th Sunday in Lent
1 Samuel 16:1-13
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one
who walks with us through unexpected times. Amen
This lent we are hearing and telling stories of faith,
we’ve heard from fellow members of Christ Lutheran
and from our ancestors in the Bible,
we’ve heard how stories shape our identity,
our faith and our understanding of what is necessary.
Today our stories tell of God working through unexpected servants.
That’s a word I think we’re all too familiar with these days,
if you’d asked me last week
what I expected to be doing this week
it was certainly not leading worship via youtube.
But I had already looked at our texts for this morning,
I try to go through a season at a time,
go through the readings to see what’s coming
and make a few notes on what I might focus on
when I get to the day,
and when I opened the page in my sermon prep notebook
at the beginning of the week
I found a note I had made,
That says “Things are not going as people expect.”
now when I made that note I was referring to our scripture readings
but it equally applies to all of our lives right now
and I think it’s comforting to know
that at least God is familiar with this territory of the unexpected,
in fact we find that God often seems to prefer to work through the unexpected.
Take our first reading for today,
Samuel the prophet,
expected that he would serve King Saul until his death
but God removed favor from Saul
and instructed Samuel to go anoint a new king,
one from the family of Jesse of Bethlehem,
Jesse has a lot of sons
and all God has told Samuel is that God will show Samuel which son it will be.
Now when Samuel sees Jesse’s sons for the first time
he sees the eldest and thinks,
‘this has to be the new king, he’s the oldest, he’s tall and he already looks like a king should look.”
and the Lord tells Samuel
“nope, it’s not him, don’t look at his appearance, the Lord is choosing a king based on what’s in the heart.”
and so it goes with all of Jesse’s other sons
until it seems like there are none left,
‘do you have anymore?’ Samuel asks,
and is told there is one, the baby of the family who is out with the sheep.
‘Go get him’ Samuel instructs, and sure enough when he sees David
God says ‘that’s the one’ (I paraphrase of course).
None of this went as Samuel expected
but God chose to work through David
who would go on to become the greatest King of Israel,
so important that the messiah was supposed to be a descendant.
We see this again and again in scripture,
God choosing to work through the least likely in any situation.
We see that in our gospel,
the story of the man born blind.
Jesus and his disciples are walking along
and they see a man who was blind from birth.
The disciples ask a theological question
“Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
they are following the prevailing wisdom of the day,
that illness was a result of sin
and are curious because it is hard to imagine a baby sinning before birth,
so perhaps it was the parents.
Implicit in this question is the thought:
how do we avoid this?
And Jesus responds,
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
then Jesus heals the man
who becomes an unexpected witness to Jesus,
one who testifies on his behalf.
First it’s the neighbors who are confused
but hear of Jesus through the man,
then it is the Pharisees,
now the Pharisees really grill the man,
‘were you really blind?’ they ask
and even go as far as making the man’s parents
come and tell them if he really was born blind.
At the root of this investigation is the question: how did this happen?
Again and again they ask the man
who has no explanation other than Jesus
the pharisees are confused
because to them Jesus fits the definition of a sinner,
he broke the law by healing on the sabbath,
but how could he be a sinner if he has the power to heal?
So “they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, ‘Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.’ He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” and the Pharisees drive the man out of the temple.
The way the pharisees told the story
of who could be a servant of God,
Jesus didn’t qualify.
He acted in unexpected ways
and yet God worked through him
and this threw them for a loop
so much so that they took it out on the man who had been born blind
and healed by Jesus,
who did the only thing he could,
testify to what had happened to him.
But the story doesn’t end there,
Jesus, hearing that the man had been driven out,
goes and finds him
and reveals to him that he is the messiah,
he makes sure that the man is a member of Jesus’ community.
God works through unexpected servants,
again and again God chooses the least likely,
the youngest sons,
the ones labeled as sinners,
those at the margins of society.
And it makes us uncomfortable
because we can’t explain it
using the stories we usually tell,
the stories that say good things happen to good people
and bad things happen to bad people
and then define who is good and who is bad.
because along comes God
who tells us “do not look on appearance... For the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
the Lord looks on the heart
and calls into service
whoever God needs
in whatever way God needs
and often the who and the how are unexpected.
In this time
we have all been called to serve in an unexpected way,
by refraining from gathering together.
Loving God and neighbor
suddenly looks like empty pews and houses of worship,
as we now worship from couches in our own houses,
it looks like turning handshakes into phone calls,
hugs into emails,
finding ways of staying connected
without physically being together.
