9th Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who does the most with next to nothing. Amen
When we join Jesus today in the gospel
he is going through a rough patch in his ministry.
It all started out well,
preaching, teaching and healing the crowds who have loved him,
until he goes home to Nazareth,
where the people look at him and say
‘isn’t that Joseph and Mary’s boy?
The one we used to see running around with all the other kids?
We know he’s not special’
and they won’t listen to him,
and he is unable to do many deeds of power among them
because of their disbelief.
He expected this would happen,
prophets being without honor in their own country and all,
but it still had to hurt
and then on top of this rejection
he hears the news of the death of John the Baptist,
beheaded in prison by Herod
and it’s too much
he needs some time alone to grieve and pray
So “he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.
But when the crowds heard it,
they followed him on foot from the towns.”
It seems like Jesus only gets the time in the boat to himself
because we are told that “when he went ashore, he saw a great crowd”
and though we know that Jesus is tired and sad and needing time to pray
when he saw the crowds that greeted him
“he had compassion for them and cured their sick.”
Now ‘compassion’ is a weak translation of the greek.
What Jesus feels is a visceral, gut wrenching reaction to the crowds,
he feels their pain and need in his body
and he responds to their need with the care they seek.
It’s a big crowd so he’s busy all day.
His disciples have caught up with him
and they’re helping as they usually do
but when it gets to be evening they’re getting tired and are ready to be done
they say to Jesus ‘look we’re in the middle of nowhere and it’s getting late,
send the people away, they uh, they need to eat,
yah maybe if we put our request out of care for the crowd we can get a break.’
But Jesus responds “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.
They replied, ‘we have nothing here, but five loaves and two fish;
and he said bring them here to me”
and Jesus blesses and breaks the bread
and gives it to the disciples to distribute
“and all ate and were filled; and they took up what was leftover of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.”
Jesus takes the scraps,
what the disciples call ‘nothing’
and turns it into an abundant feast.
When Jesus tells the disciples to give the crowds something to eat,
their immediate reaction is to say ‘we have nothing.’
We tend to exaggerate
when it comes to counting our resources,
we often discount or pass over the last little bits,
the five loaves and two fish,
because we see them as not enough,
‘it might as well be nothing for all the good it will do’
we are programmed to think
and so we don’t immediately count it,
but when we pause and take stock,
and it turns out we do have at least a little bit,
Jesus says, ‘bring them here to me’
and Jesus blesses our leftovers,
then gives them back to us to distribute, to work with.
Did you notice that?
The disciples point out the problem
of the crowds of people needing food
and Jesus turns it right back around to the disciples,
they are capable of fixing the problem that they’ve noticed he seems to say.
This seems impossible to the disciples,
but when they bring what they have to Jesus,
he makes it possible for the disciples to feed the whole crowd.
This is how Jesus works,
Jesus takes what we call ‘nothing’,
our leftovers that we forget about or discount,
creates new life and then hands it back to us to distribute in the world,
and he does it with more than just loaves and fish,
we see this throughout Jesus’ ministry.
He comes as a baby to a people that pretty much count for nothing
in the grand scheme of the Roman Empire,
he grows up in a little town
where people ask if anything good can come from there
and when he starts his ministry
he goes out to the desert where people are so desperate for hope
that they have gathered around a man dressed in camel’s hair
who dines on locusts and wild honey.
After he is baptized
he takes the leftover people,
those whom society counts as nothing
and turns them into disciples,
blesses them and sends them back out into the world
to share the good news with even more people.
He teaches them how to live
so that they bear good fruit,
and when people bring Jesus those who are sick
and therefore at that time counted as unclean,
Jesus heals them,
he even heals based on the request of friends
who come to Jesus and say, I trust that if you just say the word my friend will be healed
and based on this belief Jesus heals.
The leftovers, the next to nothings, the small things
are Jesus’ favorite things to work with,
last week we heard Jesus’ teaching
about faith the size of a mustard seed
and how the kingdom of heaven is like yeast,
just a little bit will make a whole lot of bread.
Jesus works with the smallest of things
The things that are overlooked or discounted as not enough
in his hands they change the world.
This applies to us as well,
when we’re on our last nerve,
or our patience is wearing thin,
or the world has told us we’re lacking in some way,
if we don’t think we can go on because we are weary,
if we have come to believe that we have nothing to give.
Jesus still finds something to work with in us.
As a world, as a country,
we are going through a rough patch right now,
a time when it seems like there is not enough all around us,
whether it is medical equipment,
support for families or even normalcy
and it is frustrating and disheartening
and Jesus is with us.
Jesus hears us when we cry to him.
When we pour out our pain and suffering
Jesus hears us and has compassion for us,
and then takes what little we have left
and uses it to change the world,
even if it is just our small piece of the world,
and the kingdom of God comes near.
Jesus will gladly take the scraps we bring to him
and turn them into new life,
that’s what he does
but we shouldn’t be surprised
when Jesus turns it back around on us
saying “you give them something to eat”
because in Christ, we are more than enough.
