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
Second Sunday of Christmas
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who created the world
and who chose to become a part of the world. Amen
I know, it may not feel like Christmas anymore,
even though we still have them up in Church
decorations have come down many places
and in stores have already been replaced by Valentine’s hearts
and we’ve done our year end retrospectives,
this year, depending on how you count it
we’ve even looked back ten years over the past decade,
and generally things feel like they are moving forward,
we are past Christmas.
And yet this year the way the calendar falls
we get a second Sunday in Christmas,
the season in the Church calendar
runs until Epiphany on January 6th,
that’s where we get the 12 days of Christmas.
As epiphany is not until tomorrow
this year we get one more Sunday to dwell on Christmas.
So often when we think Christmas
we think of the baby in the manger
and the angels and shepherds
but today we get to focus on Christmas as the incarnation of God,
God the Word becoming flesh
and dwelling among us,
the Greek is literally translated as “pitching a tent among us”,
God became one of us
and lived with us
no special treatment but the full human experience
and all that goes with it,
including suffering and death,
things God could easily have avoided and yet didn’t.
which means we have a God who knows exactly what we’re going through
as we live out our lives
even in those times in life where we feel that
the only ones who understand us
are the ones who have gone through what we’re going through,
and that is the miracle of the incarnation,
that God loved us so much
and wanted to be as close to us as possible
that God became one of us,
God is intimately concerned with our lives,
all the more amazing
when we consider this is the same one who created the universe.
And as we go through life
God seeks to remind us of this intimate relationship,
on the last night with his disciples,
Jesus blessed bread and wine
and told them this bread and wine is my body and blood given for you,
and he commanded them to eat and drink
and to do this whenever they gathered,
so that they would know that he was with them,
a part of them.
Jesus is that close to us,
closer than we sometimes like to think of
and if we try to figure out the how of it
we get confused very quickly
but the how is not the point,
if God can become human
certainly God can be bread and wine
and that is how God has chosen to come to us
as mysterious as that may be.
God is mysterious to us,
because as intimate with us as Jesus is,
and as much as he reveals God’s will to us
according to God’s good pleasure,
at the same time God is so much bigger,
than even our wildest imaginations can comprehend.
John, in his description of the incarnation,
echoing the opening of Genesis,
brings us all the way back to before creation
when God the Father and God the Word and God the Spirit
all together created the world
and set the foundations of life in motion
and had hopes and dreams and a plan for interacting with that creation,
first through the gift of the law and then through Christ.
That is both big and intricate planning.
Paul in Ephesians tells us
that God chose us in Christ
before the foundation of the world,
and we wonder at the enormity of that
as well at the intimacy of being part of God’s plan
from even before time
God is bigger than we are,
bigger than all of us
with greater understanding,
but even as God is so much bigger
God has included us
God doesn’t need us but God has made us part of the action
Again as Paul explains to the Ephesians “with all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, that that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.”
God’s will for us is abundant life,
and “us” means all creation to God,
creation that God will gather in,
because as we are well aware,
sin has entered the world
and because of sin there is pain and suffering
but God has promised to gather us in
the gathering is still in process,
and until then
our purpose is to live for the praise of God’s glory.
And how do we do that?
We live for the praise of God’s glory
when we live in ways
that bring more of God’s will into the world,
the will of abundant life for all,
and that means sometimes living in ways
counter to the way of the world.
The world says there is not enough for everyone,
God’s will says that there is plenty to go around.
The world says that those who appear different
are to be feared,
God’s will says that they too are children of God.
The world says power is gained through shows of strength.
God’s will says that serving your neighbor is the strongest way to live.
Our purpose is to live for the praise of God’s glory,
not the praise of the world,
and the world will push back,
it will be difficult at times
but we are able to do so
because we have been claimed by God,
and promised that whatever the world does to us
will not have the last say.
At our baptisms
God claimed us and marked us
“with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.”
And yet even marked with the Holy Spirit
there may be times when the enormity and mystery of God’s will
and then Jesus comes to us again,
in Word and water,
bread and wine
reminding us that God knows exactly what we’re going through
and that God is with us.
This is the miracle of the incarnation
that we celebrate at Christmas,
the intimacy of God with us
all as part of God whose will stretches before time.
Some days we need the baby in the manger,
the Word become flesh living among us,
and some days we need God who is bigger than us
with plans and understanding far beyond our measly comprehension
but who still cares for us.
