Sixth Sunday in Easter
1 Peter 3:13-22
Alleluia Christ is Risen!
Christ is Risen Indeed Alleluia!
We are still in the season of Easter,
celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead,
but even as we celebrate
our texts are starting to turn us toward the ascension
when Jesus returns to his Father
and the bodily resurrection appearances stop,
leaving the disciples wondering,
where is God?
Where is God?
I think this is a question that we’ve all asked
at some point in our lives,
whether in the depths of sorrow
or simply musing about the meaning of life,
in fact, how we answer the question
is impacted by who we say God is.
In our reading from Acts,
Paul is traveling,
telling all he meets of Jesus,
when he comes to Athens
he encounters multiple ideas of gods,
each with their own places of worship,
images, and spheres of influence
and though he considers them all idols
he recognizes that the Athenians are very religious
that they have covered all their bases
by even erecting an alter “to an unknown God”
a God without image or idol,
and Paul grasps on to this imageless God,
I know who this God is
Paul tells the people,
this God that you consider unknown,
possibly in part
because you have not been able to come up with an image,
is the God who made the world and everything in it,
God who rules the heavens and the earth
and who created all people
doesn’t live in a shrine
or need the sacrifices of humans,
God cannot be contained in precious metals
or even in the imagination of mortals
because God is so much bigger than all that,
and though this makes it seem like God is far away
and that we humans have to search for God
God is never far from us
“for in him we live and move and have our being”
we are offspring of God,
Paul tells the crowds,
which means we are in relationship with God,
God the creator of heaven and earth is a relational God,
found in relationships rather than places.
Which is good news
because it means that we are not tied to any particular place
for the worship of God
but it does mean that we need to maintain relationships,
with other people whom God works through,
and maintaining these relationships
leads to regular places of gathering.
God is not tied to these buildings and locations
and yet it is undeniable
that there are particular places
where we feel closer to God,
where the veil seems thinner somehow
and we seem to more easily slip into the presence of the divine,
and separation from these places is not to be taken lightly
because they play such a role
in maintaining our relationship with God.
I found one of those places in college,
at Gustavus there is an arboretum attached to campus,
with a variety of walking paths,
sometimes it seemed like the only place
for an introvert to go
to get away from all the people on a residential campus.
There was a particular stone I’d go to and sit on
and talk to God,
pour out the anxieties and troubles of my late teens and early twenties
and there I felt the presence of God.
When I graduated and moved away,
I was surprised by the ache I felt deep within
at being separated from that sacred space.
It made me think of the Native Americans,
whose spirituality is so closely tied to the land
and who were forcibly removed from their sacred spaces
and the ache that they still feel generations later.
Even if we acknowledge that God is greater than a single space or image,
we humans still search for more solid connections to God,
whether it is a place, a building, a community,
or something else,
and when we find one of these connections
we hold on for dear life.
The disciples in our gospel
have found one of those connections in Jesus,
in fact Jesus has told the disciples
that in seeing him they have seen the father,
to see Jesus is to see God.
and yet now Jesus is telling them
that he must go away,
that they will no longer see him.
And the disciples are understandably feeling some trepidation,
if they can no longer see Jesus,
they will no longer be able to see God
and then where will God be?
It’s hard not to feel like they’re being abandoned.
And Jesus knows this
and promises the disciples “I will not leave you orphaned”
he’s using the language of relationship,
Jesus’ going away is necessary
but he reassures the disciples
that it doesn’t mean the end of a relationship with God
it will just take another form:
“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth.... You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
The gift of the spirit,
received at our baptisms
means that God is always with us,
is as close to us as the breath we take,
even when we feel separated from God,
God is there residing in us,
advocating for us.
I don’t think we often think of God this way,
even as we acknowledge the gift of the spirit
we still think of God as separate
and far off
and it takes a moment where the spirit makes herself very clear
before we feel the intimacy of God,
for the disciples this happened at Pentecost,
for the rest of us it happens at different times,
perhaps in a special place, through prayer
or in the course of everyday life,
often it happens at times when life has changed in some way
and we are feeling separate from God
that’s when God, through the spirit,
reminds us that God is with us.
