd Sunday After Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who dared to die for us. Amen
Welcome to the time after pentecost,
often called ordinary time,
symbolized by the color green.
In this green season
our scriptures and prayers
will point us in the direction of growth,
growth in faith, in discipleship, in understanding,
in what it takes to build the kingdom of God.
And this season will stretch on and on,
for the next few months,
it will be fall before we see a color on the altar
other than green
and that too holds true to the theme of the season
because growth takes time.
And growth is difficult at times,
do you remember growing up,
when you hit a growth spurt
and literally felt growing pains,
aches in your bones as they stretched toward your full height?
In his letters
Paul writes to a church experiencing growing pains,
to many he writes of specific difficulties,
the Thessalonians were afraid of church members dying
before the return of Christ,
the Corinthians had all sorts of conflict
and it seems like he just missed the Philippians,
in his letter to the Romans,
Paul is writing to a church
that he has never met
but whom he wishes to visit,
and because he’s never met them,
and realizes that he might never meet them
he presents his rationale for the gospel in a more measured tone,
Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham
and his main point
is that God does the work,
all Abraham did was trust in the promise, had faith.
For us, Jesus does all the work
and our role is to trust the promise, have faith.
That’s what is leading up to our reading for today
where Paul concludes: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”
We have peace with God! Paul proclaims,
given our sinful and broken relationship with God
it would be reasonable (using human logic)
for God to want to even the score,
punish us, make us hurt in the same way we made God hurt
“But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
God settled the score or however you want to put it,
and the end result
is that God has promised that through Christ
we will share in the glory of God.
We have been set free in our relationship with God
but that freedom does not absolve us of responsibilities,
rather it allows us to turn our attention
to the broken relationships of the world,
relationships that will insist that they are fine the way they are,
relationships that will resent and push back
against even the suggestion that they need to be examined,
which is why Paul says
that even as we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God “we also boast in our sufferings”
(asking our pentecost question)
what does this mean?
What does this mean for us today?
What it means is that we have work to do,
examining the broken relationships in this world,
to acknowledge them, understand them
and work toward healing them.
Sadly there are many candidates for this work,
but at the forefront right now
is the relationship between the white community
and the black community within this country.
It is a relationship that is broken
and has been broken for hundreds of years,
and it is also one that some will insist is fine
and will resent even the call to examine the relationship.
But this is exactly what Jesus has set us free to do,
it is what he did and calls us to do,
to go to the places that are hurting and in need of good news.
We heard in our gospel
that as Jesus went around all the cities and villages
proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God
he encountered whole crowds of people
that needed healing and hope
and “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few”
One person teaching and healing is not enough,
so Jesus sends the disciples out to do the same things
that he has just been doing,
and he knows it’s not going to be easy
or that everyone will receive their message
but that it is important work to be done
and he promises that whatever happens
they are loved and cared for by God,
they are free to take risks because God is their safety net.
We are free to take risks
since we are justified by faith,
we have peace with God,
which means that nothing can separate us from the love of God,
even if the work we do
in working on human relationships is difficult
and produces suffering,
but we know that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Hope does not disappoint us.
It may be hard to look around the world right now and have hope.
But that’s only if we confuse hope with optimism.
Optimism looks at all the hard and difficult things of the world
and says, ‘I don’t know how but it will all turn out okay.’
Hope takes a hard look at the realities,
the seemingly insurmountable obstacles,
and says ‘nevertheless I trust that there will be new life.’
This week in my reading
I came across a passage which speaks directly to this kind of hope,
I have returned to a book I read in seminary
“The Cross and the Lynching Tree” by James H. Cone,
a prominent black theologian,
reading it is part of my own work
examining the broken relationships in this world
and working to acknowledge them,
understand them and work toward healing them.
I invite you to join me in this work
and will in the near future be offering some ideas for how you can join me.
In one part Dr.Cone describes hope in the black experience
as expressed through the spiritual “Nobody Knows”
He says “The first three lines accent despair;
Nobody knows de trouble I’ve seen,
Nobody knows my sorrow.
Nobody knows de trouble I’ve seen,
But the last line accents hope with an exclamation:
“Nobody Knows” reaches the peak of despair in its repetition of the first line in the third.
African Americans did not doubt that their lives were filled with trouble...Trouble followed them everywhere, like a shadow they could not shake. But the ‘Glory Hallelujah’ in the last line speaks of hope that trouble would not sink them down into permanent despair...In another version of ‘Nobody Know,’ the dialectic of doubt and faith is expressed with a focus on Jesus’ solidarity with the one in trouble.
“Nobody knows the trouble I see,
Nobody knows but Jesus,
Nobody knows the trouble I see,
...In the second version of “Nobody Know,” the source of the hope is Jesus, for he is a friend who knows about the trouble of the little ones, and he is the reason for their ‘Hallelujah.’ His divine presence is the most important message about black existence.” (pg 20-21)
Hope is the belief
that the future will triumph over
the often seemingly insurmountable hardships of the present.
Jesus is the source of hope.
He had compassion on the crowds,
he pointed out and preached against a broken system
and for his trouble he was crucified on a cross
he rose from the dead on the third day,
he is new life in spite of death.
And he did it all for us,
his life and death and life again,
so that we too could have new life,
peace with God.
As we look around our world
and see the brokenness and suffering,
Jesus, who has set us free,
calls out to us, “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few”
and sends us out to work for new life
grounded in the hope of the resurrection,
the hope of Jesus.
Hope that does not disappoint. 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.