And Jesus will take us
And turn us into abundant life. Amen
8th Sunday after Pentecost
1 Kings 3:5-12
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who intercedes for us. Amen
“Have you understood all this?” Jesus asks the disciples
“Yes” They answer
Do you really understand?
You understand how the kingdom of God
is like a mustard seed, and yeast,
like a treasure hidden in a field
and a merchant in search of fine pearls,
like a net cast into the sea that caught all kinds of fish that were then sorted.
“Have you understood all this?”
Some how I doubt it,
at text study this week
the other pastors and I got a kick out of this yes,
it reminded us of the “yes” we get at the end of a particularly confusing confirmation class
where the kids are tired and just want to go home.
So you understand the mystery of the sacraments?
Or maybe it’s like one of those user agreements,
where all this fine print legalese is presented
and at the end it asks you to sign that you have read and understood the document,
and you sign your name “yes”
because otherwise you don’t get to use whatever service is on offer,
yes I get it, just let me use your app.
But then there are other times,
the more serious times,
like the time at the doctor’s office
where you haven’t heard a word the doctor has said after “diagnosis”
because your heart has dropped and your tongue gone numb
“do you understand all of this?” they ask,
and you nod your head “yes”
There are a lot of things we agree to,
to move life forward,
that we simply do not understand.
And of course a good confirmation teacher
knows the mystery of the sacraments
will never be taught in one session,
or even understood in a lifetime,
and a compassionate doctor
knows that their patient didn’t hear anything after diagnosis
and so will provide literature and other sessions for explanation.
The user agreements,
that one I think we’re just stuck with,
but the point being that it seems like our automatic response
to the question ‘do you understand?’ is ‘yes’
and it takes conscious effort and humility to answer ‘no’
to admit that we lack understanding,
or that we’re in over our heads,
but when we do, life opens up.
We saw this with Solomon in our first reading.
God comes to Solomon in a dream and offers him, anything,
and Solomon who has just been made King after his father David,
realizes that this offer is being made
because David and God had such a good relationship,
and that he’s only King because of that relationship and the goodness of God.
So Solomon responds “O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen...Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern your people?”
He’s already got the job,
but he is brave enough to admit just how little he knows
and so when he is offered literally anything by God,
he asks for wisdom to better serve God in leading the people of God.
And God is pleased by this selflessness,
God realizes that Solomon could have easily asked for a long life
or riches or victory in battle
but instead he asks for wisdom to better serve God,
so God gives him a wise and discerning mind.
It struck me that this passage,
where Solomon admits how little he knows
and asks for understanding
to be able to discern between good and evil,
has been, I think is
the prayer of anyone in leadership faced with making decisions these days.
I know it’s been my prayer,
and I suspect the prayer of those on school boards,
superintendents and principles, elected officials and coaches.
O God, give us understanding to discern good from evil,
we need some help as we make our way through this unknown territory.
the Israelites were in an unknown territory,
both literally in their wandering and in their freedom
after God led them out of Egypt.
They didn’t know where they were
and they didn’t understand how to live in freedom.
So God provided for them,
manna and quail for food,
and the commandments to give them understanding
for how to discern good from evil as free people.
God gave the commandments as a gift
for times when the unknown is greater than the known,
which is why the psalmist cries out “your decrees are wonderful; therefore I obey them with all my heart… Let your face shine upon your servant and teach me your statutes.”
and praises God for the understanding the laws of God bring
and weeps for the people who do not follow God’s laws.
The difficult part is that the laws of God
do not address every specific problem we may face,
the Bible is not a How To Manuel,
or even a Self- Help Book,
rather it is full of stories of people and God,
stories of God guiding people
and how people respond to that guidance,
some like Abraham follow God,
and others like Jonah run the other direction.
But no matter what the people do,
God is there,
God doesn’t give up.
At our most basic level,
I think we all want to follow God,
we want to understand,
we look for guidance, ways to discern good from evil,
we even pretend we understand,
the old fake it ‘til you make it approach,
and yet in our hearts we know that we don’t understand,
we don’t even know how to pray.
But thanks be to God
who gives us the gift of the Spirit
who intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
The gift of the spirit who searches our heart,
who knows us better than we know ourselves and brings it all to God.
And thanks be to God, for the gift of the Son,
Jesus who summed up all the law
Love your God with all your heart and mind and might, and your neighbor as yourself,
Jesus who God gave up for all of us,
who God made the firstborn within a large family,
so that joined to Christ we are all members of that large family
and now Christ the firstborn sits at the right hand of God and intercedes for us.
God has claimed us.
We are God’s.
Even in the midst of the uncertainty and chaos of the world,
even when we don’t understand
and struggle to discern good from evil,
even when we don’t know how to pray,
even when we are unsure how God is working or if God is even there.
We are God’s.
we don’t have to understand how this works for it to be true,
nor do we have to do anything.
God doesn’t need us, God has acted.
And God has given us signs to remind us
Water to remember our baptisms by
Bread and wind, body and blood
To be forgiven, nourished and strengthened
Joined again to God.