We are in a time of change right now,
whether it be anticipated
like the graduation from high school or other life events,
or because of what is going on in the world around us,
we may be feeling separated from God,
but Jesus is with us
sending the gift of the holy spirit,
keeping the promise that he made to the disciples
“because I live, you also will live.”
Christ is alive, Alleluia
Where is God?
Right here with us. Amen
Fifth Sunday in Easter
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
Alleluia Christ is Risen!
Christ is Risen indeed, alleluia.
This week our psalm really caught me,
the image of the psalmist
who has taken refuge in God
seemed to speak to our time
when “shelter in place” and “stay at home”
have become everyday phrases,
the psalmists’ crying out to God
“deliver me” in one breath
and “my times are in your hand” in the next
capturing the multiple emotions that envelope us.
As I mulled over the images,
I wondered what images we might use today
and so as an exercise I paraphrased our psalm for today,
seeking to use the images and emotions of 2020,
and here is what I came up with:
In you God I take refuge
Keep me from acting out of selfishness.
Listen to me!
Be my home
That I may shelter in place in you.
For you are where I retreat to safety.
You hold me like the cushions of my couch.
Take me out of the net of fear
That has been woven around us,
For you are my truth.
Into your care I comment by body and spirit
That you created, called good, and redeemed.
Time is in your hands
Save me from fear, anxiety,
Inadequacy, lethargy, numbness
And from the ones who want me to feel this way.
Shine on me like the springtime sun
That each year
Coaxes bare branches back to life.
Part of the power of the psalms
and why we turn to them for comfort
is that they hold so true to life,
contained within many psalms
are both cries of lament
where the psalmist feels abandoned by God,
and in the next breath
proclamations of trust in that same God,
in these seemingly contradictory emotions
we see our own experience reflected,
the times in our lives
where many things are true
even things that seem to be in opposition,
and we see this in psalm 31 today,
the first part a cry of the heart
and the second part reliance on God
in the midst of the unknown,
and both are true at the same time,
And that’s one thing that I think
will help us get through this time of laments and unknowns
the realization that we don’t have to be on one end of the spectrum
or the other,
we can both and,
We can both want to see the whole way before us
and trust that God will guide us,
we can be concerned about the health of our community
and concerned about the health of the economy,
we can both understand why it is important
that large gatherings not take place
and grieve the loss of connection and communal observations,
high school seniors can be both excited to be graduating
and sad that it won’t take place in the traditional way.
In times of turmoil,
we so desperately want to know what’s coming next
that we often grab onto one image of the future
and that is all that we can see,
even though there may be many different options.
That’s the place that the disciples are in
in our gospel for today,
Jesus is on the way to the cross
and is trying to prepare his disciples,
he has told them what is going to happen,
that he will be crucified, die and on the third day rise again
but they are holding on to their own image
of what the messiah will do,
come in as a military leader and wipe out the Romans,
Jesus knows that they will be sorely disappointed
and tries to give them another idea of what is to come..
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” he tells them
“believe in God, believe also in me”
belief in God is the antidote to the troubled heart,
and he knows that their hearts are troubled
and they are wondering where do we go from here?
And so he paints a picture for them,
of his father’s house,
a place with many rooms,
enough rooms for everyone,
and Jesus is going to prepare a place for all of them,
he’ll go and come back
and go again
but where ever he is,
the disciples know that there is a place for them.
ever the practical one
says this all sounds great Jesus
but we don’t know the way,
how will we get there?
and Jesus responds,
“I am the way and the truth and the life”
which is not really what Thomas was looking for,
he wanted something along the lines of
go north for five miles until you reach a tree, then turn left,
that kind of thing.
But Jesus doesn’t give directions like that,
his answers to questions are not easy
but they are backed up by the promise of abundant life.
In his I Am statements,
Jesus is proclaiming that he is one with the father,
when the disciples see Jesus, they see God.
So where do we go from here?
In this time where many things are true
and many things are unknown
we cling to Jesus, the way,
who promises us abundant life
and since, unlike the disciples,
we are hearing this teaching after the resurrection,
we know that Jesus keeps his promises,
that he has been through our ultimate fear, death,
and come out the other side
and promises that we will do the same,
guided by him, the way.
