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!
Psalm 116: 1-2, 12-19
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31-35
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who comes to us in bread and wine. Amen
Tonight is a night of memories.
memories help tell us who we are,
both as individuals and as communities,
they are the stories that tell us where we’ve come from
and point us to where we are going
and yet the calling to mind of these stories
is as fragile
as the stories are important,
we’ve all experienced the sensation
of walking into a room and completely forgetting
why we came into that room in the first place,
we’ve debated with others
what exactly happened that one time,
we’ve experienced the devastation
of dementia and memory loss in loved ones.
Yet some things remain clear in our minds,
our home telephone number from elementary school
or the snappy jingle
directing us to a particular brand of breakfast cereal,
part of the mystery of living
is that we don’t always get to choose which memories
naturally stay fresh and clear
and which fade away.
But we have found that there are things we can do
to help us remember,
intentionally hold on to,
the important stories.
We do this by telling the stories over and over again,
we attach rituals to the stories
where we act them out,
we tie the stories to our senses
the taste, touch, smell, sight and sounds
all helping us to remember.
Tonight is a night of remembering,
calling to mind the stories that define us,
stories so important
that God has told us to remember them.
In our first lesson we heard God telling the people of Israel
how they are to remember the defining moment
when God brought them out of slavery into freedom.
Each year, God tells the people,
they are to reenact the exodus,
and in the eating of the roasted lamb
while dressed to travel at a moments notice
the story of what God had done
will come alive once more
and the people will remember
that they are people meant for freedom
guided by a great and powerful God.
“This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.” God tells the people
And that is what Jesus and the disciples are doing
all those hundreds of years later
when they are gathered around the table
for what Jesus knows will be their last meal together.
And as they recall the foundation of their relationship with God,
Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us,
who ate and drank with the disciples,
healed and prayed, cried and celebrated
gives the disciples a way to remember this aspect of relationship with God
and the new freedom they are about to experience
through Jesus’ actions on the cross.
Gathered together at the table of remembering
Jesus takes bread,
the common everyday food
and he blesses it and then breaks the loaf
and gives it to the disciples saying this is my body,
do this to remember me.
And then Jesus takes the cup of wine,
the drink of celebrations
blesses it and gives it to the disciples saying
this is the new covenant, in my blood,
drink it to remember my promise to you.
In the future, Jesus tells the disciples,
whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup
you will remember what I have done for you.
On the cross in body broken and blood poured out
Jesus frees us from sin and death.
At the table, in broken bread and wine poured out
Jesus forgives us,
freeing us to move past our mistakes and our failures
to the wholeness of new life in Christ.
And what does that new life look like?
It looks like Jesus kneeling at the feet of his disciples
washing their feet,
an act of love and humility
that Jesus says they are to copy
as they live out the new commandment of Jesus,
to love one another just as Jesus has loved them.
This is the sign to others that you are my disciples
Jesus tells them in the gospel of John,
the love that you have for one another.
Yes, we have two different stories of Jesus’ last night with the disciples,
in Matthew, Mark and Luke we hear about the last supper,
in John we hear about the washing of feet and the new commandment,
these were the stories, the memories
passed down in the communities where the gospels were first written
and while they are different,
and we might wonder at that
both the stories are included in our holy scriptures
because ultimately we need both stories
for our relationship with God.
we need the new commandment
that points us toward the future in Christ,
a future marked by love lived out in service to others,
and we need the forgiveness
found when Jesus comes to us in bread and wine, body and blood,
after we have failed to love as Jesus loves
and we need to hear these stories again and again
as again and again we hear the command to love
and receive the forgiveness of God
living in the law of love and the grace of Jesus.
So we tell the stories when we gather,
we hand down memories in the telling, and acting,
the taste and touch, the smells and the singing
these memories remind us of who we are,
people who live in freedom
because of the great acts of God,
people who are to love and serve their neighbors,
people with a God who comes to us in bread and wine
to remind us that we are God’s children,
fed and forgiven, freed to love. Amen
Fifth Sunday in Lent
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who has made us his own. Amen
What is most important in life?
Times of transition
bring this question forward,
those times in life when we’re saying goodbye to the way things were
and hello to new possibilities
we are often forced to consider
what to leave behind and what to bring forward with us.
Lent is coming to an end
and as we look forward to Holy Week
and the beginnings and endings that lie ahead
our readings for today ask us to consider,
what is most important?