And so cleansed, fed and forgiven we proclaim with Paul “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
It is with this conviction we are able to move forward through the wilderness times
and when God comes to us and says,
‘you are my children, have you understood?’
We answer with a resounding. ‘Yes.’ Amen
7th Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who tells us to wait in hope. Amen
It’s hard to wait when we know what is possible.
That’s the reality of our lives right now
and that is the reality that our lessons address today
along with the promise that the waiting is worthwhile, necessary even.
Jesus starts us off with a parable,
a farmer who has prepared their fields for planting
sows good seed.
From the preparations they have made
they have every expectation
that when the seeds sprout
it will be a field full of the best wheat.
But we are told,
an enemy comes in the night
and scatters weeds in the field.
When the plants come up
the workers realize that there are weeds among the wheat,
they are confused,
they say “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then did these weeds come from?”
and the Master, the farmer, responds,
it must have been an enemy who did this,
and at this the workers are galvanized for action,
they are ready to go out into the field
and get those weeds out of there,
defeat the enemy and return the field to the way it was intended
full of only good wheat.
But the Farmer stops them saying “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”
It goes against our instincts
to leave the weeds in with the wheat.
When we see something whether it is a field, a garden, or even a community
that is not growing as we know it could be,
or even as we think it should be,
our first instinct is to go in and root out what is not supposed to be there
but the hazard of that is there is often collateral damage,
in our quest to get rid of the weeds
we also rip up some of the wheat,
we cause harm to members of our community.
Weeding disturbs more than just the weeds.
I know in my own garden
I’ve pulled up many a little carrot or beet
that has just barely begun to form
in the process of my weeding,
and I’ve even accidentally stepped on other plants
in my quest to rip out that hunk of crabgrass.
These accidents are not ideal
but I prepared for them,
I planted more than enough seeds,
knowing that some would not grow and some would be pulled with the weeds,
I’m willing to take that risk with my garden.
Jesus is not willing to take that risk in his garden.
Jesus’ grace means that he’d rather let the weeds grow with the wheat
than to risk hurting any of the wheat in the process.
Jesus is willing to settle for less than perfection
to protect the wheat.
But just because he’s willing to let the weeds grow for the sake of the wheat
doesn’t mean that in the end
the weeds will be treated the same as the wheat.
When it’s time for the harvest,
the whole point of growing the field in the first place,
the weeds will be separated out from the wheat
and while the wheat will become food for the world,
the weeds will be burned
but until that time he tells us to wait.
Waiting is hard,
especially when we know what could be
and especially if we think we know a way that we could act,
but Jesus has cautioned us to wait
and promised that at the right time,
God’s time, it will end as it should.
But it’s still frustrating.
That frustration is what Paul is speaking to
when he writes: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”
As children of God we know what God has promised,
the vision for the future
which means that we are even more aware
of how this world falls short of that promise
and in a way that adds to our frustration, our suffering,
it’s almost enough to ask why God would even make us aware of the difference.
Why? Because we come to this awareness through the gift of grace,
God’s love for us that is already transforming our lives.
You see each of us are like the field in the parable,
while God created us good,
the evil one has sown weeds in us,
weeds that tell us that it is okay to only care about ourselves,
weeds that turn us away from God and in on ourselves,
weeds that tell us the lie that we are supposed to be the judge of others.
All these weeds are in us along with the wheat, the gifts of the spirit,
and God refuses to reject us because of our weeds.
This is grace,
that even though we are less than perfect,
less than we could be
and even less than we should be,
God loves us.
and that love gives us hope.
As Paul says “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
Grace leads to hope,
hope leads to patience.
Now remember hope is not optimism,
where optimism says I think things will just turn out okay,
hope looks at the reality of the world,
the despair and seemingly insurmountable obstacles,
and says, nevertheless I believe that God will bring new life.
We have hope because we have Jesus,
who faced the most insurmountable obstacle, death,
and three days later appeared to the disciples,
proclaiming that death had been defeated.
And joined to Christ in our baptisms’
we have been joined to his death and resurrection,
assured that in the end where Christ is, there we will be,
that nothing can separate us from the love of God,
not even the weeds within and around us
and when we have this,
this new life that we get glimpses of along the way,
we can wait.
As Paul says “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.”
We are well aware of the imperfections of the world,
all the things that could be and should be,
and Jesus has promised
that in the end there will be new life,
even if, especially if,
it is nothing like we imagine
and so we have hope,
and in hope we wait. Amen
5th Sunday After Pentecost
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who offers to teach us another way Amen.
Life is full of contradictions,
some are as simple as the fact
that chocolate cake tastes better than broccoli,
but it is far healthier for us to eat broccoli
than it is to eat chocolate cake.
Other contradictions are more sinister
like the fact that those who gain positions of power
In order to work on behalf of many people
often use that power to work only for themselves.
whatever the example
it seems that as humans,
even if we are aware of the conflict
and which is the better part,
we almost always seem to choose to do more of the thing
that is less beneficial to ourselves
and even when we try to regulate our actions
with outside rules and laws,
we invariably seem to return to that chocolate cake
even though we know we need to eat the broccoli.