This is not an easy answer,
it doesn’t lay out every single step that we will take,
like we might wish,
but it does give us something to hold on to,
Jesus the way, the truth and the life,
who promises to be with us
and guide us all along the way,
who holds us when we are afraid
and comforts us in the face of the unknown,
who brings us to life everlasting. Amen
Fourth Sunday in Easter
1 Peter 2:19-25
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Christ is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!
Today, the fourth Sunday in Easter,
has the unofficial title of Good Shepherd Sunday
as there are sheep and shepherds
all over our readings for today.
as the Good Shepherd
is one of the most common images all throughout the scriptures
and has caught the imagination of many
particularly those who love Psalm 23.
But what does it mean to call Jesus a good shepherd?
Well, what does a shepherd do?
They take care of the sheep.
At text study this week
(done over zoom of course)
we were discussing sheep,
and how well
they aren’t very bright
and if Jesus is the shepherd
that means we are the sheep,
one colleague suggested
that people might be offended
by being associated with such dim creatures,
while another pointed out
that when she looked at her life
she identified with the sheep,
always getting into scrapes
and needing to be rescued by the shepherd,
and her point is hard to deny,
even at our smartest and best intentioned
we humans have a way of getting into situations
where we at least need a little help to get out of,
even if we insist that we don’t at the beginning,
by the end we realize that we have need of a shepherd.
That same colleague mentioned the story of Shrek the Sheep
as an example of this.
It’s been a few years since Shrek was in the news
but Shrek was a sheep in New Zealand
who decided that he didn’t want to be sheared,
and so he escaped,
and hid from his shearers for six years,
by hiding in caves,
which I think is one of the funnier parts of the story.
Now Shrek was a kind of sheep
that was bred for the production of wool,
without a shave his wool kept growing and growing,
when they finally caught him
he looked like a giant cotton ball with a nose and feet.
I’ll post a picture and a link to his story
along with the video of worship
and when they sheared him,
his fleece weighed 60 pounds
and contained enough material to make suits for 20 large men.
Now Shrek may have thought he was free
and hiding would ensure that,
but the longer he hid from the shepherds
the more weight he had to carry around.
Imagine the freedom he felt
when he finally had a haircut after six years!
We humans are often like Shrek the sheep,
there are times when despite the good care our shepherd is taking of us
that we feel like we could be freeer on our own,
and off we go,
we don’t need a shepherd we insist,
hey look a nice comfy cave we can hide out in,
and at first it may seem like fun and freedom,
but as time goes on
we find that there are things we can’t do for ourselves
and these things begin to weigh us down
until we are hauling around a fleece of monumental proportions,
our sins and worries,
mistakes and vulnerabilities
all tangled around us
obstructing our movement
and only the shepherd can set us free.
And the whole time
the good shepherd has been looking for us.
God is not willing to remain at a distance from us
and so is continually calling to us and searching us out.
That’s what we see in our gospel for today,
the story actually starts a chapter back,
with Jesus healing the man born blind,
we read that together about a month and a half ago,
Jesus sees a man blind from birth,
heals him, and when the man goes to the Pharisees
they don’t believe his testimony about Jesus
and kick him out of the temple,
Jesus goes and finds the man,
he seeks him out
and what we have today
is Jesus teaching the man born blind who he sought out
and the pharisees that kicked him out.
Be careful he tells the gathered crowd,
it is perilous to follow the wrong shepherd,
the implication being
that the pharisees are the wrong shepherds.
But they don’t get it.
So Jesus tries another image
saying “I am the gate for the sheep”
the gate open in the evening
allows the sheep into the sheepfold
and closed keeps them safe from anyone not supposed to be there.
Open in the morning it allows the sheep to access food and water.
And Jesus must have received more blank stares from his audience
because he summarizes it for them
whether he’s the shepherd or the gate
or any other number of images he says look
“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”
This is Jesus’ mission statement in the gospel of John.
The Word present at creation in the beginning
becomes flesh and lives among the people
so that they may have abundant life.
Jesus is the way to life
because he himself is life.
And as all of Jesus’ varied imagery shows us,
what abundant life looks like
depends on the time and place,
at night abundant life for the sheep is being gathered together
behind a closed gate that keeps out all the things that go bump in the night
that like to eat sheep.