Paul is doing this reflecting in his letter to the Philippians,
he is in prison, probably in Rome,
which even as he hopes to be released
still puts things in perspective.
As he looks back
and considers his life
he concludes that very little matters
except for Christ.
Paul in his characteristic humble brag
lists all the things that he could consider important,
being part of the chosen people of Israel,
strictly following the law,
all these things that conventional wisdom says
are important especially for a relationship with God
but then he says: “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ...For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not have a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.”
that whoever he is
and whatever he’s done,
none of that will surpass what Christ has already done on the cross,
and because of that amazing fact
Paul goes on “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on the make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”
Paul wants to know Christ
, both the good- the resurrection-
and the bad- the suffering
and he feels secure in seeking this knowledge
because he knows that Christ Jesus
has made him his own.
And that is really the crux of the matter,
whether Paul came from the right family
and did the right things,
or whether he persecuted the church
or is in prison,
none of that matters in the end
because Christ claimed him.
And having been claimed by Christ,
Paul presses forward
seeking to know Christ even better,
seeking to share this with all he encounters
even if it means that by the standards of the world
he does some pretty odd things,
like letting go of status,
obeying God rather than Rome,
willingly suffering for the sake of love.
In our gospel for today
Mary wants to know Christ
and it leads her to do some odd things
by the standards of the world.
Once again Jesus has come to dinner,
he’s been hiding out a bit
but now he is about to enter Jerusalem for the last time
and on his way he’s stopped to have dinner with his friends.
Jesus is close with this family,
he’s had dinner here before,
that dinner where Martha asked Jesus to scold her sister Mary
for not helping her and instead sitting at Jesus’ feet.
Jesus came here when Lazarus died
and Jesus wept over his friend
then raised him from the dead
and now he’s here one last time
together this group is facing the end.
And Mary takes a jar of perfume
that costs about a year’s wages
and pours it out on Jesus’ feet, anointing them,
then wipes them with her hair.
The use of that much perfume is extravagant,
as Judas will soon point out,
and she breaks the social dress code and norms
by letting her hair down and touching a man
who is not her husband.
it’s following Jesus in a nutshell
and Mary does this
because facing the coming ending
Jesus is what is important to Mary.
Of all the people present at the party
Mary is the one who has been most intentional
about spending time with Jesus,
sitting at his feet listening to him,
she has seen him raise her brother from the dead
she more than anyone
is likely to believe Jesus
when he tells his followers
that he is the shepherd who lays his life down for his sheep.
So her abundance of ointment
mirroring the abundance of Jesus’ love,
she anoints Jesus for his burial,
she lovingly sends him out to do
what he says he needs to do.
She wants to know Christ,
she wants to join in his story
and when compared with all of that,
what is some money?
And social norms?
They are rubbish.
Mary and Paul are exceptional in their abandonment
of all things that are not Jesus
but they are not exceptional in their desire to know Christ.
At one point or another
all of us have longed to know Christ,
even if we haven’t had the words
to understand that longing
and true sometimes we are like Mary
making extravagant displays of devotion
but other times we are Martha
who longs to know Jesus
and acts on that longing by serving,
continually moving around Jesus.
Sometimes we’re Lazarus,
we long to know Jesus
and we’re just grateful to be at the table
because even getting to the table with Jesus
is a miracle.
And sometimes we are even Judas,
we follow Jesus because there’s something that catches us
but we are so preoccupied with our own gain
that we miss the point of Jesus and those around him.
There is space for all of these characters in the story
and yet, whoever we are,
Christ has first claimed us as his own
and nothing we do will change that,
joined to Christ in his death and resurrection
God promises to treat us as if we were Christ.
And so whatever questions are challenging us,
whatever beginnings or endings we face,
we press on
claimed and loved by the most important one. Amen
Second Sunday After Epiphany
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the God of abundant life. Amen
Today Jesus turns water into wine.
It’s one of his most well known miracles or signs
even among those otherwise uninterested in Jesus
but who are fascinated at the possibility of this power,
‘oh the savings they cry as they buy yet another bottle of wine,
if only I were Jesus, all I would need is some water… ‘
which as wonderful as that may be
misses the point of the story entirely.
The wine is not the point,
it’s what the wine is for,
the restoring of relationships
which Jesus does in abundance.