At Christmas we get both
and we celebrate all the mysterious truth that comes with it
secure in the knowledge that God is bigger than we are
and that God is with us. Merry Christmas.
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from Christ who is all and in all. Amen
There’s more to this world than meets the eye,
I think sometimes we forget this,
wrapped as we are in a world that requires proof for belief.
Now don’t get me wrong,
I think the scientific method is fundamentally important,
observations leading to conclusions
about how life works,
and of course proof is very necessary
in courts of law
when the freedom of someone is on the line,
but there’s more to this world than meets the eye
this is not an either or situation,
this is a both and situation,
there are many things we can and should observe
before we make conclusions,
and there are things beyond what we can see,
and there is truth in both.
And it’s this second part that we have lost touch with,
the truth that exists beyond our five senses,
and that gets to be dangerous for us
because we start to believe
that we can figure out and manipulate everything,
and if we can do that
we become responsible for everything
and that is overwhelming,
if everything is up to us
we quickly get in over our heads,
This is why the second step in the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous,
after the first step of admitting powerlessness,
is to come to believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore sanity.
(Step 3 is to turn our lives over to the care of God).
If we are responsible for everything
we quickly lose perspective,
There is more going on in this world,
in life than we can see
This sense of more
pervades our readings for today
Daniel is having visions,
terrifying dreams of kings and beasts
but in the end it is the Most high God
who will possess the kingdom forever—forever and ever.
A song of praise in our psalm
turns into a celebration of the triumph
of God on behalf of the poor.
Jesus speaks of blessings and woes
that are the exact opposite of what we would call blessings and woes.
There’s more going on than meets the eye,
there’s more than just right now
and God’s the one who is in charge of it all,
the truth of what we see
and the truth that exists beyond.
And God has promised to take care of us,
and beyond, forever, forever and ever.
That’s what Paul is telling the Ephesians
in our reading for today,
reminding them and us
that even death is unable to hinder God’s will,
God raised Christ “from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.”
in our baptisms
we have been joined to Christ
and marked with the seal of the holy spirit,
the mark of the cross on our forehead
as we entered the community of the saints.
We often use the title saint
for those who have died
but the title saint belongs to anyone joined to Christ,
and in Christ
not even death can get in the way
of the gathering of the community of saints.
Today we take a moment to pause and remember that,
along with the saints who are no longer with us in body
but who are still a part of the community,
saints with whom we gather around the table each time Christ feeds us,
Our liturgy invokes the presence of the whole community
as we approach the table,
in the words of the preface
we acknowledge that it is our duty and joy
to give thanks and praise to God
who saved us through Jesus Christ
and we conclude “and so, with all the choirs of angels, with the church on earth and the hosts of heaven, we praise your name and join their unending hymn”
and then we break into that song,
holy, holy, holy, we sing
with the host of heaven
as they gather to join in the feast as well.
communion is the meal of a community
that is not bound by time and space
though that can be hard to sense at times,
which is why Paul prays for the Ephesians, and us
this prayer: “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you”
When the eyes in our head let us down,
it is the eyes of our heart
that reveal the truth beyond,
the eyes of the heart that hold on to hope
when everything seems hopeless,
the eyes of the heart
that see the seal of the holy spirit that marks us as a saint,
a member of the community in Christ
that stretches beyond time and space.
Today, as we observe All Saints day,
we look with the eyes of our heart
at our community and all its members,
especially the ones we no longer see with the eyes of our head,
we remember them and their lives lived among us,
how they impacted our lives
and then we join them once again
as we do each Sunday,
in singing the praises of God
and sharing a meal once more.
And we are left knowing,
the kind of knowing felt in our hearts,
the truth that there is more to life than meets the eye,
that we are loved beyond time and space,
that we are part of a community called to hope. Amen
14th Sunday After Pentecost
Joshua 24:1-2, 14-18
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the Holy one of God. Amen
The book of Joshua
is an epic worthy of Hollywood,
in the prequel the people of Israel
have been wandering around in the desert for forty years
traveling to the promised land
and they make it all the way
to the point where they can see the promised land
on the other side of the river
but before they can cross, their leader Moses,
who God used to bring them out of slavery in Egypt
and who led them through the desert all those years,
and the people are left by the riverbank
in sight of the promised land.