During the day
abundant life looks like the ability to roam,
to find the tastiest bit of grass
or most refreshing drink of water,
but all the while the shepherd is there watching,
calling to the sheep
keeping them close
so that the shepherd can point them to abundant life
whatever that happens to look like in the moment,
and if one sheep wanders off,
the shepherd goes looking for it,
brings it back to the fold
and the care of the community.
We are like sheep,
to have full abundant life
we need the care of our good shepherd, Jesus,
who knows each of our names,
who calls and gathers us
and leads us to abundant life
and yes, sometimes that may actually feel restrictive
we long to leave the fold
and so we make a bid for freedom,
we strike out on our own
and Jesus notices,
calls out for us,
goes out in search of us
for as long as it takes
and when he finds us,
only he will be able to set us free
from the heavy load we are carrying,
the load that we created.
If you are a sheep who has wandered far and long
and now in this time of uncertainty
would like to return to the fold
but fear that the load you are carrying is too heavy
too much for even the good Shepherd,
it is not,
Jesus knows your name
and is calling you back
and there is no load so great
that Jesus can not set you free.
And if you are a sheep
who has remained close to the shepherd
but is starting to chaff at staying within the pen at night,
remember the shepherd guides us to abundant life,
even if it’s not quite like we imagine
the good shepherd has our best interests at heart.
Whatever kind of sheep we are
Jesus knows us,
and calls to us,
guiding us along
offering comfort and life abundant,
he truly is the good shepherd. Amen
Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
1 Peter 1:3-9
Alleluia Christ is Risen, Christ is Risen Indeed Alleluia!
Christ is risen
and today we hear about the disciples
starting to come to terms
with the news of Easter morning
the news brought to them of course
by Mary Magdalene
whose early morning trip to the tomb
was full of the unexpected,
the tomb was empty
and the gardener was the risen Jesus,
who sent her to tell the other disciples
which she did, announcing
“ I have seen the Lord”
Now John doesn’t tell us about the immediate reactions of the disciples,
whether they scoffed at Mary’s tale
or rejoiced with her,
by the time we see the disciples,
in our gospel for today,
the news that something has happened
is starting to sink in
and the disciples are afraid.
They have gathered together
and locked the doors out of fear,
they are wondering, what comes next?
And Jesus comes and stands in the midst of them
and says “Peace be with you”
Jesus comes into the midst of their fear and uncertainty,
despite the measures they’d taken
to keep everyone else out
and offers them peace.
Then just so they know that it’s him
(although who else could it have been?)
he shows them the marks on his hands
from the nails that fixed him to the cross
and his side where the soldier’s sword had pierced him,
and the disciples rejoice.
Then “Jesus said to them again,
‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’”
And with the gift of the Holy Spirit,
the disciples are sent out to spread the good news.
And they make it as far as Thomas.
One of their own
who was not with them
and they excitedly tell him “we have seen the Lord”
and Thomas says
‘no’ I don’t believe you,
I need the same experience you had,
to see Jesus and the marks in his hand and side.
Now I think this must have taken the wind out of the disciples’ sails,
they were all excited to share the news just as Jesus had instructed
and when they do,
with someone who knew Jesus,
who heard his passion predictions,
who has the best chance of anyone at believing them
and Thomas says no,
they realize that this is a harder job than they thought,
and as the reality sets it
we find them once again,
a week later,
gathered together in fear
behind locked doors
only this time Thomas is with them.
And once again
Jesus comes into the midst of them saying
“Peace be with you”
and offers Thomas what he needs,
showing him his hands and side
and Thomas not only believes that Jesus is risen
but he goes a step further and confesses
“My Lord and my God”
understanding and proclaiming the full truth of who Jesus is.
Then with the truth proclaimed
Jesus turns to the rest of us
those who have read the story of Thomas throughout the ages
and looking right at us says
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
And yes We may not have seen Jesus
in the same way as the disciples
but Jesus has come to us,
in water and word, bread and wine,
the community of believers,
in other ways that we only realize well after the fact.