Jesus and his friends and family are at a wedding,
just as with now
weddings in ancient times were complicated social affairs
lasting days if not a week
during which the families of the bride and groom
were to provide appropriate refreshment,
an important act of hospitality to be sure
but also a way of gaining social capital
in an honor shame society.
Gaining honor or being shamed
had serious social and even economic consequences
so it was important for the new couple
to start their life together in good standing with their community
by providing a good wedding feast
of course including wine.
Which is why it is a crisis
when the wine runs out
before the end of the feast,
the couple’s standing in the community is at stake.
who knows he can do something about this
points out the situation to Jesus
and while he is initially reluctant to act
he does what his mother asks,
telling the servants to fill the big stone jars with water
then to draw some out and take it to the chief steward,
the one in charge of running the party,
and when the steward tastes the wine that the water has become
he goes and honors the groom for saving the best wine for last
and the relationship between the new couple and the community is restored,
Now of course Jesus didn’t just make a little of this wine,
John tells us that the six stone jars hold 20-30 gallons each,
180 gallons of the best wine.
When Jesus gives,
he gives abundantly
and the abundance of God
leads to restored relationships.
And that is the essence of Jesus’ mission in the gospel of John.
in John 10:10 Jesus says
“I came so that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
It’s his mission statement,
the guiding principle of his life,
providing abundant life for all.
Now when we think of abundance
we tend to think in material terms,
a lot of wine, money, land, cars, those kinds of things
and often the getting or having a lot of things
is attributed to the blessing of God,
or interpreted as a sign of God’s favor.
But we are well aware
that many people who have a lot of stuff,
who are rich in material goods
do not act in ways that please God
an abundance of things is not an automatic sign of the favor of God.
As Jesus shows us in the gospel of John,
abundant life is much more holistic,
abundant life happens when relationships on all levels are in harmony,
abundant life happens in community.
Karoline Lewis, a professor at Luther Seminary says this about the communal nature of the abundance of God:
“Abundance, as it turns out, is never just about you and Jesus alone,
as much as we want it to be that way,
hope it will be that way,
but about bringing us into relationships when once rejected,
into a community when once abandoned,
and into life, true life, abundant life, once thought to be lost forever.
What difference does this make?
Well, it means that abundance can never be an individualized affair.
It’s not just that abundance is not yours to keep;
it’s that abundance reorients your way of being in the world.
Abundance is known in relationship.
Abundance cannot be realized
unless it is experienced in relationship with others -- and fundamentally, with God.
Because being on the receiving end of abundance
is never for abundance alone,
especially yours alone,
but is for the sake of seeing the absence of it in others
and doing something about it.” (Karoline Lewis, Working Preacher, 1/13/19)”
The abundance of God is received and lived out in community.
We as a community are living in a time of abundance.
At our annual meeting after service
we will reflect back on the abundant life of the last year
and we will look to the future
which holds exciting things.
we have been given a monetary gift to start an endowment
that will allow us to do something when we see a lack of abundance in the lives of others.
I am very excited about this but we’ll talk about it more in a bit.
But more important
is the abundance found within the people of this community.
In our second lesson
Paul talks about the gifts of the spirit,
who has given a gift to everyone for the common good.
We all have gifts to share.
The spirit gives a different gift to each of us
and brings us together in community to work together-
Paul goes on to liken this to a body,
many members and different parts
that work together to be a whole,
with each different part necessary for the good of the one body.
Each of us has different gifts
God doesn’t expect us as individuals to be good at everything,
God does expect us to live in community
with others whose gifts are complimentary
and all together as a community
live lives turned outward,
sharing the abundance of God.
The spirit has given us many gifts as a community,
each of you,
with your gifts make this community what it is
and as we welcome more people as members
all of us become richer in the gifts of the spirit.
We are living in a time of abundance as a community,
our big stone jars are filled to overflowing with the best wine,
it is time for us to both savor the taste of God’s grace
and find ways to share the abundance with others,
especially those who lack.
Together we will listen to the call of the holy spirit,
dream about how the abundance of God in our lives can be used to serve others
and then, as one body with many members
we will share the abundance entrusted to us
so that in the name of Jesus,
all may have life and have it abundantly. Amen
All Saints Sunday
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who gathers the saints in light. Amen
Today we observe All Saints Sunday,
the day when we formally recall those who have died.
