6th Sunday after Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one
who calls us to love both God and neighbor. Amen
When Jesus is pressed to summarize his teaching
it boils down to love of God and love of neighbor.
These two things are most important,
and while this seems simple enough
it can get confusing
because as much as we claim otherwise
we humans are pretty bad at multi-tasking,
we tend to focus on one thing at a time
Yet Jesus calls us to both,
and he gives examples of both.
Last week we heard the story of the Good Samaritan
who embodies love of neighbor
by stopping to help a man left for dead
on the side of a dangerous road,
in the story the Good Samaritan
is contrasted with a priest and a Levite
who when they choose their own way of loving God
rather than helping their neighbor
turn out looking not so great.
this week we hear of Mary
who embodies love of God
by sitting at Jesus’ feet
listening to him teach.
She is contrasted with Martha,
who, busy loving her neighbor in her own way
comes off looking not so great.
we tend to see these contrasts
in terms of right and wrong,
one better than the other,
but it’s not that one person is better than the other,
it’s the choices they make in the moment
that Jesus comments on,
Jesus needs both the priest and the Good Samaritan
both Mary and Martha as his followers.
As a disciple
Martha embodies the hospitality
that will further the kingdom.
When Jesus sent the 70 out to share the good news
he told them to depend on hospitality
of the kind that Martha offered
welcoming people into her home
and caring for their needs.
As a disciple
Mary embodies the devotion to Jesus’ teaching
that will further the kingdom.
She is attuned to Jesus’ presence
and hangs on his every word.
Jesus will depend on her
to teach others when he has returned to his father.
Jesus needs both Mary and Martha,
the conflict comes
when Martha gets so caught up in the tasks in front of her
that she tries to make her way of serving
necessary for someone else,
And that’s when Jesus jumps in
and gently chides Martha,
not for serving
but for being so caught up in what she was doing
that the tasks suddenly became more important than loving God and neighbor,
and for trying to spread her worry and distraction to Mary
when Mary is doing just fine
at loving God and neighbor in her own way.
This past week at confirmation camp
we spent our confirmation time
talking about how God made each of us different,
gave us different gifts and callings
and how God needs all of us
to further the kingdom in our own way.
Some of us like to follow the rules,
some of us like to create new ways of doing things.
Some of us like to listen and study
and some of us like to get our hands dirty and learn through new experiences.
Some of us are good at organizing,
some of us are good at encouraging,
some dream up new ideas and others make those ideas a reality.
None of these ways of being a disciple of Jesus
are better than the others,
God needs all of them to further the kindom.
Where we get into trouble
is when we prioritize our gifts or ways of doing things over others,
when we expect others to love and serve in the exact same way we do
or have been doing,
and getting frustrated when they don’t
that’s when Jesus gently chides us
and turns our attention back to him,
because when we get upset
we forget that it’s Jesus in our living room.
Jesus calls his disciples to lives of both and.
Which means following Jesus
is more complicated than following a set of rules
that detail exactly what is right and what is wrong in any given situation.
Instead Jesus has created us as unique individuals
designed to work as a small part of a whole,
it is up to us to choose how to live out love of God and love of neighbor
using our God given gifts and callings
Sometimes that will look like stopping on a dangerous road to help a stranger,
sometimes that will look like saying the dishes can wait
while spending time with this special person who is here right now.
And while what we decide to do
will be different for each of us
the common thread is love of God and neighbor.
We live in a tradition that recognizes the both and of life.
And while some may find the lack of exactness frustrating
both and catches the truth of life in all its complexities.
We acknowledge that we are both saints and sinners.
And while those two seem to conflict
we know the reality that we are not perfect,
we make mistakes, we intentionally harm others,
and at the same time
we know that in our baptisms
God has forgiven our sins
and that nothing will separate us from God.
Both are true at the same time. Both and.
We acknowledge that we need both the law and the gospel.
There are times when we need a good talking to,
where we need to be shown how we have not been loving God and neighbor,
we need to law to reflect back to us
our need for repentance our need for God.
And then there are times when we feel like we will never be enough,
that we can never do enough,
that the pain of the world threatens to overwhelm us,
and that is when we need to hear the gospel,
the good news that in Jesus we are enough,
that Jesus is present in the pain of the world,
that it’s up to Jesus to save the world not us.
We are both saint and sinner
We need both law and gospel
We are to love both God and neighbor
And Jesus tells us that
In a world of both and
there is need of only one thing. Jesus,
the way, the truth and the life.
when we get worried and distracted
Jesus is there, gently calming us down,
giving us perspective,
calling us to return to the one we need.
When we are loving our neighbor
Jesus is there alongside us.
When we take time to study his teachings
Jesus is there pointing out the important parts.
When we are torn between both and
Jesus is present
reminding us of the gifts he has given us
and the community that surrounds us,
the community made up of many members
that is able to both love God and neighbor
in the name of Jesus. Amen
5th Sunday after Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who calls us to be neighbors. Amen
Did you ever notice that Jesus doesn’t actually answer the lawyer’s question?
The lawyer asks Jesus,
what must I do to inherit eternal life?
this is who you must be.
