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
Baptism of Our Lord
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who is continually doing a new thing with us. Amen
So in the story of Jesus
we’ve jumped thirty some years
between last week and this week.
Mostly because the Bible doesn’t really tell us anything
in between Jesus’ birth
and his appearance in the wilderness
by the Jordan river to be baptized by John,
the event that starts off his public ministry.
Jesus is starting something new,
and God calls him to begin with baptism,
so Jesus goes from Galilee
out into the desert to the Jordan river
where John the Baptist
is preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins,
calling people to turn their lives around,
to start new,
and is baptizing people as a sign of that repentance,
that commitment to new life,
John is preparing the people for Jesus
and he’s doing quite well
gathering big crowds
and now Jesus goes up to John and says,
‘I’m ready to take over, baptize me.’
And John says,
‘wait a minute, that’s not how this is supposed to happen,
you’re supposed to baptize me.’
And Matthew tells us
that “John would have prevented him”
and Jesus has to convince John
that this is what God wants,
finally John consents to baptize Jesus
and when Jesus comes up out of the water
the spirit descends and the voice of God is heard
and it’s all amazing,
but it might not have happened
if Jesus hadn’t been able to convince John
that this was the way God was working.
I don’t know about you,
but this sounds like kind of a rough start to Jesus’ ministry.
After all if John,
whose whole purpose in life
was to prepare the way for Jesus
had to be convinced,
how much more convincing is the next person going to take?
Now to be fair to John,
it wasn’t what Jesus was planning on doing that threw him
but how he wanted to start going about doing it,
Jesus just wasn’t what he expected,
but he was open enough to be convinced
and the ministry went forward.
We see this pattern replicated over and over again,
God doing something new
and since God works in the world with people,
we see God partnering with someone
who while open to the new thing
must be convinced of the how
and when they consent,
even a little bit,
the holy spirit swoops in to make the new life possible.
We see this in our story from Acts,
we only read a part of it
but it is the story of the first Gentile converts
to the way of Jesus.
Jesus has died and risen and appeared to the disciples
and before he ascends back up into heaven
he commands them to spread the news of the new thing God is doing,
and to baptize those who desire it
and with baptism will come the gift of the holy spirit
so that’s what the apostles are doing,
they’re creating a new community,
people are hearing their preaching
and believing and are being baptized
and things are going great,
until Peter has a vision from God.
God wants to do a new thing
within this new thing!
God wants to expand the ministry to the Gentiles
which is really just short hand
for everyone else,
literally it means “the nations”,
there’s the chosen people
and there’s everyone else
and up until this point
the Jesus movement has been a strictly Jewish thing
and one very strong characteristic of being part of the chosen people
is to remain separate from everyone else,
so much so that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate or to visit a Gentile
and yet that’s what God is calling Peter to do,
and Peter resists,
he protests that he’s followed the law his whole life,
why break it now?
But God is insistent
and Peter is just open enough to the idea
that when the spirit nudges Peter to go to the house of Cornelius
who is a Roman soldier but worships the God of Israel,
Cornelius has had his own vision from God
And as a result sends for Peter
and after he explains his vision
Peter begins to speak,
and this is the part of the story we had for our second reading
he starts off “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
and then Peter who is opening up to this new thing of God
preaches the good news of Jesus Christ to those assembled,
Cornelius and his household
and a remarkable thing happens:
“While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have? So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.”
God is doing something new,
but is convinced enough
to make enough room for the Holy Spirit to sweep in
making new life possible in ways that even Peter can’t argue with,
the spirit is supposed to be a result of baptism
but the spirit descends on the gentiles
while Peter is speaking
making it hard for anyone to argue against baptism,
seeing as they’ve already received the holy spirit
God is making God’s will known
and Peter gives up his protests,
baptizes the household,
and then stays with them
breaking many of the laws he’d spent his whole life keeping
but which don’t matter anymore
because of God’s new thing.
And things are great,
until Peter goes home
and the other Apostles give Peter a hard time
for staying with gentiles
and he has to go through the whole story
before they accept
that God has given even to the Gentiles
the repentance that leads to life.
But this leads to the first major conflict in the church,
the conflict over whether the gentile converts
must be circumcised to be an official part of the community.
Even having accepted that God is doing a new thing,
there are those who disagree with the how,
and the cycle starts to repeat, again and again and again.
the resistance that comes from God doing a new thing
is rarely about God opening the community even wider,
we all theoretically get on board with that pretty quickly
the idea that God loves everyone,
that’s kind of hard to argue with
the resistance comes from the how,
how this new broader circle
changes the community,
changes our lives
and more importantly to us humans,
how we know who is in and who is out.