Again and again,
Jesus appears among us
offering peace in the midst of fear and uncertainty,
knowing that our moments of joy
will be tempered by the reality of rejection
and the fear of the unknown future,
again and again
Jesus appears among us offering peace
because unbelief in one moment
doesn’t prevent faith in another,
indeed Jesus comes again and again
because faith is a gift from God,
a gift that Jesus keeps offering
even though we’re sometimes reluctant to accept the gift,
even though at times we misplace it,
buried at the back of a closet
or lock it behind closed doors out of fear
and then Jesus comes once again
and stands in the midst of our fear
and says ‘peace be with you’
We are in a time of fear and uncertainty,
and like the disciples
the novelty of the situation is starting to wear off
and we’re left wondering,
what comes next?
How will we continue to live out Jesus’ call to us
when we are physically separate?
And even when we try new things
the reaction might take the wind out of our sails
and then what will we do?
I don’t know the detailed answers to all of these questions,
we will uncover them as we go,
what I do know,
is that God will be with us,
renewing our faith as we figure it out,
because that’s what God does in these situations,
we are not the first Christians
to have our faith and way of being challenged
nor will we be the last
and all along the way
Jesus will come to us,
offering peace and faith.
We hear that promise
in our second reading for today,
the author of 1 Peter writing to communities
wondering what is next?
Hear those words again:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith-being more precious than gold, that though perishable, is tested by fire-may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
God’s mercy has already been acted out for us
through Jesus’ resurrection.
God has already given us salvation
and is keeping it safe for us.
And the difference that makes in our lives?
It gives us a living hope,
hope that is able to adapt to the changing circumstances around us,
hope that takes disappointment in stride,
hope that continues on even as our faith is refined.
It's a romantic image,
the process of purifying gold,
we tend to focus on the end result
but what we forget in the romanticism
is that on the way to pure gold
things are lost,
the unnecessary parts burned away.
And that’s the moment we are in right now,
the uncomfortable part of the process
where we are finding out what is gold
and what is just pretending,
what is faith and what is just pretending
and like the disciples on that first Easter evening,
we will first gather around what is familiar,
we will lock the doors against the outside world,
and Jesus will appear among us
in the midst of our fear
and offer us peace
and with Thomas
once we have realized who is among us,
what is true
we will proclaim “My Lord and my God”
our hope as alive as the risen Christ. Amen
Fifth Sunday in Lent
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who goes through death into life. Amen
This lent we are telling stories of faith,
we’ve heard from congregation members
about their own stories
and from our weekly readings,
we’ve considered how stories shape our identity,
our understanding of what is necessary,
and how we interpret the unexpected.
This week, our readings ask us to reflect
on how we tell the story of death.
This is a crucial story to tell,
because how we tell the story of death
directly impacts how we live our lives.
Lately, in our society,
we have chosen to avoid telling this story
and that has had an impact on how we view life,
part of it is that through advancements in medicine
and the continued separation of people
from the production of their food
death is less of a daily reality than it once was,
we can go long periods in our lives
before directing experiencing death.
I was in my early twenties
and on my rotation of clinical pastoral education in a hospital
before I came into close contact with someone who had died,
with a dead body,
going in I realized that I needed the experience
and that I would probably get it,
but I was also afraid.
Death scared me,
on many levels,
some of which still admittedly exist,
but what was most scary was the unknown.
I knew on an intellectual level that death was part of life,
but I hadn’t experienced that reality in the flesh
and I didn’t know how I would react.
It’s the unknown that lies at the root of many human fears,
fears that turn into anxiety or anger
or other emotions that tend to separate us from our neighbors
rather than bring us closer together
and there is no greater unknown than death.
Now the way we usually tell that story, as humans,
is as a cautionary story,
death is something to be avoided
as long as possible because it is The End,
as far as we know it
and even if it isn’t The End
as many world religions suggest
we don’t know exactly what that looks like,
and so we hesitate to talk of it
because no matter how we tell the story
we just don’t know
and we are frightened.
Which is why we need so desperately
to listen to the story God tells about death
because this story is very different from the human story
and we have two such readings appointed for today.