End film, roll credits.
now as the lights dim
and the new epic begins to unfold before the audience
we see God,
instructing Joshua, Moses’ assistant
to take over the leadership of the people
and to cross over the Jordan river into the promised land,
oh and by the way
people already live there
so you’ll have to conquer it by military force,
and what unfolds before the audience
is an action movie worthy of the genre,
there are spies who infiltrate
and only escape with the help of a prostitute,
rivers stopped so the people can cross on dry ground,
cities overthrown with trumpets,
multiple kings brought low
and the land divided among the people
and while the movie could end there
we see a montage of the years passing
and the people settling in
and Joshua growing older
until the final portion of the movie
where an old Joshua brings the people back together
and before he dies,
reminds them of all that they have been through together
and how it was God who brought them there,
and the excitement builds
as the people remember the glory days
and then Joshua lays it out for them,
there are still some of the other people living in the land
and they’ve kept worshipping their false gods which are a temptation
and so the people of Israel have a choice to make,
worship those false Gods,
or the one true God,
the choice is yours Joshua says
“but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
and a great cheer goes up
and the people, inspired by their history
and Joshua’s bold choice
say ‘of course we choose the Lord’
and the credits roll
and we all leave feeling righteous in the choice to serve the Lord
because that is clearly the only choice to make.
If only that truly were the end.
Because after the drama and the rousing speeches
and the cheering crowds all fade away
the story continues
reality sets in,
the reality that it is difficult to resist the temptation of those other gods
who are frankly easier to follow,
it is difficult to tell your friends and neighbors
I’m sorry I can’t eat that bacon cheeseburger
- it’s not on the approved list of food given to us by God,
it’s hard to say I can’t go on that trip,
it falls over the sabbath.
And the histories tell us that the people slowly turned to other gods,
away from the one true God
because the teachings were difficult.
“This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”
say some of Jesus’ disciples today
in response to his lesson at Capernaum
where he tells them that those who eat his flesh and drink his blood will live
because he, Jesus is the true bread of life.
“Does this offend you?” Jesus asks them
then continues teaching,
without changing or compromising his lesson.
And we hear that because of this
many of his disciples turned back
and no longer went about with him,
the teachings were just too difficult
but John assures us that Jesus knew that this would happen
and he lets them go,
but he does check in with his closest followers
and here we have another decision scene,
it’s not as dramatic as the one in Joshua
but perhaps closer to our own experience,
Jesus asks the twelve,
those who have been traveling with him the longest,
“Do you also wish to go away?”
and Simon Peter answers him
and I can almost hear him shrugging and looking uncomfortable
as he finally says “Lord to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy one of God.”
Lord where else can we go?
This response strikes me as a far more realistic depiction
of choosing to follow God,
it’s less a dramatic climax
and more a moment
a moment when someone asks you outright if you really believe all that stuff
and you realize that the teachings are difficult,
and while you may not understand or agree with them all
embedded in them are the words of eternal life
and there’s nowhere else to go for those
and so you shrug and look uncomfortable and stick it out
because you have come to believe that Jesus is the Holy One of God.
This is a difficult teaching we follow,
eating flesh, drinking blood,
the dead raised, the promise of eternal life,
the expectation that we love our neighbors as ourselves
where the definition of neighbor extends to those on the margins of society
and even our enemies.
Why would we logically choose this?
Well, mostly because it’s not about logic or even us.
Martin Luther, in his explanation of the 3rd article of the Apostle’s creed
in the Small Catechism says this:
“I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him.”
That we believe even a little bit
is through the grace of God
and the work of the Holy Spirit
who has brought us to the point
where we can echo Peter’s confession,
and yes this too is difficult,
some people take more work than others
we do have free will after all and some people are just plain stubborn
but we trust that the Holy Spirit,
who Jesus sent to be our advocate,
does not give up,
even on the tough cases.
And when we do come to believe, even a little bit
the Holy spirit continues to be with us
as we live out our faith
and the difficult teachings of Jesus
made even more difficult by the opposition of the world around us,
we heard the Holy Spirit working through Paul in our second reading,
offering encouragement to the community in Ephesus
reminding them of all of the gifts from God
that will help them live out Jesus’ teachings,
righteousness, faith, salvation, the word of God, prayer,
Paul likens all these gifts
to armor that a soldier would put on
as defense against the swords of the opposition.