This is what Paul is struggling with in our second reading
remarking that even though he logically knows
what he should do, and he wants to do it
when it comes time to do it,
he invariably does the opposite,
he says “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not what is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.”
Here he names the greatest contradiction we experience,
that even as we have free will to act,
there is another force working against us,
that embeds itself in the fabric of life
so even as we try to do what is right,
we are led astray.
The buzz word for this right now is “systemic”
we talk about systemic racism,
where racism is so embedded in how we live
that as individuals we are unable to extract ourselves
because the everyday options available to us
within the established way of life have sin woven into the fabric
such that it is impossible to separate out the individual threads.
Jesus, teaching the disciples
points out another contradiction with humans,
the inability to make everyone happy,
he observes that when John the Baptist came
fasting as part of his religious experience
people claimed he had a demon
and when Jesus himself came eating and drinking
and interacting with normal everyday people
the people say ‘look a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’
These are the two main options for a messianic figure
and yet people have rejected them both.
Lately, the best example of this has to do with face masks,
on the one hand there are people who refuse to go anywhere
they are not required,
on the other hand there are people who refuse to go anywhere
they are required.
Confronted with the contradictions within ourselves and humanity,
it’s enough to drive us mad,
so what are we to do?
Paul himself throws up his hands and cries
“Wretched man that I am, who will save me from this body of death?”
and there is the key,
to acknowledge that we need help,
and Paul immediately follows with
“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord”
Jesus is God’s answer to the contradictions of life.
Jesus himself is a living contradiction,
God and human,
who lived among and experienced first hand
the contradictions of humanity
the reality that it’s impossible to please everyone.
Observing the contradictions in the gospel
he concludes ‘yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds’
he knows that time will tell
who was wise and made the better choice
and which was the wrong decision
and then he offers to help in making those choices
“He says all things have been handed over to me by my father”
Jesus has the inside scoop
and he offers to share that with everyone,
but unlike those get rich quick scheme infomercials
Jesus offers this for free:
He says “come to me all, you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon, you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
What Jesus is offering is not a quick fix scheme,
a magic wand that with a flick of the wrist makes all trouble disappear,
what he offers is an invitation to self-reflection and the pursuit of wisdom,
he offers to teach us another way
to deal with the contradictions of life.
The yoke, was a common image in rabbinic literature
that referred to obeying the Torah (working preacher),
the law that God gave as a gift
to help humans live with one another.
Jesus is a teacher of the law,
and he has said that he’s not come to abolish the law,
but he has seen how the pharisees and sadducees
have taken to following the law for the sake of following the rules
and not for the original intent of the gift of the law,
for abundant life of the people.
Following the letter of the law
has gotten in the way with the spirit of the law
and so Jesus offers another way,
one that is lighter, that can be summed up as
“love the lord your God with all your heart and soul and might, and your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus offers a gentler way,
and even then
he sees how impossible it is
for humans to do the right thing,
which is why Jesus goes to the cross for us,
to make us right with God,
to offer us forgiveness
for when despite our best efforts we mess up,
when we continually choose the chocolate cake instead of the broccoli.
“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Paul has named it,
we can’t dig ourselves out of the hole we’ve created,
we need help,
and Jesus is that help.
Now that doesn’t mean that we should keep intentionally digging holes
for Jesus to get us out of,
but when we invariably do
Jesus is gentle with us,
and again and again helps us out of the pit
and shows us another way,
one where burdens are shared and wisdom is revealed.
This doesn’t mean that life will be easy
or without contradictions,
Jesus did after all instruct his disciples
to take up the cross and follow him,
but what it does mean
is that we have a way to navigate the contradictions of life,
One where we share one another’s burdens,
where we strive to live lives turned toward God and neighbor,
where we know that because we live in Christ
we are not condemned by our failures
no matter how deeply entwined they are.
We have been set free,
free to live the lighter path of gentleness and humility,
of wisdom that carries on
through the midst of the contradictions of life. Amen
Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Psalm 89:1-4, 15-19
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who welcomes us. Amen
Today we have a very short gospel text
where the word welcome
is repeated over and over.
Now when we hear this word
we perk up a bit because “welcome”
is such an important concept in Christianity,
particularly because we are called
to keep expanding the community
Sharing the message of Christ
Growing the community
So when we hear this passage
as Professor Rolf Jacobson remarks
we hear it as a command.
We place ourselves in the role of the welcomers
who will receive the reward that Jesus is talking about
and yet when we back up
and look at the whole passage that this little chunk of gospel is a part of,
we realize that rather than a command,
this passage is a promise
and the disciples are not the ones who will be doing the welcoming,
rather they will be the welcomed.
Our gospel for today
comes at the end of what is known as The Missionary Discourse,
we’ve heard parts of it over the past two weeks.