And that takes us back to that pesky original sin,
the desire to be God,
We want to be the ones that determine the boundaries of the community
when that is God’s job.
It’s all a bit of a mess isn’t it?
God still comes to us,
God claims us at our baptisms,
making sure that we know that we have been chosen by God,
and then God calls us to share the gift we’ve been given with others,
to expand the community,
and when we get caught up in the how,
God calls to us again,
to see the new thing God is doing,
and God works to convince us with the holy spirit,
even as God forgives us our resistance,
our desire to hold fast to the way things have been
when God is clearly doing something new.
And for this I give thanks to God,
for the grace and mercy shown to us each and every day,
for the water that reminds us of God’s claim on us
and the spirit’s movement among us.
But it also makes me wonder,
what new thing of God are we resisting?
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
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who defines who we are and whose we are. Amen
So Peter has a crazy thing happen to him,
he’s out and about spreading the good news
that Jesus is the Messiah,
he’s doing it among his fellow Jews
because they’re the ones waiting for the messiah
the one sent from God to the chosen people of Israel.
Now remember these are the people who God chose
and set apart a long time ago
and to mark their apartness
God gave the chosen people all these laws to follow as a gift,
you know the main ten,
no other Gods,
don’t use the name of God in vain,
keep the Sabbath,
don’t kill, don’t covet etc.
and then after the main ten there came a whole lot more,
some six hundred more laws
and the arrangement was
that as long as the people followed the law
life with God would be good
but if they broke the law
God could do everything from hide
to downright punish the people
usually through occupying armies
taking over the promised land.
Now this is over simplifying the relationship
because God is also gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,
but the essence is that the mark of the chosen people
is the following of the law, however imperfectly,
it’s how the Israelites show they are chosen
both to God and the world around them.
Following it is a big deal.
Which brings us back to Peter and his crazy experience.
Peter is in Joppa sharing the message of the messiah
He takes some time to pray
and while he’s praying he has a vision,
in the vision he sees a buffet of animals
that are prohibited for food by the law,
and a voice tells him to “Get up, kill and eat”
Peter protests saying
“by no means Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth”
he’s a faithful follower of the law
it’s the right response,
but instead of congratulating Peter for his faithfulness
the voice says “what God has made clean, you must not call profane.”
as the vision ends
some gentiles arrive,
gentile is the blanket name for everyone else
those who are not chosen by God
and they invite Peter to come with them
and nudged by the Spirit Peter does
and as he shares the news of Jesus
the Holy Spirit comes on these outsiders
in the same way that it had on all the disciples
and faced with the actions of the spirit
Peter goes ahead and baptizes the people
and stays with them
and by doing so breaks the law.
Which is why when word of this gets back to Jerusalem
the people there are pretty upset with Peter,
in spending time with the gentiles
he has betrayed his identity as an Israelite
in our first lesson we hear Peter’s explanation
to his fellow apostles and believers,
and at the end of his story he concludes:
“And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”
With this the complaints are silenced
and the apostles praise God
for giving even the gentiles the good news.
Faced with a huge shift in identity
Peter and the apostles hesitate,
push back even
it’s a natural reaction to changing identity
but despite their misgivings as they pay attention to the work of the spirit
and as they remember the teachings of Jesus
they are able to praise God at the new thing God is doing in their midst.
After all, on their last night together
Jesus did give them a new commandment,
a new identity marker for the community
when he told them “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Love is the new law
The new marker for the community
and honestly we struggle with that,
even after all of these thousands of years,
like the Israelites we go through periods of struggle
where the communal identity shifts
toward a more inclusive understanding of community
and then we settle in
until it seems like we’ve always done it this way
And that’s when God shakes things up
Reminds us of the law of love
and breaks out the phrase
“What God has made clean you must not call profane”
And once again we struggle with our identity
because things are changing,
those we thought were out are now in,
these are the moments where we must follow the lead of Peter
and pay attention to where the Holy Spirit is moving and working around us
and remember the teachings of Jesus
and perhaps then we will conclude with Peter
“who was I that I could hinder God?”
Because when we think about it,
what God is doing for them,
whoever that happens to be,
it’s the same thing God has done for us,
In love God claimed us
and gave us an identity that will never change,
child of God
that identity is ours
no matter what anyone else says,
or how the community changes
we are God’s beloved,
and when we think of it in this way,
who are we to hinder God? Amen
Festival of Pentecost
John 15:26-27, 16:4-15
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who sets loose the spirit. Amen
The spirit is on the loose.
That’s what Pentecost is about,
the unleashing of the spirit in the world
we have three readings today
that help us understand what this means
who the spirit is,
and in each of these readings
we find that the spirit is the gift of God,
it is unleashed by testimony
and brings life where it is heard and received.