This image I think made more sense to the early Christians
who were practicing an illegal religion
and could very well expect to be confronted by soldiers
if they were found out,
the people to whom Paul is writing were on the defensive.
But for our purposes
I think a better image might be that of tools in a tool box.
We are no longer on the defensive
but there is still much work to be done
as we build our community
and share in God’s mission of redemption for the world.
So God has given us tools,
righteousness, faith, salvation, the Word of God, prayer and more,
they are all available to us
to help us in our work
but just like other kinds of tools
we need to learn how to use them,
either figuring it out on our own
or even better have someone teach us,
it takes practice, perseverance to live into the faith given us
Living into our faith
and the difficult teachings of Jesus
doesn’t happen overnight,
in fact it takes a lifetime of practice, lifetimes even
for the broader community, the church
it has taken thousands of years to get to where we are today
and we’re still not done learning and growing, making mistakes even.
And yet over all these years people have stuck with it,
through the arguments and schisms,
the danger and exclusion,
the extra human rules,
the struggle to love everyone,
Lord, to whom can we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy one of God. Amen
10th Sunday after Pentecost
2 Kings 4:42-44
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who is faithful in all words and loving in all works. Amen
We have a God whose love and works
surpass human understanding.
We can’t explain how Elisha
was able to feed a hundred men
with a little bit of bread and corn
let alone Jesus feeding five thousand
with five loaves of bread and two fish
Jesus’ walking across the top of the sea of Galilee in a storm
defies the laws of nature that God set in place,
and these are only the examples
we have from the readings for today,
the Bible is filled with stories that we can’t explain,
at least with head knowledge,
logic and reason
But with heart knowledge,
our ability to accept the reality of mysteries
we know that these stories tell us the truth,
the truth about God and what it means to be a child of God.
As a society,
we’ve come to depend almost entirely on head knowledge,
for something to be true it must be able to be proven.
Now I’m not discounting science and measurable outcomes,
the ability to understand the world around us
is a gift from God and has done much good,
but we limit our experience of life
if we rely only on head knowledge
and dismiss the power and truth of heart knowledge,
truth that defies explanation
and yet exists in the world.
So what do we who live in a world of logic do
with truth that defies explanation?
I think our best course
is to follow the lead of the psalmists
who in the face of the inexplicable
takes the time to describe their experience,
Have you ever noticed that about the psalms?
Especially the psalms of lament,
the psalmist goes on and on about how awful life is
and then at very end they give praise to God,
and it seems to go against everything that came before,
but we recognize the truth in these psalms
because that’s how people of faith live,
with the ability to tell God everything that’s going wrong
and at the same time still praise and trust God.
Our psalm for today is a psalm of praise,
in praising God,
the psalmist describes the actions of God,
who upholds all who fall and lifts those who are bowed down,
who satisfies the desire of every living thing,
who is near to all who call,
and throughout this litany of what God does
there is a kind of refrain
as the psalmist says: “You Lord, are faithful in all your words and loving in all your works.”
and later again “you are righteous in all your ways and loving in all your works.”
Even if we don’t understand what God is doing with our head knowledge,
we know with our heart knowledge
that God is faithful to God’s promises
and God acts in love.
And so we live into that truth.
It’s why we baptize babies like Royce.
Yes she doesn’t understand what that splash of water was about,
and if we’re honest we don’t always fully understand either,
but she does understand love
and ultimately that’s what is at the root of what happens at the font,
God loved the world so much
that God sent Jesus,
and in his death and resurrection
Jesus bridged the gap between God and humanity
and God who is faithful in all words
claims us as children of God,
and God who is loving in all works
gave us a sign of that promise
so that on the days when we have doubts
we have a moment in time to point to and can say
I am baptized! I am a child of God! I am loved!
And though we only baptize once,
the water and the word are just the beginning of the baptismal life,
a life where we live into the love and identity that God has given us,
which is why we all promised to continue to live in community with Royce
and we promised that as she grows
to bring her to the table
and to teach her the creed and the ten commandments, and the lord’s prayer,
and when she can read we’ll place the scriptures in her hands,
all the while continuing to surround her with love,
as we strive to do with all God’s children.
And we pray with Paul
that God work through this community
to strengthen her inner being with the power of the spirit,
that Christ may dwell in her heart
as she is rooted and grounded in love,
and we pray that she grows into some understanding
but most of all
that she knows with head and heart
the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.