And all the while,
even as we long to gather in one place
and shake the rafters with our hymns,
we know that God is with us,
leading us to sources of nourishment we wouldn’t have found on our own,
guiding us through the valley overshadowed by death,
promising goodness and mercy
and to always be with us,
in the unexpected. Amen
Third Sunday in Lent
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who gives us what we need. Amen
This Lent we are exploring stories of faith,
on Wednesdays we have congregation members sharing their stories
and on Sundays our readings are also stories of faith,
so far we have had stories of identity
where we have explored how the stories we tell
shape our understanding of our identity
and stories of how faith is lived out,
by holding on to the promises of God
even as we question and grow.
This week we have stories of necessity,
how we tell the stories of what we need
affects our relationship with God.
We have two examples from our readings today,
the Israelites in the wilderness
and the Samaritan woman at the well with Jesus.
Our first example
of how stories of necessity are told and sometimes differ,
is the Israelites in the wilderness.
The Israelites are in a time of major transition as a people,
so far in the relationship between God and the Israelites
appeared to Moses out of a burning bush,
sent Moses to pharaoh to plead for the Israelites’ freedom,
sent ten plagues of increasing intensity on the Egyptians
when the pharaoh refused to let them leave,
saved the Israelites from the final plague
giving them the opportunity to flee,
parted the sea standing in the way of their escape,
traveled with the people as a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night,
and provided food by raining bread in the morning and quails at night.
It’s been a lot
their identity has shifted,
they’ve moved from being settled in a place
where they had a long history
and though they were enslaved
they knew who they were and how they fit in,
now they are free
but they are also homeless
and they wander the desert led by a God they cannot see
looking for a promised land that is just that,
so we have to excuse, or at least understand
when the Israelites don’t always come off looking the best,
we as people don’t always make the best decisions
when we’re stressed and in times of transition
and these are a people who haven’t had to make decisions at all,
which is why the time wandering is so important
God is using that time to teach the Israelites
how to live as free people
and the first step is teaching the Israelites
to trust that God will keep the promises that God has made
and as they wander the desert
God has promised to provide for them with manna and quails,
and part of learning to trust
is the instruction to only take the amount of food that is necessary for one day,
the exception being the day before the sabbath.
If they take more than they need
it will spoil because they have not trusted God
to provide for them the next day.
So that’s the set up as the Israelites wander the desert,
God provides for them,
but this is a lesson that is hard to learn for the Israelites
as we see in our story for today.
In their wandering
they come to a place where there is no water,
or at least not enough water
and rather than trusting God to provide
they start complaining to Moses,
now the thing I always enjoy about the Israelites’ complaints in the desert
is that they get very dramatic very fast,
in this case they say
“Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?”
You’d think that by now the Israelites
would have known that God would provide for them
but the way they tell the story of what is necessary,
when it’s necessary
is different from the story God tells
and it strains the relationship,
Moses names the place “test and quarrel”
because the Israelites tested and quarreled with God
wondering if God was even with them,
and even though they lack trust in God,
God provides water,
showing Moses where to go to find water among the rocks of the desert,
one of the commentaries I read
mentioned that water does flow through some rock formations,
the water was already there,
it was just a matter of finding it.
That’s another thing about God,
God provides but it’s not always obvious to us humans.
Another thing we humans do
is that we like to make things more complicated than they need to be,
relationships for instance,
we all have a need to belong
and yet we tell all kinds of stories as reasons
why this person or that person shouldn’t be a part of the group
and that’s what’s going on with our second story
of the Samaritan woman at the well,
her community has told her that she needs to be different
and until then
she will not be fully one of them,
It all starts with a need Jesus has to rest,
he’s been traveling,
it’s the middle of the day,
the hottest time of the day
he’s tired, and thirsty and hungry,
so he sits down next to a well,
a source of water
and the disciples go to buy something to eat
and Jesus waits for them,
as he’s waiting
a woman comes to the well to draw water,
now this in and of itself is not unusual
what is odd is the time of day,
carrying water is a heavy hard task
which means that it’s best done
in the mornings and evenings when it’s cooler,
but here this woman comes at the hottest part of the day,
now it may be that she just needed water
but the more likely explanation
is that she came at a time when she was sure to avoid all the other people
who come to get water.