They’re speaking different languages
the lawyer is speaking of doing,
Jesus is speaking of being
because for Jesus it’s not about what you do,
it’s about who you are
and that is a much more wholistic approach
than the world usually takes
In the world we are able to,
even supposed to
compartmentalize the different aspects of our lives,
who we are and what we do
can and should depend on the situation,
at work we are to be one person,
at home another,
at church another,
and heaven help you if one of those areas bleed over into another.
Compartmentalization it what allows someone
who is loving and kind to family and friends
to be ruthless and unfeeling as a business person,
just doing a job
is what allows seemingly good
people to inflict harm on others.
Compartmentalization allows us
to know exactly where we stand
in a cause and effect world
and we humans like to know where we stand,
mostly so we know just how much we can get away with,
or so that we know we have done enough.
That's what is behind the lawyer's questioning of Jesus.
But that’s not how God works.
God sees all of us all the time,
we are one whole person
and God expects that one person to be consistent whether at work,
among family or even at church.
And yes, while there is some wisdom
to keeping good boundaries between work and home
and in relationships,
the purpose of these boundaries
is to define who we are as a whole person.
With God it’s about who we are,
not what we do,
it’s about identity.
And that is what is behind Jesus’ response to the lawyer’s question.
Because the lawyer knows the answer to his own question,
he quotes the law as written in Deuteronomy
back to Jesus when pressed,
“you shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
this is the law that God gave the people
after they were freed from slavery in Egypt
to teach them how to live as free people,
how to be free.
But the lawyer has turned the teaching into a means to an end
- inheriting eternal life-
his follow up question who is my neighbor, shows that.
And that’s not the point Jesus says,
as he tells the story of the man beaten and left by the side of the road
- the priest and the levite were following the law-
to touch blood would have left them ritually unclean
and the road was dangerous,
they are thinking of themselves
and as far as self preservation goes
they did the right thing,
and yet they don’t come off looking so good
when compared with the samaritan
who allows himself to be changed by encountering the man,
when he sees him in the ditch he is moved with pity,
at least that’s how our version translates it,
but the Greek word is much stronger
it literally means to be moved as to one’s bowels,
which is kind of like us saying his heart was wrenched.
He has compassion,
he feels the pain of the man in the ditch in his gut
and that leads him to serve the man with all his resources,
his time, his animal and supplies, his money
even his emotions in essence his whole life.
And this is the example Jesus gives to the lawyer
of the one who was a neighbor.
It’s about who we are rather than what we do,
and that’s hard for us,
because it means that when we think about our relationships with God and neighbor
improving those relationships means working on ourselves,
who we are,
rather than a check list of things to do
and that can seem overwhelming,
the first six months of this year
I did a leadership development experience
through the Nebraska synod,
there were about 30 of us
and the goal was to look at leadership
so we took a bunch of those instruments
that told us about our preferences for being in the world,
how we handle our emotions
and other things
and of course all of the reports
came with suggestions for how we could improve our leadership
through improving ourselves,
and it was really hard work
and overwhelming at times,
after one of the sessions one
of the other pastors posted on facebook as his status:
“you know continuing ed is good when you need to finish a cry in the parking lot before you leave.”
working on ourselves can be overwhelming,
overwhelming enough as to seem impossible,
overwhelming enough to feel like you can never be enough,
especially when it come to your relationship with God
and that’s where the grace of God comes into play,
joined to Christ we are enough for God
who loves the whole us,
when it comes to inheriting eternal life
Jesus has it taken care of,
there is a place for us
and nothing can separate us from God’s love
no matter how many times we mess up or fail
and this sets us free
to practice living as a neighbor to those around us,
it frees us to be available with our whole selves
to those who have been beaten and left in ditches,
it frees us to try to be our best
even when we know our best isn’t perfect.
It’s not about what we do,
it’s about who we are,
and who we are,
is beloved children of God
grounded in grace, nurtured for growth.
This is Paul’s message to the Colossians
when he writes them in our second reading
essentially he tells them
that Grace leads to faith,
faith leads to hope,
hope leads to lives that bear fruit in service to neighbor,
and this is something we learn from others,
the ones who reach out to us
when we are in the ditch
and we practice this
when we are moved with compassion
as we move through our lives.
When we mess up there is forgiveness,
when we get discouraged there is the community of saints
and throughout it all
is the love of God
for whom we are enough. Amen
4th Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who sends us out. Amen
In this time after Pentecost
we are exploring how to live as disciples
of the crucified and risen Jesus
and here today in our gospel
Jesus gives concrete step by step instructions.
He has set his face toward Jerusalem
and is calling followers to go with him,
not everyone he meets accepts him
so now Jesus picks 70 followers
to go ahead of him to prepare the way for him
and this is how they are to go:
First they are to go in pairs,
Jesus knows that the disciples
will encounter difficulties
and that hard times are much easier to bear
with a friend by your side.
Following Jesus is something we are to do together,
Next Jesus tells them
that they are to travel light,
as in with only the clothes on their backs,
no extra sandals, no money, no extra food,
now this is a hard one for me,
when I travel I like to make sure
that I am as prepared as possible
and my last check before I head off
is always to make sure that at the very least I have my wallet
so that I can purchase anything I’ve forgotten along the way.