That is our prayer for Royce,
and for all God’s children,
including those of us gathered here,
that we may be filled with all the fullness of God
and that secure in our beloved identity as children of God
we may overflow with praise for the one who is faithful in all words
and loving in all works. Amen
9th Sunday After Pentecost
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who is our unity and peace. Amen
We live in a world divided.
I know, it’s an obvious statement,
one so obvious that it hardly needs saying
everywhere we turn it seems like another division is appearing,
another crack in the ground beneath our feet
separating us from our neighbor,
it’s chaotic and tiring
and frankly sometimes it’s hard to know what to believe
or if it will ever settle down.
into this division
Paul proclaims that our unity and peace come from Christ
And in the midst of the daily conflict
this sounds perhaps a bit hollow,
a nice sentiment to be sure, but idealistic,
out of touch with reality,
we’ve become so tired by everything around us
that we even question the peace of Christ as hollow optimism.
yet, when we dig a little deeper,
this unity and peace in Christ
that Paul proclaims on behalf of God
is based entirely on reality,
it is a message of hope
because it is unity and peace
that have arisen from chaos,
much like what swirls around us today
Chaos is nothing new to us humans
we heard God speaking through the prophet Jeremiah
in our first lesson,
“Woe to the shepherds who scatter the sheep of my pasture! Says the Lord.”
and God goes on to promise
to gather the scattered together again
and to raise up from David a righteous branch,
who shall lead and bring about justice and righteousness.
As Christians we believe that God fulfilled that promise in Jesus
who we see in our gospel
having compassion for the crowds
because they were like sheep without a shepherd,
pressing in on Jesus and his disciples
such that they couldn’t even eat,
and when Jesus and the disciples get in a boat
to go to the wilderness, to rest
and get back in touch with God
the crowd anticipates where they are going and follow them,
wherever Jesus goes
he creates an uproar
because the people,
the everyday people on the ground,
need so much,
education, health care, food, hope.
And they find it in Jesus who is our unity and peace
Unity and peace that comes about
through the sacrificial actions of Jesus
as Paul reminds the Ephesians: “For he [Jesus] is our peace, in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility between us… he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one spirit to the Father.”
Jesus brings peace and unity by crossing boundaries,
often invisible and stronger than physical barriers.
He sees a crack in the ground as a place to build a bridge or take a bigger step,
he sees people on the other side as friends he hadn’t met yet,
he sees all as beloved children of God
who need the loving direction of a good shepherd
who will see the sheep through the peaks and valleys of life
whose sheep are unified through the shepherd.
Jesus’ peace disrupts the world,
because it is true peace,
where all live in harmony with one another,
as opposed to the peace of the world
where one group finally dominates another group
and there is an absence of open conflict.
is a peace that must be practiced,
it starts small and begins to grow.
In our second reading
Paul is giving the Ephesians a pep talk
before they continue with the mission of Christ
and in the part we heard today
he reminds them
that though they are one community
now they started out as two,
two communities that the world said would never get along,
and even in Christ,
at the beginning
there were conflicts,
fights over what was required for a person to become part of the community,
and now people who started out as divided strangers
“are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord…”
Sometimes when a community is established
it’s hard to remember just what it took to get that way
Peace and unity,
even peace and unity in Christ
is a state that is intentionally grown into
which means ultimately that there’s hope for us
and the world around us
because in Christ we are called be growers of peace and unity.
Peace and unity grow
when we take the time to listen and try to understand
someone who holds a differing opinion than ours,
peace and unity grow
when we reach out instead of pushing away,
peace and unity grow
when we build bridges and cross boundaries
to reach the children of God on the other side,
peace and unity grow
when we know that we have enough
and work to share the extra.
And yes this is hard work,
so there are times
when we need to go to the wilderness,
to reconnect with God,
to regain hope for the large task still ahead of us
so that when the seemingly endless crowds
push in around us
we can still look with compassion
rather than contempt
as we remember that we too
were once in that situation
but like lost sheep
Jesus found us,
brought us into the fold
and continues to care for us like the good shepherd that he is,
guiding us in unity and peace. Amen
8th Sunday after Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ
grace and peace to you
from the one who destined us for adoption as Children of God. Amen
Identity and purpose,
these are the threads that run through our scripture today,
calling us to consider who we are
and what that means for our lives.