Jesus, sitting by the well,
asks her for a drink of water,
and she’s surprised,
because the story of society is that it is necessary
for men and women to stay separate
and for Jews and Samaritans to avoid each other,
but if there’s one thing we know about Jesus
it’s that he doesn’t pay attention to what society says is necessary
but what God says is,
and so he starts a conversation with this woman
and even though she’s surprised she is curious,
and after they’ve covered why they shouldn’t be talking
Jesus tells her “if you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘give me a drink’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
the woman is thrown by practical considerations,
she points out that Jesus doesn’t have a bucket
and he responds “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
Now the woman is really excited about this,
she might never have to come to the well ever again!
And Jesus knows that this excitement
is not about the work of carrying water
but about avoiding all the other people that come to the well,
he reveals to her that he knows about her history,
she’s had really bad luck with relationships
she’s had five husbands and is now living with someone
who she isn’t even married to
and perhaps to change the topic
the woman observes “Sir, I see that you are a prophet”
and they get into a theological discussion
that ends with Jesus revealing to her
that he is the messiah!
This is the first time he has told anyone this,
and this revelation changes the woman’s life,
she runs back to the city,
to all those people she was avoiding
and she tells them “come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah can he?”
and amazingly enough they listen to her!
And we are told that “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.”
the woman who comes to the well alone
at the beginning of the story
is back with the community by the end,
Jesus has given her living water,
that is, a relationship with Jesus,
and a relationship with Jesus is one that restores other relationships.
God tells the story of necessity through relationships,
what we need is a relationship with God
and a relationship with our neighbors,
isn’t that what Jesus says when pressed about the greatest commandment?
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and might
and love your neighbor as yourself.
If we attend to these relationships God says,
everything else will fall into place.
so often the stories of necessity we tell
focus on other things,
we’ve seen this first hand as COVID19 spreads around the world
as we’ve heard many conflicting stories of necessity,
the story that says we need lots of toilet paper
and the story that says it’s not so bad,
the story that says carry on with life
and the story that says the best way to care for your neighbor
might just be to avoid them.
As we go through this time
we are having to navigate the path
through the many stories of necessity we hear
and the ones we tell ourselves
and it’s not easy,
but I think it is made easier
when we first listen to God’s story,
the one where God loves us and our neighbors
and promises to be with us whatever comes our way,
and secure in that love
we are then able to consider
how we might best live that love out.
I’ve kept this in mind this last week
as each day I’ve prayerfully considered
how we as a community will live out our trust in God,
stay in relationships
and care for our neighbors,
even as this might mean changing the way
we physically live some of this out.
I don’t know what the future will hold
but I do know that however it happens
we as a community,
saved by God’s grace and rooted in Christ,
will continue to be nourished by worship
and serve Christ and community.
As we go out into a world today,
where there are so many stories of what is necessary,
we go having drunk from the living water of Jesus,
we have been fed and forgiven,
our relationships with God and others have been strengthened
and so we go out trusting that God will provide for us,
show us the best way to love our neighbor
and care for the most vulnerable among us,
and we go knowing that God goes with us. Amen
Second Sunday in Lent
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who keeps promises. Amen
This Lent we are telling stories of faith,
last week we explored how what stories we listen to
impact our understanding of our identity,
this week our stories explore what it means to have faith,
what having faith looks like.
And I think this is something that we all wonder about,
at least at some point in our lives,
what does it mean to have faith?
Do I have enough faith?
How do I get more faith?
Why do some people seem to have an easier time than others?
Any of these questions sound familiar?
It’s pretty easy to go down a rabbit hole of questions
when it comes to faith
which is why it is helpful to have some examples
of what is meant by having faith
and we have two good examples in our readings for today,
Abraham and Nicodemus.
Abraham is often held up as the model of a faithful person,
Paul points to Abraham in our second reading,
and Abraham’s story of faith is quite simple,
God comes to Abraham and says “go to the land that I will show you”
then promises to make a great nation of Abraham
with many descendants and through Abraham bless the world
“So Abram went, as the Lord had told him”
Almost too simple,
so simple as to be impossible to live up to,
I know I take a lot more convincing than a single command
Even from God
But really when we think about it
why wouldn’t Abraham go?
God has made all these promises
seemingly based on the one command to go.