Jesus removes this safety net from the disciples’ journey,
God will provide for them
through the hospitality of those they meet
in the towns they enter.
when they get to a town
the disciples are to enter a house
and say ‘peace to this house’
and now Jesus’ instructions
become like one of those choose your own adventure stories
that were popular when I was growing up,
if the peace is shared turn to page 50,
if you are not welcomed turn to page 65 to see what happens next!
if the peace is shared
Jesus says that’s where the pair of disciples are to stay
and accept whatever hospitality is offered,
that means even if the house doesn’t follow the dietary laws,
or perhaps they are not wealthy
but are willing to share-
Jesus makes sure to say
that the disciples are not supposed to go from house to house
looking for the comfiest beds or best meals,
they are to stay where they are first welcomed,
and while they are there they are to cure the sick and say to the people
“The kingdom of God has come near to you.”
But now we turn to page 65,
if the disciples enter a town and are not welcomed,
Jesus tells the disciples to shake the dust of the town off their feet in protest
and move on,
they’re not to argue or threaten or even try to convince
the people there that they should listen,
the disciples are to move on,
after they proclaim
“yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.”
God acts whether we acknowledge it or not,
the kingdom is promised to all
whether it is received or rejected.
Our job as disciples
is to proclaim that it has come near
and let the spirit do the rest.
And it is a risk
because the message will be rejected
and rejection is hard to face,
especially again and again
and yet Jesus says to leave the rejection behind,
trust that God was present
and move on.
So the disciples go out following Jesus’ instructions
and when they come back
they are full of joy!
But what they are excited about is the power they have been given,
“Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”
Wow this is amazing they exclaim
but Jesus cautions them
“do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
The success of serving in Jesus’ name
goes to our heads pretty quickly.
We take a risk, it works out,
wow, look what we’ve accomplished we say,
and Jesus reminds us that it’s not about what we’ve done
but what God is doing through us.
What is God doing through us?
God is proclaiming peace
and the promise that God is acting in the world.
How are we to live as disciples?
We are to go out proclaiming peace to all we meet,
and whether we are welcomed or rejected
share the good news that God is near.
This summer each Sunday
we’ll have a discipleship practice
to help us grow as we follow Jesus.
This week it comes from Professor Amy G. Ogden
in her commentary on workingpreacher.org she says: “As Christians, we can reliably root our lives in these two proclamations -- “Peace to this house!” and “The kingdom of God has come near.” This is the good news that we have to share! These keep our gaze on God’s activity right in front of us, rather than turning it to blaming, accusing or judgmental analyzing, symptoms that reactivity holds our lives in bondage.”
Then she suggests that we “experiment with these two proclamations
by offering them daily for a week…”
first putting these proclamations into our own words,
something like ‘welcome as you are’
or ‘God’s love is near to you’
a way that sounds natural to whatever situation you are in
and sure sometimes these proclamations may be rejected
or seen as odd,
but you may also be surprised
at just how many times they are exactly what the person needs to hear in that moment.
So give it a try,
take a risk and remember:
Peace be with you,
you are in God’s care,
God’s love surrounds you whether you know it or not. Amen
3rd Sunday after Pentecost
1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who sets us free
to love and serve our neighbor. Amen
Welcome to the time after Pentecost,
the long green season
that will take us all the way to the end of November and Christ the King Sunday.
Sometimes this season is called Ordinary Time
and that fits in with our lessons
that seem to address the question:
how do we live as disciples of the crucified and risen Jesus in our ordinary lives?
what our lessons tell us
is that Jesus’ understanding of ordinary
is very different from the world’s understanding of ordinary
and that can be uncomfortable for us.
The Jesus of our gospel today
is an uncomfortable Jesus
because he’s not accepting any excuses,
there are times Jesus says,
that are so important
that everything else must take a back seat,
even very important things.
Jesus has set his face towards Jerusalem,
he is going to his death,
which he will die on behalf of all humanity
Jesus knows that there is nothing more important than this
and he calls for followers to accompany him
but what Jesus is about to do,
is so difficult, so painful, so inconvenient
that some he encounters simply don’t receive him,
they can’t handle Jesus headed toward Jerusalem
so they don’t even try
There are others though
that make a half-hearted attempt,
it’s the soft rejections,
they say sure I’ll join but first let me take care of this other
important thing then I’ll follow,
and Jesus is having none of it.
He says “follow me” to one person and their response is:
“let me first bury my father” But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."
no “but first let me”
And this is uncomfortable,
because the reasons the people cite
for delaying their following of Jesus
seem good and reasonable,
it’s hard to argue with caring for family obligations,
and it’s hard to argue with letting loved ones know where you’re going
and yet Jesus calls them excuses
for avoiding the hard yet crucial task in front of them.
There are times, Jesus says,
when following him
is so important that there is no excuse to be made for delay,
not even those that seem good and reasonable.
And we struggle with that,
because the crucial moments of following Jesus
are the most difficult,
and we as humans are very good at coming up
with seemingly good and reasonable excuses not to act,
not to follow Jesus,
or to delay following Jesus.
And Jesus is having none of it.
We are in such a moment in our country
where Jesus is calling us to follow him and is accepting no excuses.
This is the moment where children are being separated from their families
and kept in prisons without adequate food, water and sanitation.
There is no excuse,
no but first let us,
that could make this okay,
there is no reason reasonable enough
to justify turning our heads
or making excuses for why this is the way it is right now.