And who we are,
are people chosen by God.
Our reading from Ephesians
hammers this home again and again,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ… He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will...In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance...you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.”
God has acted decisively in regard to our identity,
there can be no question,
we are God’s
and while we use a variety of images
to try to explain this,
the end result is always the same,
God has chosen us,
not because of anything we have done or earned
but because that’s who God is.
We are God’s because of the grace of God.
And the appropriate response is to live for the praise of God’s glory.
When faced with such a gift,
what can we do but offer praise to God?
And how do we praise God?
In worship, prayer and song certainly
but also with how we live our lives,
consciously living out God’s vision for the redemption of the world,
a vision lived and taught by Jesus,
one where all people have value
and are treated accordingly,
value that is based on their God given identity
and not on the many ways that the world has found
to define and divide people,
rich or poor,
healthy or sick,
by place of birth,
color of skin,
what value they’ll add to the economy, age,
the list goes on
And here’s the hard part,
those with power
don’t like when we live for the praise of God’s glory in this way,
and sometimes we have to admit
that when we have power,
we aren’t always comfortable living for the praise of God’s glory either,
because at times the blessings of the world
seem to outweigh the blessings of God.
But that doesn’t change who we are
and what we are supposed to do,
and yes this is difficult,
our passage from Ephesians
is a kind of pep talk to the community,
building them back up before sending them out into the world again,
a world that is unreceptive to their message,
that will resist it in all ways possible.
The prophets are familiar with this resistance,
two prophets join us today,
in the Hebrew scriptures and in the gospel.
Amos is called by God to pronounce judgement on Israel,
and when he does he is confronted by the priest
on behalf of the king,
who says ‘I know you have a message, just go someplace else and share it, the king and the land can’t take it, I won’t kill you, just go away.’
to which Amos responds (I paraphrase of course)
‘I feel you buddy, I was minding my own business tending my farm and my flock when God told me to go prophesy to the people. I don’t see myself as a professional prophet, just someone who is doing what God told them to do.’
In other words,
this isn’t about earning a living as the priest suggests
but a response to the call of God,
however inconvenient that may be.
God works through all of us,
not just the professionals.
And then we have our friend John the Baptist
and the end of his story,
John who dared to tell the King what everyone knew,
that it wasn’t lawful for him to marry his brother’s wife Herodias,
who hated John for pointing that out
because she had more power married to Herod than his brother Philip.
So Herod puts John in prison
but protects him
because he has some respect for John as a holy man,
but then comes the night where Herod hosts a banquet
and is pleased by his daughter’s dancing,
and in front of everyone present,
all his officials
Herod promises to give her whatever she wants.
She consults her mother
and runs back to ask for the head of John on a platter
and Herod is presented with a choice:
protect a man who he knows to be righteous and holy
in front of all his officials
or maintain the facade of his benevolent power and do as requested.
And we know which he chooses
John is beheaded in prison
and that is the end of that prophet.
Everything is at stake when we proclaim the message of God.
John lost his head,
Jesus was crucified,
but that was not the end.
God is bigger than the resistance the world puts up
bigger even than death,
in God life goes on,
and so does the message we are called to proclaim,
and more than proclaim we are called to live,
The message that God
“set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
And when God says all, God means all.
Even the people we don’t think deserve it.
At the youth gathering
Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber spoke about grace
and her struggle with the fact that God’s grace is
“Both for me and my haters.”
She confessed she struggles with the wideness of God’s grace,
Her struggle is not a particular to her
we all do at times,
because it just doesn’t seem fair
and yet the only way that God’s good news
can be good news for us,
is if it is good news for the people we can’t stand,
even for the people who have hurt us,
because when it comes down to it,
we don’t deserve God’s grace either.
God claims us as Children
Has included us in the inheritance of redemption
And marked us with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit
So how can we not live to the praise of God’s glory? Amen
Fourth Sunday in Lent
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who is unpredictable
but always present and always faithful. Amen
probably the most well-known Bible verse in the world
and as such probably the most misused Bible verse in the world.
Seen on signs at sporting events,
or at protests,
sadly usually held by people advocating hate,
scrawled as graffiti or on billboards by the road
John 3:16 has become shorthand
for the idea that unless you believe in Jesus
you’re going to hell.