On the face of it,
it kind of looks like one of those transactions
that Paul attributes to the law,
until we remember that God says ‘go’
but does not give a destination,
and God says ‘I will make you a great nation’
and at this point Abraham is very old and very childless
and then it is easier to see Abraham's going as a great act of faith,
because what God proposes to do seems impossible,
when Abraham goes,
he goes into the unknown,
holding on to the promise of God
and trusting that God will keep that promise.
And yes this is remarkable and an ideal
but I don’t know about you
but I’ve found faith- the act of trusting God-
much more complicated than that.
Which is why I love the story of Nicodemus.
Nicodemus is a religious leader,
people know who he is,
they go to him for answers to religious questions
he’s supposed to have it all,
okay well, mostly
but when Jesus comes onto the scene,
Nicodemus is intrigued,
he wants to know more,
but here’s the catch,
he doesn’t want anyone to know he’s interested in Jesus,
so when he goes to see Jesus
he goes at night covered by the darkness
and he comes with an attitude that says
‘I’m going to figure you out Jesus’,
he begins “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”
and the way Jesus responds
it’s almost as if he’s saying
‘oh you know do you?’
and goes on to utterly confuse Nicodemus
by speaking of being born again and born of the spirit
and when Nicodemus asks him
“‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?’”
I hear Jesus saying this in a rather sarcastic false shocked tone of voice,
undertones of ‘what, you don’t know everything?’
I don’t think that Jesus is judging Nicodemus
as much as making a point
that the mechanics of God’s work in the world
are confusing boarding on impossible to understand,
because then Jesus gets serious and says
look “we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony if I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things.”
Seeing Jesus perform signs has only gotten Nicodemus so far along the path to faith,
he struggles with hearing what others have experienced of God,
at some point understanding will fail
and that’s where faith has to take over,
the trust that however it happens
what God promises will come to pass.
And that’s when Jesus tells Nicodemus what God is going to do
- out of love send God’s son to be lifted up for the sake of the world-
now remember this conversation is taking place
long before the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday
Nicodemus has no idea that Jesus is referring to the cross,
and even if he did,
he’d be stumped as to how anything good could come of Jesus dying by crucifixion,
but at the end
Jesus gives Nicodemus a promise he can hold on to:
“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.”
Jesus promises that however incomprehensibly God chooses to act,
God intends salvation.
Nicodemus doesn’t have to understand the how,
his role is to trust that God is acting for good.
And that it seems Nicodemus can do,
we get no indication that when the conversation ends
Nicodemus understands the particulars of who Jesus is
or how God is acting
any better than when he started
but throughout the gospel of John,
Nicodemus keeps showing up
in ways that show his faith in Jesus is increasing.
The next time Nicodemus pops up
is when Jesus has been in Jerusalem for the festival of Booths,
Jesus has been publicly teaching
and people are starting to wonder if he is the Messiah
and all this is making the leadership anxious,
they want to arrest Jesus
and it’s at this point that Nicodemus speaks up
and says “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” (7:51)
and the other Pharisees
because remember Nicodemus is one of them,
but also they do not arrest Jesus.
Speaking up for Jesus in front of his peers
Nicodemus has come a long way
from sneaking out to see Jesus under the cover of darkness.
The last time we meet Nicodemus
is at the foot of the cross,
he comes with Joseph of Arimathea
to prepare Jesus’ body for burial
and he brings with him 100 pounds of spices and ointments,
an amount so excessively lavish
that it could only represent the grace of God,
and here at Jesus’ seeming defeat
does Nicodemus make public his faith in him.
Nicodemus gives me hope,
because it means that faith doesn’t have to be an instantaneous ascent
nor does it mean we have to believe everything as true right away,
can start as a small seed,
as curiosity paired with a lot of questions,
and that seed can be nurtured to grow
and God offers a promise to hold on to
while faith grows,
the promise that God loves us
and nothing can change that.
God lives out that promise
by continually coming to us in love,
in the water and word of the font,
in the eating and drinking of bread and wine
blessed, broken and poured out for us,
in the stories of faith shared with us
where we get to see how God comes to others
and as we live
both questioning and holding on to the promise of God,
we may find our faith growing,
we still have questions
but we no longer need the cover of darkness to ask them,
we also might have times where growth stalls
but through it all God keeps coming to us
keeping the promises God has made,
and we find that ultimately what it means to have faith
to is to hold on to the promises of God,
to trust that God is acting for good. Amen
Second Sunday After Epiphany
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who builds community
with an invitation to come and see. Amen
We are now in the season after Epiphany
and so our bible stories
are all about how Jesus is revealed as God to us.
