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
14th Sunday After Pentecost
Joshua 24:1-2, 14-18
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the Holy one of God. Amen
The book of Joshua
is an epic worthy of Hollywood,
in the prequel the people of Israel
have been wandering around in the desert for forty years
traveling to the promised land
and they make it all the way
to the point where they can see the promised land
on the other side of the river
but before they can cross, their leader Moses,
who God used to bring them out of slavery in Egypt
and who led them through the desert all those years,
and the people are left by the riverbank
in sight of the promised land.
End film, roll credits.
now as the lights dim
and the new epic begins to unfold before the audience
we see God,
instructing Joshua, Moses’ assistant
to take over the leadership of the people
and to cross over the Jordan river into the promised land,
oh and by the way
people already live there
so you’ll have to conquer it by military force,
and what unfolds before the audience
is an action movie worthy of the genre,
there are spies who infiltrate
and only escape with the help of a prostitute,
rivers stopped so the people can cross on dry ground,
cities overthrown with trumpets,
multiple kings brought low
and the land divided among the people
and while the movie could end there
we see a montage of the years passing
and the people settling in
and Joshua growing older
until the final portion of the movie
where an old Joshua brings the people back together
and before he dies,
reminds them of all that they have been through together
and how it was God who brought them there,
and the excitement builds
as the people remember the glory days
and then Joshua lays it out for them,
there are still some of the other people living in the land
and they’ve kept worshipping their false gods which are a temptation
and so the people of Israel have a choice to make,
worship those false Gods,
or the one true God,
the choice is yours Joshua says
“but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
and a great cheer goes up
and the people, inspired by their history
and Joshua’s bold choice
say ‘of course we choose the Lord’
and the credits roll
and we all leave feeling righteous in the choice to serve the Lord
because that is clearly the only choice to make.
If only that truly were the end.
Because after the drama and the rousing speeches
and the cheering crowds all fade away
the story continues
reality sets in,
the reality that it is difficult to resist the temptation of those other gods
who are frankly easier to follow,
it is difficult to tell your friends and neighbors
I’m sorry I can’t eat that bacon cheeseburger
- it’s not on the approved list of food given to us by God,
it’s hard to say I can’t go on that trip,
it falls over the sabbath.
And the histories tell us that the people slowly turned to other gods,
away from the one true God
because the teachings were difficult.
“This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”
say some of Jesus’ disciples today
in response to his lesson at Capernaum
where he tells them that those who eat his flesh and drink his blood will live
because he, Jesus is the true bread of life.
“Does this offend you?” Jesus asks them
then continues teaching,
without changing or compromising his lesson.
And we hear that because of this
many of his disciples turned back
and no longer went about with him,
the teachings were just too difficult
but John assures us that Jesus knew that this would happen
and he lets them go,
but he does check in with his closest followers
and here we have another decision scene,
it’s not as dramatic as the one in Joshua
but perhaps closer to our own experience,
Jesus asks the twelve,
those who have been traveling with him the longest,
“Do you also wish to go away?”
and Simon Peter answers him
and I can almost hear him shrugging and looking uncomfortable
as he finally says “Lord to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy one of God.”
Lord where else can we go?
This response strikes me as a far more realistic depiction
of choosing to follow God,
it’s less a dramatic climax
and more a moment
a moment when someone asks you outright if you really believe all that stuff
and you realize that the teachings are difficult,
and while you may not understand or agree with them all
embedded in them are the words of eternal life
and there’s nowhere else to go for those
and so you shrug and look uncomfortable and stick it out
because you have come to believe that Jesus is the Holy One of God.
This is a difficult teaching we follow,
eating flesh, drinking blood,
the dead raised, the promise of eternal life,
the expectation that we love our neighbors as ourselves
where the definition of neighbor extends to those on the margins of society
and even our enemies.
Why would we logically choose this?
Well, mostly because it’s not about logic or even us.
Martin Luther, in his explanation of the 3rd article of the Apostle’s creed
in the Small Catechism says this:
“I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him.”