In the first, the prophet Ezekiel is speaking with God,
the spirit of the Lord takes Ezekiel and places him in the midst of a valley strewn with bones,
there’s a lot of them and they are dry,
they’ve been there for awhile,
and God asks “Mortal, can these bones live?”
which seems like a trick question,
these bones are very dead,
but since it’s God who is asking the question
the prophet chooses the wise response
“O Lord God, you know”
and God instructs the prophet to prophesy to the bones
to say “O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord”
and at the word of the Lord,
the bones come together
and bodies become covered in flesh,
but they are not alive until the prophet prophesies to the breath,
to the spirit of God
and then these bodies become living beings.
Then God explains the vision to Ezekiel,
the dry bones are the people to whom Ezekiel is sent to speak,
they are exiles in a foreign country
who witnessed their city destroyed
and their civilization stamped out,
it seems like THE END
from which there is no coming back,
and yet God says no “O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live”
this is not THE END God tells them.
Now we might wonder why God,
who has the power to breathe spirit into dry bones
would allow the bones to become dry at all,
just as we wonder why,
Jesus in our second story,
when he hears that his friend Lazarus is sick,
waits two days before going to him.
Martha and Mary both voice this wonderment
when they say to Jesus
‘Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died.’
Yes we say, wouldn’t it make more sense to just prevent Lazarus’ death?
And we think this way
because we’re still telling the story of death from the human perspective,
where the best thing to do is to avoid it in the first place.
But the way God tells the story,
death is not something to avoid,
death is something to go through.
As commentator Melinda Quivik notes in her commentary on working preacher this week (https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4411)
“Jesus does not do the easy thing (keep bad things from happening),
Jesus does the hard thing, which is to reverse destruction.”
The easy thing is to keep bad things from happening,
the hard thing is to reverse destruction,
and Jesus has chosen the hard path.
Now, if we can set the question of why aside,
this is the choice I’d rather God make
because the reality of the world that we live in
is that no matter how hard we may try to avoid it,
and rather than a god who could have chosen to avoid it,
we have a God who weeps with us,
and then through God’s own power,
brings about new life.
Did you notice that in the story of Lazarus?
That the bystanders were just that, bystanders
Jesus goes to the tomb and sees the weeping of the mourners
and he weeps with them,
then he orders the stone in front of the tomb to be removed.
Martha ever the practical one protests
“Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days”
or as the King James Version puts it “Lord, he stinketh”
but Jesus insists,
the stone is rolled away,
Jesus publicly thanks his Father for hearing him,
and then he commands Lazarus to come out.
And he does,
still wrapped in the grave clothes,
and Jesus commands the crowd “unbind him and let him go”
And those who witness this
believe in Jesus.
Belief comes after witnessing the power of God,
power that does not depend on prior belief or petition from humans,
God takes action because that is who God is,
confronting the stench of destruction
brings about new life.
But I want us to notice one last thing about this story,
Jesus’ last command to the crowd,
“unbind him and let him go”
Jesus has faced the stench and reversed destruction,
but he leaves it up to those gathered witnesses
who now believe in him,
to clean it up.
In order for Lazarus’ new life to be fully lived,
those around him must also face the stench of destruction,
peel away the layers of soiled cloth
to free the man beneath.
Even as God goes through death to reverse destruction,
God expects us to follow that path as well,
there is no other way to get to the new life on the other side
than through death.
And that’s hard for us who tell the story of avoidance
We’d much rather prevent the stink in the first place,
and on our own, that’s a good strategy,
that’s why we’re staying apart from each other right now,
to avoid sickness and death,
and sure there is some fear involved in that
but also love and common sense.
But if that is the only story well tell of death and adversity
we end up missing out on the new life God creates
when we are faced with death and destruction,
new life that must be reached by going through, not around.
And that’s the difference listening to how God tells the story of death makes
The promise and experience of new life on the other side of death
allows us to face the unknown with hope
and when we have hope
we are released enough from our fear to look for opportunity,
opportunities to face the stench,
to unbind and let free the Lazarus’s of the world,
and in this way we too are unbound and set free.
Set free to move through death
To new life in God. Amen
th Sunday in Lent
1 Samuel 16:1-13
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one
who walks with us through unexpected times. Amen
This lent we are hearing and telling stories of faith,
we’ve heard from fellow members of Christ Lutheran
and from our ancestors in the Bible,
we’ve heard how stories shape our identity,
our faith and our understanding of what is necessary.