Frankly, I’ve never understood this evangelistic strategy
using God’s ultimate act of love
to inspire fear that leads to someone “accepting Jesus as their personal savior”
so that the evangelist can add another tally mark
in the “souls saved” column
and all this happens because eternal life
has been come to be understood as the reward of the next life
after this life has been endured.
I don’t know about you
but that doesn’t sound like particularly good news to me.
So what are we to do with John 3:16
and it’s offer of eternal life
especially if that doesn’t mean going to heaven
while everyone else goes to hell?
We have to revise our understanding of what God’s love does
and what is meant by salvation,
that big loaded church word that gets tossed about all the time.
When we take these questions to the Bible
and begin to look through scripture
we find this:
that salvation is not seen as a future reward
but a present way of life,
to be saved is to live life in the presence of God.
Each of our readings for this morning
illustrates this view
which can be summarized as:
some ways lead to death,
God’s way leads to life.
Take for example our first reading from Numbers,
this is the time in the story of the people of Israel
where they are in between,
God brought them out of Egypt
but they are not yet at the promised land,
they are wandering in the wilderness,
and in the wilderness they’ve quickly forgotten
just how hard life was in Egypt
and they find ways to complain about everything
to God and Moses
culminating in this story
where their complaints no longer make sense,
there’s no food, there’s no water, and we hate this food that appears everyday they whine.
And this seems to be the last straw for God,
who sends poisonous serpents among the people
who when they start dying from snake bites realize that they have sinned against God
with their complaining
so they go ask Moses to pray to God for them
to take away the serpents,
they wish to be saved from the serpents.
And God delivers them,
but not in the way that they expect,
God tells Moses to make a serpent and put it on a pole
and when someone is bit, if they look at the bronze serpent they will live
and the thing that has been an instrument of judgment
is now the instrument of salvation.
God does not undo the snakes
that the Israelites let loose in the world with their complaining,
but God gives them a way to endure the consequences
and now whether the snake means life or death
depends on the actions of Israel,
turning away from God leads to death,
turning toward God leads to life.
This still happens
when we indulge in self-involved complaints
or speak ill of another person,
we unleash the poisonous serpents of words into the world
that come back to bite us
and when we realize our mistake
and we confess to God and ask for forgiveness
God does not undo what we unleashed on the world
but God does forgives us and shows us a way to live
that leads to healing and life.
Some ways lead to death,
God’s way leads to life.
Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians
approaches things a little differently,
Paul defines alive and dead not based on whether our heart is beating
but on our relationship to God.
Paul considers death being apart from God
and life to be in the presence of God.
The trouble is as humans
we can’t seem to stop sinning
and separating ourselves from God.
In fact God knows that it is impossible for us
to do and say all the right things
that would lead to being in the presence of God,
of bridging the gap between human and divine,
so God takes care of it all for us.
God works through Christ to make us alive,
and through Christ brings us into the presence of God as a gift,
and that gift becomes a reality for us
when we trust that it is so
and begin to live in the presence of God.
We are saved by grace through faith.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” adding John 3:17 makes a difference
God wants the same quality of life for all creation,
abundant life lived in the presence of God
and God offers this life to all, freely,
it becomes a reality in our life
when we trust the promise
and begin to live in the presence of God
and even this trust is a gift of God
who continually reaches out to us,
turning us toward God.
But there’s still the talk of judgment in John
and in this talk
the point that John is trying to make
takes us back to the image of the bronze serpent,
remember how it became both an instrument of judgment and of salvation at the same time Depending on how the people related to the bronze serpent?
That’s how the judgment John is talking about works
Jesus lifted up on the cross an instrument of death
becomes the way to life lived in the presence of God
and whether Jesus means life or death,
salvation or judgment
depends how people relate to Jesus,
turning to Jesus means life -life lived in the presence of God,
turning away from Jesus means death- life lived apart from God.
Salvation and judgment are present ongoing realities,
and God is always reaching out,
offering life abundant,
to us and all creation
and the way God reaches out is through us.
When we share the good news of life lived in the presence of God with others,
the loved God has for the world
and we share it because we have experienced the gift of life that God has given us,
we share it because we know that God offers that gift to everyone,
no matter what snakes we’ve unleashed on the world,
we know God will find a way for us to live with them
and while that way is unpredictable,
God is always present and always faithful.
God’s way leads to life. 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.