That we believe even a little bit
is through the grace of God
and the work of the Holy Spirit
who has brought us to the point
where we can echo Peter’s confession,
and yes this too is difficult,
some people take more work than others
we do have free will after all and some people are just plain stubborn
but we trust that the Holy Spirit,
who Jesus sent to be our advocate,
does not give up,
even on the tough cases.
And when we do come to believe, even a little bit
the Holy spirit continues to be with us
as we live out our faith
and the difficult teachings of Jesus
made even more difficult by the opposition of the world around us,
we heard the Holy Spirit working through Paul in our second reading,
offering encouragement to the community in Ephesus
reminding them of all of the gifts from God
that will help them live out Jesus’ teachings,
righteousness, faith, salvation, the word of God, prayer,
Paul likens all these gifts
to armor that a soldier would put on
as defense against the swords of the opposition.
This image I think made more sense to the early Christians
who were practicing an illegal religion
and could very well expect to be confronted by soldiers
if they were found out,
the people to whom Paul is writing were on the defensive.
But for our purposes
I think a better image might be that of tools in a tool box.
We are no longer on the defensive
but there is still much work to be done
as we build our community
and share in God’s mission of redemption for the world.
So God has given us tools,
righteousness, faith, salvation, the Word of God, prayer and more,
they are all available to us
to help us in our work
but just like other kinds of tools
we need to learn how to use them,
either figuring it out on our own
or even better have someone teach us,
it takes practice, perseverance to live into the faith given us
Living into our faith
and the difficult teachings of Jesus
doesn’t happen overnight,
in fact it takes a lifetime of practice, lifetimes even
for the broader community, the church
it has taken thousands of years to get to where we are today
and we’re still not done learning and growing, making mistakes even.
And yet over all these years people have stuck with it,
through the arguments and schisms,
the danger and exclusion,
the extra human rules,
the struggle to love everyone,
Lord, to whom can we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy one of God. Amen
Festival of Pentecost
John 15:26-27, 16:4-15
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who sets loose the spirit. Amen
The spirit is on the loose.
That’s what Pentecost is about,
the unleashing of the spirit in the world
we have three readings today
that help us understand what this means
who the spirit is,
and in each of these readings
we find that the spirit is the gift of God,
it is unleashed by testimony
and brings life where it is heard and received.
In Ezekiel we have the story of the dry bones,
because we hear it in English
we miss some of the nuances of the story,
Hebrew is a language
where a lot of words have double meanings
and authors often play with those double meanings,
in this story that word is ruach
which means both breath and spirit
pointing to the intimate connection between the two
there cannot be life without breath
and when we think about it can there really be life without spirit?
God takes the prophet Ezekiel
and sets him in a valley of dry bones,
then asks the prophet if the bones can live?
all indicators say
that these bones are dead with a capital D
but the prophet defers to the power of God saying
“O Lord God, you know”
and God instructs the prophet to speak to the bones,
to tell them of the promise of God,
that God will bring them back together into bodies
and will cause breath to enter them so that they will live.
Instead of speaking to these bones directly
God gives the words to Ezekiel to tell to the bones,
and Ezekiel using his own breath prophesies to the bones
and they come together and form bodies
but they are not alive
until the prophet speaks to the breath, to the spirit
to come into these bodies
that they come to life.
Then God explains the object lesson to the prophet,
the people of Israel feel like these dry bones,
dead with a capital D,
but through the words and breath of the prophet
God promises to breathe life back into the people
who thought there was no life left.
That is the power of the spirit
Perhaps you’ve experienced something like this,
you were in a dry valley of faith or life
and it seemed like there was no climbing out of it
and then someone spoke a few words to you
and things didn’t seem so hopeless anymore.
That is the work of the spirit set loose in the world,
the spirit that is as close to us as our own breath.
In our Gospel
we hear Jesus promise to send the disciples an advocate,
the spirit of truth
and this advocate will testify,
will speak on behalf of Jesus
so that the disciples may also testify,
tell others of Jesus and his love.
As he is saying good bye to his disciples
Jesus acknowledges that there’s a lot that’s been left unsaid
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”
the spirit is truth,
that comes to advocate when the time is right.