Today our stories tell of God working through unexpected servants.
That’s a word I think we’re all too familiar with these days,
if you’d asked me last week
what I expected to be doing this week
it was certainly not leading worship via youtube.
But I had already looked at our texts for this morning,
I try to go through a season at a time,
go through the readings to see what’s coming
and make a few notes on what I might focus on
when I get to the day,
and when I opened the page in my sermon prep notebook
at the beginning of the week
I found a note I had made,
That says “Things are not going as people expect.”
now when I made that note I was referring to our scripture readings
but it equally applies to all of our lives right now
and I think it’s comforting to know
that at least God is familiar with this territory of the unexpected,
in fact we find that God often seems to prefer to work through the unexpected.
Take our first reading for today,
Samuel the prophet,
expected that he would serve King Saul until his death
but God removed favor from Saul
and instructed Samuel to go anoint a new king,
one from the family of Jesse of Bethlehem,
Jesse has a lot of sons
and all God has told Samuel is that God will show Samuel which son it will be.
Now when Samuel sees Jesse’s sons for the first time
he sees the eldest and thinks,
‘this has to be the new king, he’s the oldest, he’s tall and he already looks like a king should look.”
and the Lord tells Samuel
“nope, it’s not him, don’t look at his appearance, the Lord is choosing a king based on what’s in the heart.”
and so it goes with all of Jesse’s other sons
until it seems like there are none left,
‘do you have anymore?’ Samuel asks,
and is told there is one, the baby of the family who is out with the sheep.
‘Go get him’ Samuel instructs, and sure enough when he sees David
God says ‘that’s the one’ (I paraphrase of course).
None of this went as Samuel expected
but God chose to work through David
who would go on to become the greatest King of Israel,
so important that the messiah was supposed to be a descendant.
We see this again and again in scripture,
God choosing to work through the least likely in any situation.
We see that in our gospel,
the story of the man born blind.
Jesus and his disciples are walking along
and they see a man who was blind from birth.
The disciples ask a theological question
“Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
they are following the prevailing wisdom of the day,
that illness was a result of sin
and are curious because it is hard to imagine a baby sinning before birth,
so perhaps it was the parents.
Implicit in this question is the thought:
how do we avoid this?
And Jesus responds,
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
then Jesus heals the man
who becomes an unexpected witness to Jesus,
one who testifies on his behalf.
First it’s the neighbors who are confused
but hear of Jesus through the man,
then it is the Pharisees,
now the Pharisees really grill the man,
‘were you really blind?’ they ask
and even go as far as making the man’s parents
come and tell them if he really was born blind.
At the root of this investigation is the question: how did this happen?
Again and again they ask the man
who has no explanation other than Jesus
the pharisees are confused
because to them Jesus fits the definition of a sinner,
he broke the law by healing on the sabbath,
but how could he be a sinner if he has the power to heal?
So “they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, ‘Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.’ He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” and the Pharisees drive the man out of the temple.
The way the pharisees told the story
of who could be a servant of God,
Jesus didn’t qualify.
He acted in unexpected ways
and yet God worked through him
and this threw them for a loop
so much so that they took it out on the man who had been born blind
and healed by Jesus,
who did the only thing he could,
testify to what had happened to him.
But the story doesn’t end there,
Jesus, hearing that the man had been driven out,
goes and finds him
and reveals to him that he is the messiah,
he makes sure that the man is a member of Jesus’ community.
God works through unexpected servants,
again and again God chooses the least likely,
the youngest sons,
the ones labeled as sinners,
those at the margins of society.
And it makes us uncomfortable
because we can’t explain it
using the stories we usually tell,
the stories that say good things happen to good people
and bad things happen to bad people
and then define who is good and who is bad.
because along comes God
who tells us “do not look on appearance... For the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
the Lord looks on the heart
and calls into service
whoever God needs
in whatever way God needs
and often the who and the how are unexpected.
In this time
we have all been called to serve in an unexpected way,
by refraining from gathering together.
Loving God and neighbor
suddenly looks like empty pews and houses of worship,
as we now worship from couches in our own houses,
it looks like turning handshakes into phone calls,
hugs into emails,
finding ways of staying connected
without physically being together.