In Ezekiel we have the story of the dry bones,
because we hear it in English
we miss some of the nuances of the story,
Hebrew is a language
where a lot of words have double meanings
and authors often play with those double meanings,
in this story that word is ruach
which means both breath and spirit
pointing to the intimate connection between the two
there cannot be life without breath
and when we think about it can there really be life without spirit?
God takes the prophet Ezekiel
and sets him in a valley of dry bones,
then asks the prophet if the bones can live?
all indicators say
that these bones are dead with a capital D
but the prophet defers to the power of God saying
“O Lord God, you know”
and God instructs the prophet to speak to the bones,
to tell them of the promise of God,
that God will bring them back together into bodies
and will cause breath to enter them so that they will live.
Instead of speaking to these bones directly
God gives the words to Ezekiel to tell to the bones,
and Ezekiel using his own breath prophesies to the bones
and they come together and form bodies
but they are not alive
until the prophet speaks to the breath, to the spirit
to come into these bodies
that they come to life.
Then God explains the object lesson to the prophet,
the people of Israel feel like these dry bones,
dead with a capital D,
but through the words and breath of the prophet
God promises to breathe life back into the people
who thought there was no life left.
That is the power of the spirit
Perhaps you’ve experienced something like this,
you were in a dry valley of faith or life
and it seemed like there was no climbing out of it
and then someone spoke a few words to you
and things didn’t seem so hopeless anymore.
That is the work of the spirit set loose in the world,
the spirit that is as close to us as our own breath.
In our Gospel
we hear Jesus promise to send the disciples an advocate,
the spirit of truth
and this advocate will testify,
will speak on behalf of Jesus
so that the disciples may also testify,
tell others of Jesus and his love.
As he is saying good bye to his disciples
Jesus acknowledges that there’s a lot that’s been left unsaid
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”
the spirit is truth,
that comes to advocate when the time is right.
We are abundantly aware of the things left unsaid,
there are a multitude of issues in life
that Jesus in the Bible does not directly address
that we struggle with,
we have trouble bearing them
we disagree about what to do
when we are faced with them,
they divide communities,
and yet in the midst of it all
is the spirit of truth
showing us the way,
speaking through a prophet or two or three the words of Jesus,
“love one another as I have loved you”
the message spreads,
and as it spreads Jesus is glorified
in the love of the community
that is growing and expanding
through those who tell what they have heard from the spirit of truth
The spirit is on the loose spreading the truth.
Finally we have our reading from Acts,
the account of the first Pentecost.
The risen Jesus has appeared to the disciples
and they have witnessed Jesus’ ascension into heaven.
They know they are on their own so to speak
and they are preparing to continue on as a community,
on the morning of Pentecost,
a festival observed fifty days after the Passover
the community is gathered
they hear a sound like the rush of a violent wind,
this sound fills the house where they are
and the holy spirit appears
like tongues of fire above their heads
and fills the disciples who begin to speak in different languages,
all of this causes such a racket
that people are drawn to the house
and as a crowd forms and the disciples spill out of the house
still speaking in their given languages
the crowd is amazed
because they can understand the disciples,
they are hearing the message of Jesus in their own languages,
of course there are some naysayers
who think the disciples are drunk,
but Peter interprets what is happening
through the prophesy of the prophet Joel,
the prophesy that says in the last days
the spirit will be poured out on all people
young, old, slave, free, male, female, everyone
all the distinctions that normally divide will fall
as the spirit is given out equally
and all shall share the words of the spirit with the world
and these words will spread like wild fire.
The spirit is fire,
by nature it spreads often unpredictably,
and even we humans who have harnessed the power of fire
appreciate that it is a wild thing
that we manage and contain but really have no control over
and we get into trouble when we forget that fact.
The spirit set loose in the world,
through the gift of God
and the testimony of the disciples
is out of the disciples’ control
just like that the people who come from all corners of the earth
who hear the spirit filled message of the disciples
will take it home with them,
and they will tell others
and Jesus’ word will have spread to the far corners of the earth
far away from the original disciples.
It’s quite a contrast
to the first part of Acts,
the measured preparation that the disciples take,
casting lots to choose the most worthy follower of Jesus
to join the in crowd
the spirit busts that all open
because it’s not about worthiness
it’s a gift of God to all people
regardless of how they are defined and divided by the world
the spirit, breath, truth, fire
shows up especially when people are defined and divided
and interrupts those divisions,
that attempt at controlling who is in and who is out,
who claims to have the truth
there the spirit interrupts
breathing new life into places we have caused death,
spreading the love of Jesus like a fire that cannot be contained
showing the truth found in love
all while working through us,
the words we speak
the love we share.