We are abundantly aware of the things left unsaid,
there are a multitude of issues in life
that Jesus in the Bible does not directly address
that we struggle with,
we have trouble bearing them
we disagree about what to do
when we are faced with them,
they divide communities,
and yet in the midst of it all
is the spirit of truth
showing us the way,
speaking through a prophet or two or three the words of Jesus,
“love one another as I have loved you”
the message spreads,
and as it spreads Jesus is glorified
in the love of the community
that is growing and expanding
through those who tell what they have heard from the spirit of truth
The spirit is on the loose spreading the truth.
Finally we have our reading from Acts,
the account of the first Pentecost.
The risen Jesus has appeared to the disciples
and they have witnessed Jesus’ ascension into heaven.
They know they are on their own so to speak
and they are preparing to continue on as a community,
on the morning of Pentecost,
a festival observed fifty days after the Passover
the community is gathered
they hear a sound like the rush of a violent wind,
this sound fills the house where they are
and the holy spirit appears
like tongues of fire above their heads
and fills the disciples who begin to speak in different languages,
all of this causes such a racket
that people are drawn to the house
and as a crowd forms and the disciples spill out of the house
still speaking in their given languages
the crowd is amazed
because they can understand the disciples,
they are hearing the message of Jesus in their own languages,
of course there are some naysayers
who think the disciples are drunk,
but Peter interprets what is happening
through the prophesy of the prophet Joel,
the prophesy that says in the last days
the spirit will be poured out on all people
young, old, slave, free, male, female, everyone
all the distinctions that normally divide will fall
as the spirit is given out equally
and all shall share the words of the spirit with the world
and these words will spread like wild fire.
The spirit is fire,
by nature it spreads often unpredictably,
and even we humans who have harnessed the power of fire
appreciate that it is a wild thing
that we manage and contain but really have no control over
and we get into trouble when we forget that fact.
The spirit set loose in the world,
through the gift of God
and the testimony of the disciples
is out of the disciples’ control
just like that the people who come from all corners of the earth
who hear the spirit filled message of the disciples
will take it home with them,
and they will tell others
and Jesus’ word will have spread to the far corners of the earth
far away from the original disciples.
It’s quite a contrast
to the first part of Acts,
the measured preparation that the disciples take,
casting lots to choose the most worthy follower of Jesus
to join the in crowd
the spirit busts that all open
because it’s not about worthiness
it’s a gift of God to all people
regardless of how they are defined and divided by the world
the spirit, breath, truth, fire
shows up especially when people are defined and divided
and interrupts those divisions,
that attempt at controlling who is in and who is out,
who claims to have the truth
there the spirit interrupts
breathing new life into places we have caused death,
spreading the love of Jesus like a fire that cannot be contained
showing the truth found in love
all while working through us,
the words we speak
the love we share.
Life, truth, fire
the spirit is on the loose.
And I say,
come Holy Spirit. Amen
Seventh Sunday of Easter
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
1 John 5:9-13
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who prays for us. Amen
Today Jesus prays for us.
In our gospel,
Jesus is gathered together
with his disciples in the upper room
on the last night of his life,
they are about to go out to the garden
where he will be betrayed,
handed over to the authorities,
put on trial and executed on the cross
Jesus knows that all this is coming,
and he goes to it willingly
laying his life down for his friends,
but first he prays for them.
In their last moments
Jesus turns from teaching to prayer,
talking with God his intimate parent,
and the disciples there overhear his prayer,
they overhear Jesus praying for them,
just as we overhear Jesus praying for us this day,
because Jesus’ prayer is not restricted to those first disciples in that moment
but it is a prayer for the community
that gathers in his name throughout time and space.
Take a moment and let that sink in,
Jesus prays for us, and we get to hear his prayer.
In the last couple of weeks,
I’ve been reminded in a variety of ways
of the power and importance of being prayed for by someone else,
particularly when you hear what the other person says to God on your behalf.
Even if you have been using the same words
somehow they sound different coming from another person
and going to God,
sometimes they sound more true.
To offer prayer for someone is a sacred thing.