With very few exceptions,
this revelation occurs in community,
God uses people to reveal Jesus to others
and so today we get the story
of how the first core community of those people is formed.
With a search for something more,
and an invitation.
It all starts with John the baptist,
remember God works in the world through people.
God calls John the baptist to prepare the way for Jesus,
and that’s what John has been doing,
he’s been telling people to repent of their sins
and baptizing them when they do,
and some of them have started to follow him,
they are searching for something more out of life
and they think they’ve found it in John.
but John knows his role is one of preparation
for the one that is coming after him,
he doesn’t know exactly who this is,
just that the spirit will let him know,
and when he baptizes Jesus
the spirit descends
revealing Jesus as the one he has been waiting for
and John’s preaching changes
to a very simple message
“Look here is the lamb of God”
John is standing with two of his followers
when Jesus walks past
and John points to him and says “Look, here is the Lamb of God”
and just like that
they start following Jesus,
not in the metaphorical sense
but literally walking behind him
and Jesus turns around and asks them
“What are you looking for?”
which is a loaded question,
what are they looking for?
They probably don’t know exactly themselves
but it’s certainly more than the answer they quickly give
when they ask Jesus where he’s staying,
and Jesus responds “Come and see”
a loaded answer
because what they will see by going with Jesus
is certainly more than the place where he is staying,
they will see God revealed.
And they go with Jesus
and spend the rest of the day with him
and that’s all it takes to start off a chain reaction of invitations,
Andrew goes and finds his brother Simon
and tells him “we have found the messiah”
Andrew brings Simon to Jesus,
and when Jesus looks at him
he gives him a new name, Peter,
the rock, the foundation of the community.
People are searching for something more
and all it takes is an invitation from someone they trust
to experience what they’ve found
as well as an invitation to remain and explore for themselves
to see if they find what they’ve been searching for.
Most of us are here
because at some point,
someone we trust invited us to come and see,
invited might be a strong word for those of us brought as children
but still the people we trust wanted to share what they’d found with us.
We remain because we found Jesus,
and a place that lets us explore
what it means to have found Jesus as our lives play out
because even when we find Jesus,
we still continue to search
because humans are constantly searching throughout life
sometimes this is because of the sin that tells us we can be God
and control our own destinies
and so we search for a way to achieve that,
sometimes we search because we want to know who we are,
what our purpose is,
sometimes we search for God
because it seems as if God is hidden,
and Jesus knows,
even if we don’t realize it,
is that what we’re searching for is a community,
an identity and a purpose,
all things that God has already given us
first and foremost
we are beloved children of God
we always have been and always will be
this identity will never change
and because we are beloved children of God
our purpose is to love God and love our neighbor,
and we discover this identity and purpose in community
and all it takes to find
is for a person we trust to point and say
“Look here is the Lamb of God”
followed by an invitation to “come and see”
Of course we humans try to make it more complex than that,
we ask questions like how?
And then we try to make the community in our own image instead of God’s
and we make rules and get into disagreements
but at the heart of it all, it’s really simple,
people searching for something more
gathered together because someone pointed to Jesus
and extended an invitation to come and see, remain and discover
and as we do
it becomes our turn to reach out to others we see searching,
to point to Jesus and invite them to come and see, remain and discover.
And Jesus knows that this isn’t always easy,
we get discouraged,
or our search changes,
so Jesus comes to us again,
in word and water, bread and wine,
and once again invites us to come and see,
and we are present at the table
because someone we trust has once again come to us saying
‘we have found the messiah, come and see’
because just as we keep searching
we keep needing to be invited,
reminded of our identities as beloved children of God.
This year my hope is that we as a community
learn to better do this for one another
both those already here
and those who have yet to encounter Jesus,
to see when someone is searching,
to point them to Jesus
and to invite them to come and see,
because we have found the messiah. 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.
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who sees us through the eyes of Christ. Amen
This month my bookclub
read one of the best books I’ve read in awhile,
Wonder by R.J. Palacio,
yes there was a movie made of it with Julia Roberts
a couple of years ago.
The book centers around the character of August Pullman
who is starting 5th grade at a new school,
actually it’s his first school,
he’s been homeschooled up to this point
because he was born with some genetic mutations
that wreaked havoc with his face,
from how it’s described in the book,
nothing is quite where it should be
and is quite startling
to people who have never seen him before
he’s come to expect that people will stare and react
but even the expected isn’t easy
when he is the center of attention for looking so different,
when really he is just another smart, funny kid.