Life, truth, fire
the spirit is on the loose.
And I say,
come Holy Spirit. Amen
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
7th Sunday After Easter
1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who prays for us. Amen
Here’s the scene:
you know you’re going to die soon.
What do you say to the loved ones you’re leaving behind?
What do you want them to know? To feel?
To carry with them the rest of their lives?
And how do you tell them this once you’ve got it all figured out?
Or you’re on the other end of the good bye,
wondering how you will move forward in life,
who you will be in the absence of your loved one,
wondering what you are supposed to do without them.
This is the scene we find in our gospel for today,
Jesus knows he’s going to die soon
and this is his farewell address to the disciples,
it reveals what is most important to him,
what he wants the disciples to carry with them
even as he answers their as yet unspoken questions
of identity and purpose.
Jesus starts by saying once and for all
the purpose of his life,
what he wants the disciples to remember
- that God sent him, his son-
to bring eternal life to all-
that is why Jesus has been among them,
and in the event that they are unclear on it
he defines eternal life:
being in relationship with the true God
who is revealed in his Son Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ purpose has been fulfilled
in his relationships with the disciples,
relationships where he has communicated who God is,
through his presence among them
and this has not been a general presence
but a personal intimate presence,
one built on relationships,
it is a presence that participated in the whole range
of the human experience from life to death,
a presence who felt the pain of the mourning
and raised the dead,
a presence who felt the hunger of the crowds
and provided bread and hope,
a presence who became the life of the party
when the wine ran out,
who got to know the people he encountered
and who loved them faults and all,
Peter the blockhead,
Thomas the questioner,
Martha the overworker
and yes even Judas the betrayer,
Jesus loved them all
and saw them as a gift from God,
was honored by the relationships,
the people that God had placed in his care
and in the end,
in his farewell address
he gives thanks to God for them
And it is in this thanksgiving
for the gift of his disciples
that Jesus begins to lay the foundation
for the disciples’ future life,
a life without his physical presence
yet where they are still in relationship with God
because they are God’s,
he paints the picture a future
where they will be the presence of Christ in the world,
where their purpose will be to live the eternal life
given them by Jesus
and to share that eternal life with others
by being the presence of Jesus in the world,
in the same way Jesus shared it with them,
by building personal relationships
that reveal God as one who is intimately concerned
with the lives of God’s children.
Jesus knows that this will not be an easy identity and purpose to live out,
especially in the sadness and confusion,
the joy and wonder
at his death and resurrection
so he closes his prayer for the disciples
with a prayer for protection and unity.
He closes his prayer,
that’s how Jesus has chosen to give his parting message to the disciples,
through a prayer for them that they overhear.
It is a beautiful and intimate thing to be prayed for
and it is reflective of the intimacy Jesus has with both God and his disciples,
it also creates new life in the people who pray and hear the prayer.
Prayer is not just communication with God,
a checklist of requested items
but a time of relationship building
where hopes and dream are exchanged
and those involved are empowered to live into the new life
envisioned in the prayer.
Even as Jesus says good bye to his disciples
he creates new life for them,
just as he creates new life for us
for we are overhearers of the prayer too,
we are disciples,
Jesus prays for us
knowing what we need in his seeming absence.
Today we mark the ascension of Jesus to heaven
as we heard in our reading from Acts,
and we remember the promise that Jesus will return,
it has been many generations of waiting
for Jesus to return
and though Jesus has left us with our identity and purpose,
comes to us in the bread and wine at the table
and is present in the spirit
sometimes we can’t help but feel his physical absence,
and we wonder why,
just as when we lose a loved one,
we still miss them
and wonder what the future will bring
even as we live out that future.
These are the moments when we go back to the farewell,
we take time to remember and be renewed
in the memories of our loved ones who have gone before us,
who we are because of them
and our purpose in life after them,
and we are renewed in our convictions.
In the same way
we take time to remember Jesus,
to hear his prayer for us,
to be renewed in our identity as children of God
and Christ’s presence in the world
and our purpose of living and sharing the eternal life
of relationship with God
that has been given to us.
It has been many generations
since the first disciples
witnessed Jesus’ ascension to heaven
and yet here we are,
children of God,
living the gift of eternal life in relationship with the God
who Jesus revealed to us by the community of disciples,
Jesus’ presence on earth.
We remember with thanksgiving
those who passed the faith along to us
and the prayer that Jesus prays for us,
and so renewed in our identity as beloved children of God
and our purpose of sharing that relationship with others
we live into our eternal life in Christ. 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.