To receive a prayer from someone is a sacred thing,
and I think it’s a gift we give and receive too little,
some Christian traditions
have much more vibrant and vocal traditions of prayer
but generally speaking
and yes there are always exceptions to the rule,
we Lutherans tend to be more quiet with our prayers,
whether that is the result of a largely German and Scandinavian heritage
or something else I’m not sure
but praying a loud for others is something that we don’t practice very often
I think we get intimidated about having the right words
but the Holy Spirit helps God and the other person
hear the intent of our prayer
even if the words are a little clumsy,
and the good news is that prayer like anything else
gets easier with practice.
I encourage you to give it a try,
even if you feel a bit foolish at first it is a special gift to offer.
And Jesus gives us that gift
Jesus prays for our community,
The language of John can get kind of loopy and confusing,
but when it’s all boiled down,
essentially Jesus prays for three things:
The safety of the community,
the future of the community
and for the work of the community.
that the community is based on the love
that Jesus and God share,
and as Jesus has been with the community
he has been able to protect them
now that Jesus is returning to God
he prays that God protect the community
and that the life of the community
continues to rest on loving relationships with God.
Jesus doesn’t want God to take the community out of the world,
but for the community to remain
and for God to protect them from the evil that they will encounter.
In praying for the safety of the community
Jesus places the future of the community in God’s hands.
The future of the community
that gathers in Jesus’ name and love
depends on God.
We tend to forget this.
We feel that the future of the community is up to us,
and the way we envision that future
is often very similar to the present
and we forget that often what we want,
is not what God wants,
is not how God envisions the future of the community.
We have a role to play, yes,
but the future depends on God,
which means that one way or another
the community that gathers in love
even if we try some new things and make some mistakes
and even if we never try anything new and make some mistakes,
somewhere there will always be a community that gathers in Jesus’ name
by placing the future of the community in God’s hands
Jesus frees us to focus on the present task at hand,
the work of the community
which is sharing the love of God with others,
loving our neighbors as ourselves,
with love that Jesus has defined as laying down one’s life for one’s friends,
This is the work of the community,
and Jesus prays that God sanctify the community for this purpose,
to sanctify is to make holy,
which essentially means to set apart for the work of God,
Jesus has set us apart,
has authorized us, commanded us
to live in love under the protection and future of God
just as he set himself apart and lived out his love on the cross.
The way we live out our love
might not be that dramatic,
often our love is shown in the small and regular parts of life,
in the caring for our families
the putting aside of our own desires
so that those we love are fed and clothed,
or it appears in the way we treat those we encounter in life
with dignity and respect,
perhaps it means contributing to the life of the community
or working on behalf of the marginalized and those without a voice.
However we do the work of the community
who gathers in Jesus’ name,
we are able to do it because of the love of God
that Jesus has shared with us
and the future that Jesus placed in God’s hands on behalf of us
all by praying for us,
a prayer we overhead
speaking the truth in love. Amen
Sixth Sunday of Easter
1 John 5:1-6
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one in whose love we abide. Amen
In our gospel today
Jesus is saying good bye.
part of his last teaching
to his disciples before his death,
his parting words,
what he most wants the disciples
to take with them as they move into the new and strange territory
of life without Jesus in the way they’ve come to know him.
As he’s saying good bye
Jesus emphasizes his love,
what he’s taught the disciples
and he acknowledges a change in their relationship
and his hopes for their future.
Today we are recognizing our graduates,
all graduations mark a time of transition,
from a known way of life
to new relationships, expectations from those around us
and often a physical geographical move
and while these are exciting changes
they also mark a season of good-byes to the way life was
and so today we honor the excitement and the good-byes
and as we bless and send our graduates
we emphasize our love,
what we’ve taught them,
and we acknowledge a change in the relationship
and our hopes for their future.
Jesus has already been speaking for a while
before the start of our gospel reading,
this morning as we start to listen in on his farewell speech
we hear Jesus’ instruction for the disciples’
to abide in his love.
This week I was struck by the word ‘abide’.
Abide means to continue, to remain,
both in the physical sense of where one lives or dwells
but also in the sense of an attitude or relationship
that is not bound by a particular place,
it is something we live in wherever we go.