And to be clear It is not a matter of lack of resources,
multiple news agencies have reported on people
bringing donations of diapers, toothbrushes and toothpaste for the children
only to be turned away by those in charge.
This is a crucial moment in following Jesus,
who brought children close to him,
who valued bodies so much that he healed all the suffering who came to him,
who though he was God became human,
body and all,
a body that got tired and hungry and thirsty,
a body that was broken on the cross in the ultimate form of suffering,
a body that experienced death just like all bodies will.
But, Jesus body and all,
rose from the dead,
he changed the rules,
now death no longer has the final say
and by changing the rules
Jesus freed us from fear.
When we are afraid we serve ourselves,
when we are released from fear
we are to serve others
this is the heart of discipleship.
Paul in our second reading
reminds the Galatians:
“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.”
then he reminds them that
“for the whole of the law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Freedom in Christ
is freedom that is to be used to set others free,
as opposed to freedom of the world
which is license to do whatever we want,
to work for our own benefit
often at the expense of others,
often to calm our own fears
that make self-preservation the order of the day.
But again Paul reminds us, Christ has already preserved us,
“those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires”
joined to Christ in baptism
we have been made citizens of heaven,
so that, in Christ
death is not the end
just a stop along the way
and this frees us to face the fears of the world.
We affirm this at the beginning of funerals with these words:
“When we were baptized in Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (ELW Pastoral Care, 233-234)
Christ has already done this for us.
Past tense, completed action.
The challenge of discipleship
is to become who we have are.
To live following Jesus,
this ordinary time,
we will be exploring how we practice living as disciples,
and because we sometimes practice better with tangible tasks
we will offer a discipleship practice for each week,
a simple exercise that will help us to live into who we already are.
Our discipleship practice this week
is to name an excuse you have made
to avoid following Jesus,
and then to do one small thing
to follow Jesus in spite of that excuse.
You are called to freedom brothers and sisters,
the freedom of Christ works through you to free others.
Let us live into that freedom together,
and may Christ be with us all. Amen
Festival of Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one casts out fear with love. Amen
Happy Festival of Pentecost,
Easter was 50 days ago
and now we celebrate what is often called the birthday of the church,
the moment when the spirit came upon the disciples
and in as many languages as there were people to hear
they preached the good news of Jesus
and many heard, believed and joined the Jesus followers
in their quest to share the news.
That was just the beginning,
the work of the spirit continued on through the faithful
all the way to here today,
where we are gathered as followers of Jesus
who have heard the good news
and have been tasked with sharing it with others.
It’s quite a remarkable progression,
and yet when we humans work together
we often make what at first seemed impossible, possible
though the result isn’t always good,
it depends on our motivation,
which has a way of coming back around to us at the end.
We heard just such a story this morning for our first reading,
the building of the Tower of Babel.
To put it in the context of the larger biblical narrative
after God saves Noah and his family from the flood
God instructs them to repopulate the whole earth.
we get one of the Bible’s famous genealogy passages
detailing the descendants of Noah and his sons
and then we hear about a time in the midst of this
when there was still one people with one language
but they were getting big enough that people might start splitting off,
forming their own tribes and going their own way,
and while this is what God intended
the people were afraid of this happening
so when in their wanderings
they reach what seems like a nice place
with plenty of space
they decide to settle down
and to make sure people stick around they decide to build a city
“Then they said, ‘come let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”
and that’s just what they do,
they begin building the city
and they make a great tower
and then God decides to come see what they’ve been up to
and upon seeing the great building project
what the people have accomplished
“the Lord said, ‘look, they are one people, and they all have one language; and this is the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will not be impossible for them.”
but because this project was built out of fear and self-interest
rather than obedience and service to the Lord,
the Lord gives them different languages
and scatters them all over the face of the earth-
the very thing that the people feared,
the reason they built the tower in the first place.
We humans can do great things
when we work together
but motivation matters,
when we act out of a place of fear,
what we fear often still comes to pass or even something worse.
Which is why, ultimately
Jesus came and living among fearful humans
preached love as the motivation for action,
Jesus preached love as the law,
then destroyed the thing we fear most, death
and gave us a new project to focus on,
sharing this message with the whole world.
But of course it’s not quite as simple as that is it?
Because there are times when we are afraid
and times we act out of fear rather than love
that while we were made saints at our baptism,
until Jesus comes again we also remain sinners,
and it is that part of us that gets afraid.
Jesus knew this too
so he gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit to help guide us,
the spirit moves us to act out of love,
even when that itself scares us.
Fear is something the disciples are very familiar with.
When we join them in Acts
they are all together in one place,
they’ve stuck pretty close together since Jesus died.
Even after Jesus rose,
appeared to them
and told them to bring his message to the ends of the earth,
they’ve stuck together in one place
and into that place,
into their fear
the Holy Spirit rushes
with the force of a strong wind
and the energy of fire,
and filling each of the disciples it rushes them outside,
out of that place where they’ve been staying put
and outside they begin to preach in different languages
and the crowd that has gathered because of the commotion
understands what they are saying!
This crowd who has gathered from the ends of the earth
now hear the message of Jesus
and will return with it to the ends of the earth
and the apostles will go with them.
But first they have to figure out what is going on.
The gathered crowd hears this group of Galileans
speaking about God’s deeds of power in their own languages
“All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’”
What does this mean?