Jesus summons his twelve disciples,
gives them power over unclean spirits
and then he sends them out
instructing them to travel light,
not to pack extra sandals or clothes
not even food.
as they travel they are to proclaim the good news
that the kingdom of God has come near
and to rely on the hospitality
of those they encounter for their livelihood,
it’s a very vulnerable position
and Jesus tells them up front
that it’s not going to be easy,
“see I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves” he tells them,
and predicts that they will be beaten and driven out of towns
that the message they bring will divide families,
that as disciples they are to take up the cross
and in following Jesus expecting to lose their lives,
but do not be afraid Jesus tells them,
this is something bigger than just yourselves
and at the very end, our gospel for today,
Jesus promises that despite all the hardships
the disciples can expect
there will be those they encounter
who will welcome them and take care of them
and in doing so these people they encounter
are welcoming Jesus and his father.
The disciples represent the full presence
of the one who sends them.
Those who welcome the disciples
are the ones who will receive the reward.
Jesus’ call to discipleship
is first and foremost a call to vulnerability,
to dependence on others,
a call to be present with others,
to accept their hospitality
and in that way bring the presence of God.
Now this is a very different picture of discipleship
and even evangelism than we are used to,
we’re used to being on the action end of things,
of going out and making things happen
Of doing things for people,
which sometimes turns into doing things to people,
We generally think it’s others
who are supposed to accept our message
and way of doing things.
But that’s not what Jesus tells the disciples,
he tells them simply, go and be among people,
to offer the message of the kingdom of God
and to expect that most people will reject it and you,
but some will receive it and you,
and that makes the whole thing worthwhile.
This is a hard for message for us
who are so individualistic,
who love to depend on ourselves,
who like to make things happen,
but sometimes it just doesn’t work that way.
of mind, of way of being
takes the small everyday presence of many people.
I’ve experienced this a little bit myself,
as a woman pastor.
This week marked the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women
in the predecessor bodies of the ELCA
and it took ten more years before a woman of color was ordained.
The big decision was made 50 years ago
but the culture didn’t change overnight,
it took years of my foremothers serving
to get to the place where I could pursue ordination
without my gender being the primary focus of my resume.
And yet along the way
there have been reminders
that it was not always so,
my seminary was built in the 1960s,
they didn’t anticipate female students,
so on the main classroom floor
while the men’s bathroom was just across the hall
the women’s bathroom was tucked back in a corner
by the office section,
and not all denominations ordain women,
I’ve been in some places
where I’ve been the first female clergy that people have encountered
and they haven’t quite known what to do with me,
especially on CPE where most of the patients in the hospital
were either Baptist or Catholic,
I often got ‘are you a nun?’ and ‘what do I call you? Mother?’
And I would tell them what to call me
And go on with my job.
My presence a stronger argument than any words
For women serving as pastors.
Some interactions are not so mild,
one of my friends,
upon meeting a new colleague out in the community,
(she wasn’t wearing clergy attire at the time,)
introduced herself and was treated warmly
but as soon as she got to the part
where she explained that she was the new pastor
the colleague withdrew his hand from the handshake
and refused to acknowledge her existence,
but her presence in that community
was a living testament to what the colleague rejected.
Jesus gives each of the disciples gifts
then sends them out to be the presence of God wherever they go.
Jesus gives each of us gifts
and calls us to be the presence of God wherever we go,
discipleship, evangelism is a way of life,
it’s not something we do on Sunday mornings
or at special times
and then go back to doing whatever we want,
who we are, how we live,
the way we treat others
all show those around us what it means,
for us at least,
to be in relationship with God
and when our actions fail to reflect the ways of God
One of the major critiques of religion
is the hypocrisy of those who practice it imperfectly.
People notice how we live
And yet if the expectation to live perfectly sounds impossible,
you’d be correct,
no matter how hard we try
we will never be perfect,
God knows this
which is why God offers us grace
in Christ who is perfect,
Offering forgiveness when we mess up and confess and repent,
allowing us the chance to grow in faith and life with God,
sending others into our lives,
to bring the presence of God
with their own God given gifts
To bring the kingdom of God near to us.
this is the life that Jesus calls us to live,
lives that give witness to the grace of God
who receives us as we are
and who encourages us to witness
to the kingdom of God with our whole selves
even as we are called to grow and be changed
by the witness of others we encounter along the way.
Rather than attempted perfection
I think the opportunity for forgiveness
and the commitment to growth, to do better
is a much more compelling way of life
The grace of God sets us free from the need to be perfect
and the accompanying fear of failure
The grace of God calls us to be vulnerable
To dare to be the presence of God
And to allow others
to be the presence of God ,
with their own God given gifts, to us
And Jesus knows that at times this is difficult
that some we encounter will expect perfection immediately,
or will reject the message of grace,
That in the process of living this way
we will lose our lives,
the lives where we’ve always done it this way,
but in losing our lives we will find new life,
and God promises
that there will be people along the way who will welcome us,
and encourage us,
even if it’s as simple as offering us a cold cup of water.
All this is possible because Christ first welcomes us,
And sends us out.
The kingdom of God has come near. Amen
3rd Sunday After Pentecost
Psalm 69:7-10, 16-18
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who calls us
to take up the cross and follow him. Amen
Jesus does not hold back in our gospel for today
as he teaches about discipleship,
what it truly means to follow him.
to be a disciple says Jesus
means uncovering the things
that society would rather keep secret,
it means that some will want to do bodily harm to you,
that families will be divided,
That you will lose your life.