The love that Jesus has shared with his father
has been shared with the disciples by Jesus
and his hope is that this love continues to influence their lives.
Jesus telling the disciples to abide in his love
is reminding them
that though he may be physically absent from them
his love continues
and will even grow
as they share the love with one another
as Jesus has commanded them.
Jesus’ love is the foundation for all that has led up to this point
and will go with them into the future.
love is the foundation for all that has led up to this point.
If you remember nothing else from this day
or even your time in this community
remember this: we love you.
And our love goes with you into the future.
This is why we give our high school graduates blankets,
a physical piece of our love
that continues for you even if we are physically separated.
We’re following the lead of Jesus
who gave the disciples the Lord’s Supper,
a physical piece of Jesus’ love
in a swallow of bread and a sip of wine,
Jesus’ love continuing with us.
Jesus reminds the disciples of his love for them
and his hope that it continues
and then he reminds them of what he has taught them
to love one another as he has loved them.
This is the key to abiding in his love,
the putting into practice Jesus’ teaching,
and Jesus is a teacher who teaches by example as well as words,
even the part about loving so much that one lays down one’s life for one’s friends.
we have taught you what is important to us
now it is up to you to live out what we taught you,
we acknowledge that we have not been perfect examples
but we hope you will forgive us for that
and do your best to live in a way that makes us
and more importantly yourself
having reminded the disciples of his love for them
and what he has taught them,
then acknowledges that in this good-bye,
their relationship is changing,
he moves from calling his disciples servants
to calling them friends.
Jesus has shared everything that he’s heard from his father,
they know all that he knows
and that changes the dynamic of their relationship,
they are friends now.
But lest the disciples let this go to their heads
Jesus reminds them that he chose them,
they did not choose him.
He chose them
and now it’s time for them to go bear fruit,
to live out Jesus’ love in the world,
to share it and expand it,
and they are able to do this because of Jesus’ love for them.
we love you,
we’ve taught you,
and now we recognize that our relationship is changing,
particularly those of you graduating from high school.
You are now young adults,
and it is time for you to go bear fruit.
God has given each of you
particular gifts, talents and skills,
some you know about already
and some you have yet to discover.
God gave you these gifts, talents and skills
so that you in your own particular way
could share the love of God in which you abide,
with all those around you.
This might take the form of a job or occupation,
or the way you treat those you encounter.
Sometimes you will struggle,
and it might seem like an impossible task to bear fruit,
to love all you encounter
and these are the times when you remember
that regardless of how life unfolds,
God loves you,
and so do we. Amen
Second Sunday of Easter
1 John 1:1-2:2
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who comes to us in community. Amen
Today we hear reinforced in our readings
that for better or worse,
the way Jesus has decided to come to us,
to continue the relationship post resurrection
is through community,
namely the community of disciples
that gathers in Jesus’ name,
or as we sometimes call it ‘the Church’ with a capital ‘C’
Thomas was absent
the first time Jesus appeared to the community of the disciples,
and while his demands
have been played up as doubt vs the disciples’ belief,
all Thomas wanted
is what the other disciples first received,
to see Jesus,
and when he is with the community the next week
Jesus comes again
and Thomas has his chance
and exclaims “My Lord and my God.’
Out of Thomas’ questioning
comes deep faith,
facilitated by the community gathered.
Then the gospel writer
takes the opportunity to offer a blessing
for all of us who have believed
without placing our hands on the resurrected Jesus
as Thomas had opportunity to.
We may not have placed our finger
in the spot on Jesus’ hands
where the nails when in,
nor have we place our hand in his side
where the soldier’s sword pierced him
but we have all encountered the body of Christ on earth,
we would not be here today
had we not come into contact at some point with that body
and members who make up that body,
who brought Jesus to us and into our lives,
because that is how the gospel message is spread,
through the community.
We heard in Acts,
the history book of the early church,
how the church formed and spread
after the ascension of Jesus,
how the believers were of one heart and soul,
how they gathered together to hear the testimony of the apostles
and how each member of the community was as valued as the next,
as lived out in the distribution of communal property
such that poverty in the community was wiped out.