The gateway question to faith,
those of you who grew up Lutheran
and went through confirmation will recognize this question
as it is posed again and again in Luther’s Small Catechism,
and if you are unfamiliar with this little document
come and see me
because one of the gifts of our heritage
is understanding questions as crucial to faith.
When we ask questions
it means that we are open to hearing what God has to say to us,
to hearing what new adventures the Holy Spirit is calling us to.
Of course some in the crowd explained the events away
by saying that the disciples were drunk.
When faced with something strange and new
it is much easier to find a reason to dismiss it
than to engage it
because if you engage it, you might be changed yourselves.
So though some dismissed the disciples,
others in the crowd asked
‘what does this mean?’
Having asked the question
they were open to hearing Peter’s interpretation
that what they were experiencing
was the fulfillment of the prophet Joel’s words,
that the Lord’s great and glorious day was coming
and those who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.
And though we didn’t hear it read out loud
Peter goes on to proclaim Jesus as Messiah.
When Peter finished with his sermon
those listening “were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles. ‘Brothers what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that yours sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’” (Acts 2:37-39)
and that’s what the people do
and Luke tells us about three thousand
were baptized because of this.
it seems like an impossibly large number
and yet with the help of the Holy Spirit
the disciples are no longer afraid
and stuck in one place
but begin working together
to start making the impossible possible
and this work continues
and people respond to it
because it is a message and a movement based on love.
When we are loved as deeply as we are by God
any fear we feel is momentary,
sure sometimes we get stuck for awhile,
but then the Holy Spirit blows in,
and blows us out into the world
uniting us in the mission to share the love of God with others,
and our fear disappears
because the answer to the question what does this mean?
Always starts with the love of God
Who gathers us together
To make the impossible, possible
You are loved by God,
tell others of that love. Amen
6th Sunday of Easter
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who is revealed in love. Amen
In this season of Easter
the theme running through our texts
has been the disciples asking ‘now what?’
Jesus has risen from the dead and ascended to the Father
leaving the disciples with the instructions
to go out into the world sharing the good news about Jesus.
And while that sounds simple
the actual doing of that is proving to be difficult for the disciples
even though Jesus tried to prepare them
with his teachings for just this moment.
At the end of the section of Jesus’ last teachings to the disciples
that we read today
Jesus says “and now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.”
He’s preparing them for what is to come
even as he knows that they will struggle with it.
Sometimes as students we don’t realize the full importance of a lesson
until after we’ve been in the situation
that lesson tried to address,
We heard some of these teachings in Lent
on the way to the cross
and perhaps we heard them one way
but now we are in the season of Easter,
and these teachings appear again
with the disciples we look at them from the otherside
through the cross and the empty tomb,
we look back at Jesus’ words of preparation,
looking for the answer to the question, now what?
A question Jesus knew we’d be asking.
Jesus has been teaching that he’ll be going away
and Judas- not Iscariot- asks “if you’re going away how will you reveal yourself to us?”
Yes we wonder,
how will Jesus reveal himself to us
now that he has ascended to the father.
Jesus answers “Those who love me will keep my word and my father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
which is the complicated way of saying
that God is revealed in the loving relationship
between Jesus and his father,
and those who love Jesus
are joined to that relationship.
Jesus reveals himself to us in love.
Why he couldn’t have just said that I don’t know
it sounds so simple,
and maybe it’s the simplicity of it that trips us up,
I know I’ve been tripped up by it.
Before you start school to become a pastor you have to go through a series of interviews, one of which is a psychological evaluation, it’s for a good reason, to protect the church but it’s very intimidating because at the time it seems like your whole future and your ability to serve God is on the line, so no pressure right? I did my psychological evaluation in the year after I graduated from college, and I was a little late to the interview because I’d had trouble finding a parking spot so I was a bit flustered and the guy doing the interview told me he did these things for a bunch of different denominations and at one point he asks me about my concept of God and this I could talk about, I was 22 years old and I’d just graduated with a Bachelors in Religion and so I go off on this topic for quite awhile, and when I finished the guy looked at me and said “A lot of people say God is love…” and then moved on and I was left with the horrifying thought that I’d gotten the God question wrong.
A lot of people say God is love.
It sounds so simple
and yet Jesus knew that we’d struggle with it,
after he tells the disciples how he will be revealed
he gives them two gifts to help
the Holy Spirit and his peace:
“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
What Jesus is saying
is that we don’t have to get the God question right
in order to be in relationship with Jesus,
we don’t even have to understand it,
and we should not be afraid if we don’t,
we are not alone in our experience of God,
simply by loving Jesus
we are in relationship with him and the father
and this love is shared within a community of people.
The ‘you’ in Jesus’ teaching is plural,
it is not just an individual relationship with God
that Jesus is talking about
but a communal relationship with God,
a communal promise,
which is what allows the community to grow
beyond the first generation of disciples who knew Jesus in the flesh.
I had a professor in college who didn’t like the Sunday School song
‘Jesus loves me’
‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so”
His point was that yes the Bible tells us that Jesus loves us,
but we know that Jesus loves us,
especially the little children meant to sing the song
know that Jesus loves them
because they are loved within a community
that shares the love of Christ with them.