Jesus clearly wasn’t working with a PR firm
on his marketing for recruiting disciples.
It is not an attractive picture he paints
and I’ll admit in the past I’ve struggled with this passage.
And yet this year,
in the midst of all that is going on in our society and world,
I found this passage oddly comforting.
perhaps because the world is so uncomfortable now
and at its heart the gospel is meant to comfort the distressed
and to disturb the comfortable
And my life is generally speaking, comfortable.
But Jesus knows
that in the way of the world
comfort of one individual or group is achieved
at the expense of another individual or group
and the systems that are comfortable
will fight to the death to preserve their comfort.
Jesus has come to bring abundant life for all
And that means dismantling the systems that oppress people.
And the first step in that
is to bring out into the open
the things those in power would rather cover up.
“For nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered proclaim from the housetops”
We are in a time of uncovering right now,
what was remarkable about George Flyod’s death
was sadly not the way he was treated
but that it was recorded for all to see.
The holiday Juneteenth
has been observed since 1866
and yet many people are only learning about it this year
Scholars and epidemiologists have studied for years
in preparation for a global pandemic
and now after the proverbial horse has escaped the barn
the results of their studies are being widely disseminated.
And while it may be uncomfortable
for those of us hearing about these things for the first time,
imagine the relief of those who have known all along
who have been reduced to whispering in the past
that now are able to proclaim from the housetops.
Jesus lets us know
that no matter how hard we try to avoid certain topics of conversation,
they will eventually be brought out into the open,
and that is liberating, for everyone.
What we are experiencing is the next step on the arc toward the liberation of all.
And Jesus knows that this will divide people.
That’s what Jesus means when he says
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth, I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
The liberating message of Jesus
has two edges, law and gospel,
the law to show us how we have fallen short
and the gospel to comfort,
and actually these two are often the same message,
how it is understood depends on who hears them,
for those who have been comfortable at the expense of others
Jesus’ message of liberation will sound like law,
for those who have been oppressed
the message will sound like gospel, good news.
Jesus says that to be a disciple
we must take the side of the oppressed,
This is what the call to take up the cross means
the cross, was an instrument of state terror
designed to make a horrifically painful example
of anyone who tried to defy the empire,
Those who were crucified were killed
Because they were seen as a threat to the status quo
A threat to the comfort of those in power.
This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus
To openly talk about the secrets of society
To take the side of the oppressed
To take on the powers of the world.
Why would we want to be a disciple?
Because to be a disciple
Also means that we are known and valued by God
Jesus knows his message is difficult,
three times in this passage he says do not be afraid
and in the end affirms the value of each individual disciples,
“even the hairs of your head are all counted, so do not be afraid.”
to be a part of the Jesus movement
is to be a part of something much larger than yourself
and at the same time be known and valued for your own individual gifts and talents,
and it is because we are so valued
that we are able to take risks for others.
Paul picks up a variation on this theme in his letter to the Romans.
Writing looking back through the lens of the crucifixion and resurrection
He says “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life...The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
Christ died and rose for us
To set us free from sin
being turned in on ourselves,
taking care of our own comfort at the expense of others.
In relation to God
the matter of sin has been taken care of by Jesus
but just because God forgives us
does not mean that we keep sinning
rather it means that we try to live without sin
and this is a daily struggle.
This is the essence of the baptismal life
The daily dying to sin
And rising to new life in Christ
All because God has unequivocally claimed us.
Today happens to be my baptism birthday,
33 years ago my parents brought me to the font
And God claimed me.
While it’s hard to believe
that that baby needed to be forgiven for anything,
what that moment did was start a lifelong journey
to live a life bigger than myself
and sometimes that means
setting aside my own comfort and security for the sake of others
just as Jesus set aside his own comfort and security
as he went to the cross for the sake of the whole world.
This is Jesus’ call to all of us,
to face discomfort, division and fear,
not because it might save us,
but that it might save someone else.
Jesus expects this of us
because it is exactly what Jesus himself did
but we do this
secure in the fact that we are known by God,
who values us and knows every last detail about us,
down to the number of hairs on our head.
We are in a moment in time
where we are being called to set aside our own comfort
and act for the sake of others
whether it is wearing a mask in public,
or taking the time to learn about
how the sin of racism infects the ways of the world,
challenging the powers that say some are more valuable than others.
And we are up for the challenge
Not because we are particularly brave
But because we are so thoroughly loved by God. Amen
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
Holy Trinity Sunday
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the community of God. Amen
Today is Holy Trinity Sunday,
it’s an odd little festival
that is crammed in between Pentecost
and the long stretch of ordinary time
that takes us to the end of the Church year
it’s odd because it is the only festival
that is dedicated to a doctrine or teaching of the church,
you see, the doctrine of the trinity,
the idea that God is one in three, three in one
doesn’t appear explicitly in the Bible.