I say formally, because when someone we love dies
they are often on our minds and in our hearts,
they’re the ones we want to call when the grief becomes too much
or when we have exciting news,
they’re the ones who shaped us in some way,
and now that they’re gone
we find ourselves intentionally looking for them in ourselves,
or we do something
and it reminds us of our loved one
and we say ‘oh that’s where I got that’
and give thanks to God for their influence on our life.
we bring forward today the saints
naming the hope and the assurance
that we will see them again,
and not just in our hearts
but in the flesh, at the last,
when the promises of God have come true,
when there is a new heaven and a new earth
and there is no more mourning or crying or pain
and certainly no more death.
But until then, we wait.
In many ways
All Saints day is a day where we Christians
are reminded that we are in the middle of time,
stuck between the already and the not yet.
We already have Jesus,
that part of God’s promise and plan has been realized,
Jesus fulfills the promises that God makes in Isaiah
and through the prophets,
Jesus is God’s way of bridging the gap between God and humans,
between God’s hopes for creation and reality.
But the kingdom of God is not yet complete,
it has come near in Jesus,
the process has started but construction is still underway
so we are left to wonder,
what do we do in the meantime?
We have hope certainly,
hope in the promise of God fulfilled in Jesus,
and because of that hope
we work to live our lives according to the way of God
that Jesus taught us,
making the world around us a bit more like God’s vision
but some days that doesn’t seem like enough,
try as we might
there are days where hope and Jesus don’t seem like enough,
those days we’re like Mary in our gospel reading,
her brother has been dead four days
and finally Jesus shows up
and the first thing she says to him is
“Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died.”
what she’s really saying to him is,
where were you? We sent you a message, you’re too late.
And Jesus, seeing Mary and the mourners weeping
asks to see where Lazarus is laid,
and Jesus too is overcome with emotion and weeps with them,
for his friend,
and here Jesus too is caught in the middle.
Jesus is God,
he knows who he is and what he is going to do,
especially in the gospel of John,
and sometimes, a lot of times
this involves some suffering
especially for the humans he loves
that just don’t understand the scope of Jesus’ mission in the world.
Jesus’ disciples don’t understand
when he tells them what is going to happen to him,
a crucified messiah doesn’t compute
Jesus knows they will be scared and sad,
he tries to give them reassurance,
at the same time knowing that the only way to get to Easter Sunday
and the empty tomb
is through the fear and sadness.
Jesus loves his friends Mary and Martha and Lazarus
but, here too he knows that the way to the empty tomb
goes through pain and sorrow,
he has a mission
and Lazarus’ death plays a role in it.
So when Jesus is sent word that Lazarus is sick,
he intentionally waits for two days.
He knows that Lazarus is going to die
and that he is going to raise Lazarus from the dead,
this miracle will be foreshadowing of his own death
and it will bring him closer to the cross.
Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead
is the last straw for the authorities,
they meet together and the question is posed
“‘What are we to do? This man is performing may signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” and they have some discussion and the chief priest points out that it’s better to have one person die then all of them die and John tells us “...so from that day on they planned to put him to death.”
The way to the cross and the empty tomb
goes through Lazarus’ death and his sisters’ grief.
Jesus knows this
but when faced with the mourning of his friends,
Jesus weeps with them,
he’s in the middle,
Jesus knows what it’s like to be in the middle of the already and not yet.
Our God knows what we’re going through
in those times when hope and reality collide
and he weeps with us,
he comes to us.
Here in the middle,
Jesus comes to us through the saints,
and when we say saints
we mean those everyday Christians
baptized into Christ
that walk the journey with us
whether it is for a moment or a lifetime,
the people present who weep when we are weeping
and rejoice when we rejoice,
the ones who teach us how to live through the middle,
And when our paths diverge
we’re sad, we weep and Jesus weeps with us
but we also remember how they taught us to live through the middle
and the promise of Jesus
that we will one day be reunited with them
on that day
when Jesus gathers all the saints together
in the completed kingdom of God. Amen
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who is our refuge and strength. Amen
As humans we are familiar with chaos.
Sometimes it is an individual chaos that surrounds us,
the breaking of relationships,
the losing of a job,
health problems or just a really busy time in life.
Sometimes the chaos is experienced as part of a community,
as in times of natural disasters, political transitions,
or acts of violence perpetrated on a community
due to their identity
whether with words or actions.