The community of disciples grew
because of the shared love of God that people experienced in community
love comes first,
and that’s where Jesus’ first gift comes in,
the gift of the Holy Spirit,
given to remind us of Jesus’ teachings,
to help us through the unexpected things that come up
no matter how well we prepare for the future.
And while the thought that we can never be fully prepared
might cause us some anxiety
Jesus has given us one more gift
the gift of his peace.
Jesus makes sure to emphasize
that this is the peace of Christ
not the peace of the world.
The peace of the world is conditional,
a false promise of security,
an absence of conflict,
it is momentary.
The peace of Christ is lasting,
rather than quickly putting a bandaid on a conflict
it works through the brokenness
to get to harmony and wholeness,
a place where everything thrives.
The peace of Christ is everlasting
and it is ours.
Christ has died,
Christ has risen,
Now we live in the peace and love of Christ,
guided by the Holy spirit
we seek to share this peace with others,
not through understanding or force
but through love.
Because you know,
A lot of people,
say God is love. Amen
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
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the Good Shepherd. Amen
Sheep, well shepherds
appear all over our readings for today,
it’s why this Sunday has the nickname,
Good Shepherd Sunday.
I don’t claim to know much of anything about shepherding
other than it is the shepherd’s job to take care of sheep
which generally means leading them to food and water,
finding them when they wander off
and protecting them from things that want eat them, like wolves.
At least this is the portrait of the shepherd
that is painted in the Bible,
a theme that Jesus takes up when he proclaims in John 10:11
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.”
which in this Easter season
we are well aware that he does.
Jesus is the good shepherd,
he promises to take care of us
and that is comforting,
no matter how independent or tough we are
or pretend we are,
we all long to be cared for,
to be assured that everything will be okay,
that there is someone looking out for us.
And Jesus does,
but he also has expectations for us
as we follow him
and that leads to the truth
that lies behind all the talk of the tender care of the good shepherd,
the truth there is no guarantee
that life lived in and with God
will be free from dangers or hardships,
in fact Jesus is quite clear
that those who follow him
should expect danger and hardship,
what Jesus does guarantee, promise,
is to be with us,
in the midst of these times.
Take our beloved Psalm 23
even as the psalmist describes the green pastures
and still waters provided by the shepherd,
what sounds like a pretty cushy life for a sheep,
the psalmist acknowledges walking through the valley of the shadow of death
and the presence of enemies,
what makes the difference for the psalmist
is the presence of God in the midst of these experiences.
The danger is there
but the psalmist does not fear
because of the comfort of the Lord.
These themes are present as well in our reading from Revelation,
Revelation or the Apocalypse of John
is an odd book
but rather than being a prediction of the future to come
as so many have thought,
it falls more into the category of resistance fiction.
A story written to convey truths
to an oppressed group of people
in a way that will not bring down the wrath of the empire upon their heads.
The Christians to whom John wrote in Revelation
were living under the Roman Empire,
their proclaimed belief that Jesus is Lord
rather than the Caesar
placed them at the margins of society at best
and subject to death for treason at worst
things were going to get worse before they got better
this is the setting for our reading from Revelation,
where John in his vision
sees a great multitude around the throne of God in heaven,
from every nation and language praising God
John finds out that this crowd
are the people who have come through the “great ordeal”
they have suffered on behalf of Jesus
so now they get to spend all their time worshiping God
“and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat, for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
These are images are familiar,
they are the words of the prophet Isaiah
to the Israelites in exile,
God promised to bring them out of exile and God did,
now God promises to bring the people out of the tribulation to shelter,
but God will do this as a shepherd,
walking with the people,
through the danger
to the promised land of safety and security.
Once again God does not promise that there will be no suffering or hardships,
what God does promise is to be there with the people through the hardships.
It’s the way God works,
Jesus is the good shepherd
And we follow him because he knows us.
“My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me.”
Jesus says today in our gospel reading,
and that is the key to the good of the shepherd,
the knowing of the sheep.
This knowing is a heart knowing
rather than a head knowing,
the kind of knowing that means the shepherd can pick individual sheep
out of what looks to the rest of us like an undifferentiated mass.
It’s the kind of knowing that anticipates
that some sheep like this kind of grass,
while others favor another
so the shepherd makes sure to frequent both pastures,
it’s a knowing that heads off that one sheep
that always wanders away from the rest,
And the sheep,
knowing they are loved and cared for
follow the voice of the one who loves and cares for them.
Even if it means going through some dangerous spots,
they follow because they know the shepherd will go with them
and take care of them.
Jesus is the good shepherd,
he knows us with the knowledge of love,
a knowing so deep we cannot help but respond
in the good times and in the times of trouble,
and when we wander away
Jesus comes to find us
and bring us back into the fold.
And now some of you are sitting there thinking
‘that’s a pretty message pastor but how’s that going to work out?”
In this Easter season we’ve been spending time with the disciples
who have been saying pretty much the same thing,
Jesus has appeared to them post resurrection
and given them the good news
and they wonder ‘how’s that going to work if you’re ascending to your father Jesus?’
and Jesus has told them,
you’re going to do it,
I will be present in you.
Last week we heard the final conversation between Jesus and Peter
where Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep and tend his flock
and in that instance the lamb became the shepherd.
Just like in Revelation where the lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
we lambs are to be shepherds to one another.