We do hear the trinitarian formula
at the end of the gospel of Matthew,
we heard that just a moment ago,
but as a description rather than a teaching.
because while the math doesn’t work
and the concept is confusing,
how can God be one and three at the same time?
In the end we have found that the trinity
is the best description we can come up with
for our experience of God.
We have experienced and believe in God the creator,
the one who, as we heard in our first reading
created the heavens and the earth,
and we have experienced Jesus
who in the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God and the word was God.
Jesus who told his disciples
that in seeing him they had seen the one who sent him,
who rose from the dead
and we have experienced the Holy Spirit,
the wind that swept over the waters at creation,
who descended upon Jesus at his baptism in the form of a dove,
the advocate who Jesus promised to send
who with a rush of wind
blew the disciples out into the streets
with tongues of fire above their head
and all the languages of the world
coming from their mouths,
We have experienced all three
and yet we believe that to experience each of these members of the trinity
is to fully experience one God,
the God of Abraham and Jacob,
the God of Moses who led the people out of slavery in Egypt to freedom in the promised land, the God who sent his son to once and for all redeem the world,
who promises to be with us to the end of the age.
Our one God is a community within Godself.
The various experiences of God
working together to become the full expression of God.
and yes how exactly that happens is a holy mystery,
when we try to explain every single aspect
we invariably get into trouble
because our explanations fall short of reality
but we know what we have experienced,
our God is communal.
Last week we talked about the beginning of the church
and how it is like a body, one body many members,
and the one body needs a diversity of parts to create the whole.
This week we discover that in a way
the same thing is true for God,
that even God needs diversity within unity to be whole.
So what does this mean?
(Remember our Pentecost question?)
What the trinity means for us
is that diversity is essential to existence,
even the existence of God.
The way God created the world
means that we need a diversity of people
to be whole as humanity.
We need people that look different
and think and move and communicate differently,
variety is a strength
and we will never be whole
while some differences are valued higher than others,
while some differences hold more power than others.
Until that is acknowledged
there will always be something missing in the experience of humanity.
That’s the march toward justice that we have seen break out,
the acknowledgment of pain of division and the desire to be whole.
What the trinity means
is that the lie of individuality is exposed,
our wellbeing is inextricably linked to the wellbeing of all
and when one person or group is hurting, we hurt too.
The same applies to our faith,
our faith is communal,
it grows and flourishes when in relationship with God and others,
and this is so because our God is a communal God.
What the trinity means
is that we are to set aside our own advantages and privileges
In our quest for the wellbeing of all
because we have a God who set aside the privileges of being God,
but took on flesh, and in the words of the Christ hymn from Philippians:
6who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death --
even death on a cross.
9Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
What the trinity means
is that we have a God who works in the world through us.
We heard in our gospel Jesus’ last words to the disciples his last command:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
God comes into our lives and claims us
through the community of God,
the parents that bring the child to the font,
the sponsors and Sunday school teachers and classmates,
the people who gather together linked by their own baptisms.
What the trinity means
is that joined to God in baptism
we are never done learning,
the baptismal journey
is one whose whole length
is spent learning to obey the commands of God,
all summed up in the greatest commandment,
love the lord your god with all your heart and soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself.
And yes because we are always learning and growing
we will make mistakes along the way,
and when we do,
when we acknowledge our sins and repent,
we are forgiven and freed to continue to learn and grow
What the trinity means
is that in community with one another and God
we are never alone,
Jesus’ last words before he ascended were a promise:
“And remember, I am with you always to the end of the age.”
God the creator is with us always
in the diversity of creation that God made and called good.
Jesus the Son is with us always
in the Church, the body of Christ on earth,
The Holy Spirit is with us always,
blowing through our lives,
calling, gathering, enlightening and sending us in the world.
with us forever. Amen.
1 Corinthians 12:3-13
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who blows new life into our lives. Amen
It’s pentecost! The festival fifty days after Easter
when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit
and the start of the church.
Each year I’m reminded of a song from my children’s choir days
- Mom you know exactly which one I’m talking about,
and yes my mom watches the worship videos online-
this pandemic has created avid youtubers out of moms of pastors all across the nation-
anyway the song went a little something like this:
Pentecost is happy birthday
Happy birthday to the church
When every single doubting Thomas
Comes alive with Jesus’ promise
That he would not leave them
In the lurch.
Now with the exception of the fact
that the song continues to smear the disciple Thomas’ character
for the sake of a rhyme
it’s a pretty good basic interpretation of the day.
We heard last week
how Jesus promised the disciples
the gift of the holy spirit
and commanded them to take his message to the ends of the earth
before ascending to the right hand of the father
and we just heard in our reading from acts,
how the spirit blew the disciples out into the streets,
each speaking in a different language
so that the people assembled from the ends of the earth
could understand their message
and later though it wasn’t part of our reading,
we are told about 3,000 people are baptized and join the disciples
and it is exciting and a great celebration
but it’s one that comes as the culmination of a long time of waiting and uncertainty.