We’ve experienced this chaos as a country
as recently as yesterday
and even if we try to detach,
even if we don’t pay attention to the news,
we all feel the effects of the chaos
because we are part of the community of creation.
-confirmands I’m looking at you.
have their own particular brand of chaos,
that delightful blend of hormones, forming identities,
social struggles and obligations to activities
all with the future hanging over your heads
in addition to everything else going on around you.
It’s a lot to handle sometimes, it’s chaos.
And into this chaos the Psalmist speaks a word of hope,
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble,
therefore we will not fear,
though the earth be moved… the nations rage and the kingdoms shake;
God speaks and the earth melts away.
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
God is with us,
a steady constant
among the shifting sands of change all around us,
a place of peace like the eye of a storm
calm at the center of swirling winds,
an anchor holding us steady.
Whatever chaos threatens,
God is there
offering shelter and hope for the future.
Today is reformation Sunday,
a day when we as Lutherans
take time to remember Martin Luther and the reformers of our heritage,
with their simple questioning of how the church cared for its people
unleashed the chaos that had been bubbling below the surface.
Much of what went on during the reformation was not pretty
nor was all of it helpful,
Luther himself became embittered and anti-semetic
and his writings against the Jewish people
have been used to justify acts of violence
against the Jewish community
much like what happened at Tree of Life Synagogue outside of Pittsburg yesterday
as heirs of the reformer
we as Lutherans have had to confront our role
in the spread of chaos
and have renounced as a church the writings and the ideas
that form the root of anti-semitism,
the Jewish people are our brothers and sisters
children of the same God,
the God who has promised all of us to be a refuge and strength.
Taking shelter in God is an act of resistance
To the chaos around us
but Chaos is nothing if not persistent
so we cling to the gifts of God
brought forward by the reformers,
the emphasis on the fact that we are saved by grace through faith apart from works.
For preaching this Luther was excommunicated from the church he loved
and only wanted to reform
and a price was put on his head,
and in the midst of it all Luther wrote the hymn
A Mighty Fortress,
a paraphrase of Psalm 46,
a reminder that sometimes it is darkest before the dawn
and that God will see us through whatever comes our way.
Professing our faith in God
can unleash unexpected consequences
because our faith runs counter to the ways of the world
but in the midst of it all
God will be there with us
because our faith is a gift from God,
God knows we can’t calm the chaos on our own
any more than we can save ourselves,
the world is just too broken by sin for that,
as Paul says in Romans “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
but thanks be to God for the gift of the justification by grace
through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
because of Christ we are set free,
we are freed from the requirements that chaos places on us,
the need to be perfect,
the need to take care of it all on our own,
to be better than the next person,
to attempt to secure ourselves against whatever might come our way,
we are set free,
even from things we didn’t think we were bound to.
In our gospel
Jesus is speaking to some disciples who believe in him.
Jesus tells them “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 disciples are confused by this
insisting that they’d never been slaves,
forgetting it seems
the history of their people in Egypt as slaves,
and the time when Babylon conquered Israel
and took the people into exile as slaves,
and then is was the Persians and then the Romans.
As people we’re good at self-deception,
we insist that we are free
even as we are enslaved
by debt or social expectations or the systems of the world
that we must rely on for the basic necessities of life.
“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” Jesus tells the disciples,
continuing in the word of God
we learn the truth,
The truth that we need a savoir,
and we learn the truth that we have a savior,
had one even before we knew we needed it,
Jesus, who on the cross died for all,
so that we might be free from the demands of chaos.
We were given this freedom at our baptism
The moment when God named and claimed us
Took us under the shadow of God’s wing
Into the refuge of our God
when you publicly profess your faith in a few minutes,
what you are doing is acknowledging the freedom you have in Christ,
you along with the rest of the congregation
will renounce the devil,
and embrace the freedom that has been yours since your baptism,
the freedom of being loved so deeply
that nothing can separate you from God.
And having been set free
you are able to live your lives focused on God
rather than on yourselves.
How this will play out
is yet to be seen,
each of you has been given gifts by God,
gifts that will help you share the love of God with others,
you will find them as you continue in your faith
and explore your freedom in Christ
but all the while, whatever comes your way
you will be anchored by God who is our refuge and strength. 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.