It sounds kind of funny
but again that’s how God works,
so here we are,
lambs that are cared for
and shepherds that care for others,
we have both roles to play.
Sometimes we’re more lamb
and sometimes we’re more shepherd
but we are always bound by love.
We’ve been lambs this morning,
we have heard we are loved and known,
and now it’s time to put on our shepherd hats,
I want you to look around
and notice who is missing this morning,
think about who you haven’t seen for a while,
this isn’t a rhetorical point
I want you to take a moment and pick one person or family
you haven’t seen here for a while.
Everyone got someone in mind?
Okay, now it’s your turn to be the shepherd
this week I want you to reach out to that person,
write them a note,
give them a call.
It doesn’t have to be complicated
just a simple I noticed you were gone,
I missed you
And in this way they will know they are cared for,
that they are known,
that Jesus is with them wherever they are in life,
just like he promised. Amen
Second Sunday of Easter
Alleluia Christ is Risen!
Christ is risen indeed alleluia!
Christ is risen,
the tomb is empty
the messengers from God have appeared,
Mary has proclaimed to the disciples
that she has seen the Lord,
the disciples don’t really believe her
but it is an explanation for everything else that happened
and Jesus did say something about coming back
now that they think of it
Christ is risen, now what?
It’s a question both for the disciples and us.
The disciples are still unsure
of what exactly is going on
except that three days ago
they witnessed the brutal execution of their leader
so they decide the best course of action
is to lay low for awhile
and so that Sunday evening
finds them gathered together in fear and uncertainty
behind locked doors.
And into the midst of their fear and uncertainty,
saying peace to the startled disciples
I imagine them all sitting there in shock,
the doors are still locked after all,
and while they might have a guess
they’re still not sure who it is
until Jesus shows them his hands and his side,
marked with scars from being nailed to the cross
and pierced with a sword.
And then the disciples rejoice,
Jesus is among them!
But the question still hovers,
now that the disciples recognize him
Jesus is able to answer that question,
he gives them the gift of peace,
says “As the Father has sent me so I send you”
and breathing on them,
just as God breathed into Adam at creation,
Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit
and tells them that they are to continue his work,
bearing witness to the possible relationship between humans and God,
a relationship Jesus showed them with his life,
a relationship they are to show others with their lives.
So now the disciples know what they are supposed to do next
and it’s not too long before they get to try out their new role of bearing witness.
It turns out that Thomas,
one of their own
was not with them when Jesus came to them,
but he was a follower of Jesus
he should be an easy sell right?
So echoing Mary that first morning
they proclaim to him
“We have seen the Lord”
and Thomas, echoing their own words to Mary
responds “unless I see the marks in his hand for myself, I will not believe”
Now we don’t get the disciples’ reaction to this pronouncement
but I’ve got to think that it dampened their enthusiasm some
for the mission that Jesus had given them
because the next time we see the disciples
where are they?
Out the in the world continuing Jesus’ work?
No, a week later
they are in that same house
in the same room
with the doors shut.
The only difference is that Thomas is with them this time
and once again Jesus appears among
them greeting them with peace.
Then he turns and offers himself to Thomas,
saying “put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side, do not be unbelieving but believing.”
When we hear these words
we sometimes add a mocking tone to them,
indeed we’ve added the epithet Doubting to Thomas’ name,
but there is no reason to interpret Jesus’ words and actions
as anything but filled with grace.
Jesus is offering Thomas what he needs,
encouraging him farther down the path of faith.
And having been given what he needs
he proclaims “My Lord and my God.”
and with that goes a step further
than the rest of the disciples in his belief,
he grasps the nature of the special relationship between Jesus and his abba
the relationship that John the author of the gospel
has been conveying from the very beginning with the words:
In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God and the word was God.
Thomas gets it.
“Have you believed because you have seen me?” Jesus asks,
knowing full well that it was what Thomas requested,
but then goes on,
turning it seems to us
saying “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Again I don’t think there is judgment in those words,
Thomas is blessed with his faith through sight
and those who believe without seeing Jesus are also blessed,
we are blessed by our belief
not how we came to it,
there is no greater blessing than being in relationship with Jesus, with God
And having recorded Jesus’ benediction,
John turns once again to us,
the readers throughout the ages
and says: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
And once again the ball is back in our court,
the tomb is empty,
Mary has delivered her message to the skeptical disciples,
Jesus has appeared to the disciples through locked doors,
given them the gift of the holy spirit and ascended to his abba.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen,
The end of Jesus’ story
is just the beginning of ours,
like the disciples we have been given the gift of the holy spirit,
in commissioning the disciples
Jesus has commissioned us
to continue his work in the world,
living our relationship with God openly
in witness to the life-giving nature of relationship with God,
all while walking our own path from unbelief to belief.
Simple enough right?
because no sooner than we’ve excitedly proclaimed
we’ve seen the lord!
We will meet a Thomas,
who demands proof that we ourselves cannot offer
and before we know it we’re back in that room
with the others who are just like us,
with the doors shut
wondering what to do.
And that’s when Jesus comes to us in grace
offering himself to us once again,
and gathered with fellow disciples
we listen to the stories of the signs that Jesus did
stories that point to a truth greater than the stories themselves,
a truth greater than us.