Which is why August’s favorite holiday is Halloween.
He gets to dress up and put a mask on
and when he does
he becomes just another kid celebrating Halloween,
there is no longer any distinction between him and everyone else
he is free to just be a kid.
It’s this kind of freedom Jesus proclaims to us today.
The freedom to be what we truly are.
all of us want this freedom
And when we think of it from our human perspective
Sometimes it looks like being like everyone else.
Because there are so many ways to be divided and categorized,
and while not all of them are bad,
it seems like we humans are obsessed
with figuring out just which box everyone including ourselves fits into,
and if we’ve been placed in a box
we’re not happy with
we go to great lengths
to try and change how people see and categorize us,
we go into credit card debt to get those things that will make us fit in,
we exclude certain other groups of people to fit in,
we constantly try to figure out where people fit in and where we fit in,
and in our quest for freedom
we become bound to these things
and it’s exhausting.
But of course we don’t stop there,
we take this logic and apply it to God.
We want to know just where we fit in with God
and we think we can determine that
based on our own actions,
which is why people are attracted to interpretations of religion
with a lot of rules or strict codes of ethics
so they know where they stand,
if they do everything right then they are clearly on God’s good side
and as an added bonus
feel justified pointing out to others
when they break the rules
and therefore logically are on God’s bad side.
And this too is an exhausting way to live
because no matter how many rules we follow
or things we do right
the law will always end up showing us
just how short we fall of perfection.
This is what Paul is talking about in Romans
when he says “through the law comes knowledge of sin”
the law shows us that if it is up to us,
we will never be good enough
and that quickly leads to despair.
So it’s a good thing it’s not up to us,
Paul continues: “But now apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”
There is no distinction,
just like August Pullman on Halloween,
we are all the same,
according to the law we’re sinners,
according to Christ we’re saints.
God knows that the system of the law only takes us so far,
it gives us structure for living with one another,
and it shows us how much we need God
but that’s about it,
humans need more than the law
and God loves humans
so God sent Jesus to do whatever needed to be done
to bring God and humans together,
and that’s what Jesus did on the cross
a free gift given in love
so that now there is no distinction
when God sees us, God sees us through the eyes of Christ
and Christ sees us each as we are,
fearfully and wonderfully made by God.
Thinking about this reminds me of an experience
that I had the summer after my first year in college.
I taught swim lessons as part of my summer job
and in one class that I had,
I had a very energetic little boy,
he loved swim lessons and the water,
though he struggled with holding on to the wall
and waiting his turn while the other kids had their turns
but I could see that he really wanted to be there
and I was happy to teach him
but the other kids rejected him,
they didn’t want to be near him on the wall
and were impatient with his struggles to hold on,
and I was struck by the contrast,
his peers saw him as annoying,
someone to be avoided,
who they wished weren’t there,
and I saw him as an energetic little kid
who wanted to learn how to swim,
who was worthy of being there.
When God looks at us through the eyes of Christ,
God sees that little kid in all of us,
the one who is excited to participate in life,
who is worthy of being here in our own way.
In Christ we are set free from distinctions
and allowed to be fully ourselves,
not because of anything we have done but as a gift
and we accept that gift by trusting that it is so,
by having faith that God keeps the promises God makes.
Jesus tells his disciples
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples;
and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”
The word of Jesus
is that nothing can separate us from the love of God
we have been set free,
free from the distinctions that others place on us,
free from the distinctions that we place on ourselves,
and Christ invites us to continue living in this freedom through faith.
Confirmands, this is the faith you publicly proclaim today
the faith that you are freed from sin
to love and serve your neighbors,
not because of anything you’ve done
but because of Christ
and as you stand before us, you are saying
you intend to continue in this faith,
to continue in the gift of freedom
living as Christ sees you, with no distinctions.
And it’s true,
there will be times when you feel different,
when you feel bound by the distinctions the world places on you,
but that’s why we gather as a community
where we hear the proclamation that there is no distinction,
and Jesus brings us to the table,
feeds us with his body and blood,
forgives us and reminds us of the gift that is already ours,
and strengthened we go out to live in freedom once again.
So dear confirmands,
dear people of Christ,
in whom there is no distinction,
continue in the word of God,
you know the truth and the truth has set you free. 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
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.