Other places in Acts
tell how this community attracted more and more believers every day.
Now I don’t know about you,
but to me that sounds like a pretty good community to be a part of.
In confirmation this week our lesson,
was on The Church,
each lesson starts out with a Bible passage
and questions to get us into the lesson
and this week the passage was a very similar passage in Acts
as our first reading,
and the writers of the curriculum remarked
that the description of the early church
sounded like a party that anyone would want to join,
then asked the confirmands to consider
how the actions of the church members
helped or hindered how Christ’s message first spread.
In talking about it
we agreed that the character of the community
had a lot to do with the success of the early church,
and then we agreed that it is still the case,
how church members and communities act
make or break how the message of Christ is spread,
whether or not people want to take part in the community,
the primary place in which God chooses to be revealed in the world.
And if the community is like the one described in Acts,
but we don’t have to think very hard
to find an example of when a community
did not live in a way that made people want to take part in the community
in fact I think it might almost be easier
to think of negative examples,
the times of exclusion, hate,
petty bickering and power dynamics
and all of a sudden
what sounded like gospel
the proclamation that Jesus comes to us in community,
starts to sound like law,
because we are intimately aware of the fact
that the church is not perfect,
nor are the people that make up the church perfect
and yet we’re the primary way
that Jesus uses to build relationships with people?
That’s a lot of pressure,
there is a lot riding on our imperfect selves
and the imperfect community we make up.
But lest our despair at our imperfections
cause us to give up on the community
, as so many have done,
there is a word of grace,
that when we sin we have an advocate in Jesus Christ.
John, in our second reading
addresses the reality of the Christian community,
both the good and the bad,
his description of how the community works is beautiful,
how the older community members share their experiences
and build relationships with new community members
so that in these relationships,
relationship with God is built,
and then John acknowledges the reality
that communities don’t always practice what they preach,
just saying we have fellowship with God is not enough,
we must also live out that fellowship.
John doesn’t seem too concerned
about the particulars of the sin
present in the community,
he acknowledges that it’s better not to sin
but if anyone does
there is forgiveness in Christ Jesus,
what John seems more concerned about
is the failure to acknowledge our sin,
from this passage
we get the line that is used in confession and forgiveness
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, if we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
The key then to the Christian community
is authenticity rather than perfection,
I mean which community would you rather belong to?
one that pretends it’s perfect
and points out others’ imperfections
or one that acknowledges its faults,
asks for forgiveness
and moves forward with the intent of not repeating those past mistakes or harmful actions.
I know which one I choose,
and strive to create.
and perhaps that’s the genius
of God working through an imperfect community
and imperfect people,
it’s the way to connect with others
who are not perfect
and to share with them the grace
that has transformed our lives.
One person who has lived this out in a very public way
that comes to mind
is Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber,
she’s a Lutheran pastor and public theologian and author
and has been quite open about her struggles in life with addiction,
and through her openness about her imperfections
and her experience of grace
God has used her to gather a community of people,
many of whom who have felt excluded by other Christian communities in the past
because of their imperfections.
I’ve heard her speak several times
and a couple times she’s mentioned
that some people at her church
have told her they feel less intimidated coming and confessing to her
because they know that she’s done way worse things
and that God has forgiven her.
When we’re in a less than ideal situation,
it’s comforting to know
that there is someone else who has been through it
and survived and thrived,
and that is the essence of Jesus,
Immanuel, God with us,
who has experienced everything we do,
and who live and loves us still,
in fact on Maundy Thursday we heard Jesus command the disciples
“to love one another as I have loved you, by this everyone will know that you are my followers, if you have love for one another.”
The mark of the community gathered around Jesus
that he first shared in a community,
that he continues to share in community.
Jesus comes to us in community,
Jesus comes to us in community
so that as a community
we can live and share the gospel message of Jesus’ love.
That is why we are all here,
imperfections and all,
to experience the love of God
through one another,
and to share that experience with the whole world
so that like Thomas
all may exclaim “My Lord and my God.” 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.