We’re intimately familiar with those dual feelings aren’t we?
uncertainty coupled with waiting
and even if we are trusting in the promise of God to bring new life
it can be really hard to wait,
we get impatient,
or we imagine what the future will look like
which invariably ends up being unrealistic,
because we always imagine ourselves in the role of the hero,
we anticipate and hope that when our wait is over
and the spirit is on the move
that we will be like the disciples stepping forward to face the crowds
but the reality is that often when the Holy Spirit blows in new life,
it looks nothing like what we imagined
and in turn we are act more like the crowds than the disciples
Act tells us that the crowds
gathered by the commotion the disciples are making
are first astonished to hear the disciples
whose accents betray them as Galileans,
speaking in their own languages
and then they have one of two reactions
some in the crowd react with curiosity,
asking “What does this mean? But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine." Their response is to immediately dismiss what is happening
using the least generous possibility as an explanation,
and while it is amusing to hear Peter protest
that the disciples are not drunk because it is only 9am
think about how the disciples felt,
here they are receiving the long awaited gift from God,
and some immediately dismiss them because they are disturbed.
That’s the thing about the Holy Spirit,
as new and exciting as it is, the new life it brings
is coupled with the potential for destruction,
the potential exists even in the way the arrival of the spirit is described,
with a sound like the rush of a violent wind,
and as tongues of fire,
out here we know the power of wind
and what it can do to trees and structures that seem strong in one moment
and in the next are torn apart.
Fire, used for cooking and heating,
is always only one spark away from destruction.
We also know that giving birth
Even in the best of circumstances,
is painful and dangerous and full of uncertainty
Until the first breath is taken and even after.
When we are faced with the arrival of the Holy Spirit,
New life and all the comes with it to bring it into the world
we are faced with two options:
to dismiss the strange things before us
with pat explanations that demean those through whom the spirit is working,
or we can approach with curiosity,
to ask the question: What does this mean?
To take the time to listen to the ones who like Peter
stand up and offer an explanation,
to explore what others have experienced leading up to this moment
That makes new life necessary
to seek out those who have visions and dreams for the future,
those who can help us imagine ourselves in that future,
those whose faith remains unshaken even as we are unsure.
In short, faced with the work of the holy spirit
we need the help of the gifts of the spirit
that Paul describes in our reading from 1 Corinthians,
gifts that the spirit has distributed as she sees fit
and never all in one person,
when we need the gifts of the spirit
we need the community.
We need the people who are wise,
and the ones that are knowledgeable,
we need the ones that get things done,
and the ones who are good at figuring out what we need to do,
we need those who prophesy
and those who translate that prophesy into a vision for the future.
“All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free- and we were all made to drink of one spirit.”
We are united in the spirit
but Unity in the spirit doesn’t erase our individual identities,
in fact we need people to be different
so that we all can be whole
Paul continuing with his body analogy later says “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body.”
and what keeps a whole body alive?
Breath, the spirit.
The common theme running through the major upheavals in our world right now
is lack of breath,
COVID19 is a sickness of the lungs,
the people who die are those whose lungs are so compromised
that they are no longer able to breathe.
George Floyd could not breathe,
his airway cut off by another person
and he is not the first to have uttered those words
in a similar circumstance.
Those seeking new life for other
Have their breath taken from them
By those who want things to stay the same.
Our world needs breath,
needs the spirit,
even as we are made aware
that we are members of a community,
that our health and wellbeing
are tied up in the health and well being of our neighbors,
the ones next door,
across the country,
and around the world.
The world needs the spirit,
and I believe that the spirit is at work,
bringing new life,
even, especially if it is life like we haven’t imagined,
and the work of the spirit,
like a strong wind,
will be unsettling,
even for those of us who long for the new life that the spirit brings.
And when faced with the work of the Holy Spirit,
we have two options: curiosity or dismissiveness.
We can dismiss the need
for finding new ways for common life
that enable the health of all,
we can dismiss the protests
using whatever pat explanation comes to mind.
Or we can ask:
What does this mean?
And listen with an open heart and an open mind
to those, who like Peter,
have the gifts of the spirit
that allow them to explain the long history leading up to this point,
who show us why this is a moment
that should not be dismissed but paid attention to.
And it may be hard to hear
what the Peters in our midst have to say,
and at each point when we feel discomfort,
a sign that the spirit is working by the way,
we once again have two options:
we can dismiss it
or we can ask what does this mean?
And move further down the path toward new life
and as we go down this path,
we will never be alone
because we have been given the gift of the spirit
who is as close to us as the breath in our lungs,
who is there to unsettle us when we need to be unsettled
and to comfort us when we need to be comforted
who activates in each of us gifts,
who works in our lives through the gifts others share
who gathers us together in community to wonder together: what does this mean?
If you are feeling the moving of the spirit,
If you ever want someone to wonder with
and ask the hard questions,
know that I am available to wonder and question with you,
because this is something that we don’t do alone
and if we can’t ask the hard questions in the church,
where can we ask them?
Pentecost is happy birthday
Happy birthday to the church.
What does this mean?
It means the start of something new,
something unsettling and comforting at the same time,
it means God is with us
and God is sending us.
It means Jesus keeps his promises. Amen
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
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.