And Gathered together at the table
we reach out and place our hands on Jesus’ body
given for us,
and in our fellowship we share our own experiences with the risen lord,
in Sunday school opening each week
we take time to share our God Sightings,
those places we’ve seen God at work in our lives during the week,
this time lets us hear others’ experience of God
and reminds us to watch for God throughout the week.
So while we may doubt or encounter a Thomas or two
Jesus comes to us
as we share our lives with each other
and maybe just maybe we move farther along the path
from unbelief to belief,
it is a path we walk our whole lives
and often takes some odd turns along the way
doubling back or twisting around,
sometimes we have to travel awhile
before Jesus comes to us in the way that we need or notice
but he will,
and when he does,
with Thomas we will exclaim “My Lord and my God” Amen
Resurrection of Our Lord Easter Sunday
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
It’s amazing how much
can be conveyed with one word,
with a name.
With that one word
Jesus turns Mary’s life upside down
in all the right ways.
She goes from weeping in a garden
near an empty tomb, talking to a gardener,
to beholding the risen Lord,
her teacher and friend.
It’s been a long journey to get to this place,
with plenty of ups and downs,
we don’t know much about Mary before her life following Jesus
other than she was from Magdala,
a fishing village along the sea of Galilee
and Luke tells us that Jesus healed her,
casting out seven demons,
since then we know she’s been one of the group of women followers of Jesus
who traveled along as disciples
and who took care of Jesus.
Her own experience aside
Mary has seen and heard some amazing things,
she’s seen Jesus heal,
she’s seen him feed thousands with a few loaves of bread,
she’s heard him teach and debate with scribes and Pharisees
she heard him weep for his friend Lazarus
then saw raise him from the dead
she’s experienced the excitement of the crowds
as Jesus entered Jerusalem
could this be the long awaited messiah?
and then two days ago
she saw Jesus arrested,
put on trial
sentenced to death by crucifixion,
and even when many of the disciples fled,
Mary and a few others stayed at the foot of the cross
and witnessed Jesus die,
then watched as Joseph of Arimathea
took Jesus’ body down from the cross,
prepared it for burial
and placed it in a tomb in a garden,
with a stone covering the entrance.
And with that
all that she’s seen and heard,
the hope for the future
that had built along the way,
the purpose she’s dedicated her life to
Dead and buried.
She must go observe the sabbath,
rest and worship away from this place
but John tells us that early on the first day of the week,
while it was still dark,
as soon as possible
Mary comes back to the tomb,
she’s so anxious to be near her Lord
that she can’t even wait for daylight
and when she goes into the garden
she finds that the stone has been rolled away from the entrance to the tomb
and that Jesus is not where he is supposed to be.
In a panic she runs and gets some other disciples
telling them “they have taken the Lord out of the tomb
and we do not know where they have laid him.”
And having delivered the message
Mary fades into the background for a bit
while Peter and the other disciple race back to the tomb
and find the cloths that had been used to embalm Jesus
lying in the tomb folded neatly
and while they still don’t know quite what to think,
we who are hearing the story
know that this isn’t a simple case of grave robbing,
grave robbers wouldn’t have unwrapped the body,
and we know it’s not even a return to life like Lazarus
who was still bound in grave cloths
when Jesus called him from his own tomb,
no something else is going on here
but in the moment those present don’t know that,
the two disciples return home
not sure what to think
Mary stays in the garden weeping,
all she knows is that Jesus is not there.
She looks in the tomb again then turns around
and there behind her is another person
and supposing he is the gardener
she asks him where Jesus is,
and that is when Jesus speaks her name.
that one word capturing all the moments of a life
that have built up to this point,
that one word conveying the love and friendship between teacher and disciple.
And at last Mary knows who it is before her.
She recognizes the voice,
the one who knows her intimately
and she responds in kind with a term of endearment, rabbouni.
So much conveyed with one word
and yet that is who Jesus is,
he is the good shepherd who calls his sheep by name,
they recognize his voice,
the voice that they associate with care, protection, with love,
that is the voice they will follow because they are known.
We all long to be known in this way,
to experience this depth of relationship,
sometimes we get a glimpse of this in the love of a parent or a partner or a friend.
I remember growing up listening to my mom answer the phone,
I could tell it was my dad on the other end
without hearing his name,
because the tone of my mom’s voice changed
from formal telephone voice
to the voice of one speaking with someone known and loved
We recognize when someone knows us,
we hear it and we respond to it
even in the situations where we don’t expect it,
Mary wasn’t expecting the resurrection,
to paraphrase Monty Python, no one expects the resurrection,
and yet when Jesus says her name
she knows who is speaking to her.
This is the miracle of Easter,
that in those moments in our lives when dead is dead and gone is gone,
Jesus says our name
and we know who is speaking to us,
even if we don’t recognize the person in front of us,
especially if we didn’t expect to find new life,
love and understanding in that moment.
Jesus the good shepherd laid down his life for his sheep,
and he rose from the dead and ascended to be with God
all so that there is a place for us
where we are loved and known,
So that we may have life and have it abundantly right now.
And while we may as yet be in the garden weeping,
or staring at the empty tomb scratching our heads
trying to figure out what it means,
when we hear our name called
we will know who it is that is calling
and we will proclaim with Mary,
“I have seen the Lord.”
Christ is Risen! Alleluia!
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.