And all the while,
even as we long to gather in one place
and shake the rafters with our hymns,
we know that God is with us,
leading us to sources of nourishment we wouldn’t have found on our own,
guiding us through the valley overshadowed by death,
promising goodness and mercy
and to always be with us,
in the unexpected. Amen
Third Sunday in Lent
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who gives us what we need. Amen
This Lent we are exploring stories of faith,
on Wednesdays we have congregation members sharing their stories
and on Sundays our readings are also stories of faith,
so far we have had stories of identity
where we have explored how the stories we tell
shape our understanding of our identity
and stories of how faith is lived out,
by holding on to the promises of God
even as we question and grow.
This week we have stories of necessity,
how we tell the stories of what we need
affects our relationship with God.
We have two examples from our readings today,
the Israelites in the wilderness
and the Samaritan woman at the well with Jesus.
Our first example
of how stories of necessity are told and sometimes differ,
is the Israelites in the wilderness.
The Israelites are in a time of major transition as a people,
so far in the relationship between God and the Israelites
appeared to Moses out of a burning bush,
sent Moses to pharaoh to plead for the Israelites’ freedom,
sent ten plagues of increasing intensity on the Egyptians
when the pharaoh refused to let them leave,
saved the Israelites from the final plague
giving them the opportunity to flee,
parted the sea standing in the way of their escape,
traveled with the people as a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night,
and provided food by raining bread in the morning and quails at night.
It’s been a lot
their identity has shifted,
they’ve moved from being settled in a place
where they had a long history
and though they were enslaved
they knew who they were and how they fit in,
now they are free
but they are also homeless
and they wander the desert led by a God they cannot see
looking for a promised land that is just that,
so we have to excuse, or at least understand
when the Israelites don’t always come off looking the best,
we as people don’t always make the best decisions
when we’re stressed and in times of transition
and these are a people who haven’t had to make decisions at all,
which is why the time wandering is so important
God is using that time to teach the Israelites
how to live as free people
and the first step is teaching the Israelites
to trust that God will keep the promises that God has made
and as they wander the desert
God has promised to provide for them with manna and quails,
and part of learning to trust
is the instruction to only take the amount of food that is necessary for one day,
the exception being the day before the sabbath.
If they take more than they need
it will spoil because they have not trusted God
to provide for them the next day.
So that’s the set up as the Israelites wander the desert,
God provides for them,
but this is a lesson that is hard to learn for the Israelites
as we see in our story for today.
In their wandering
they come to a place where there is no water,
or at least not enough water
and rather than trusting God to provide
they start complaining to Moses,
now the thing I always enjoy about the Israelites’ complaints in the desert
is that they get very dramatic very fast,
in this case they say
“Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?”
You’d think that by now the Israelites
would have known that God would provide for them
but the way they tell the story of what is necessary,
when it’s necessary
is different from the story God tells
and it strains the relationship,
Moses names the place “test and quarrel”
because the Israelites tested and quarreled with God
wondering if God was even with them,
and even though they lack trust in God,
God provides water,
showing Moses where to go to find water among the rocks of the desert,
one of the commentaries I read
mentioned that water does flow through some rock formations,
the water was already there,
it was just a matter of finding it.
That’s another thing about God,
God provides but it’s not always obvious to us humans.
Another thing we humans do
is that we like to make things more complicated than they need to be,
relationships for instance,
we all have a need to belong
and yet we tell all kinds of stories as reasons
why this person or that person shouldn’t be a part of the group
and that’s what’s going on with our second story
of the Samaritan woman at the well,
her community has told her that she needs to be different
and until then
she will not be fully one of them,
It all starts with a need Jesus has to rest,
he’s been traveling,
it’s the middle of the day,
the hottest time of the day
he’s tired, and thirsty and hungry,
so he sits down next to a well,
a source of water
and the disciples go to buy something to eat
and Jesus waits for them,
as he’s waiting
a woman comes to the well to draw water,
now this in and of itself is not unusual
what is odd is the time of day,
carrying water is a heavy hard task
which means that it’s best done
in the mornings and evenings when it’s cooler,
but here this woman comes at the hottest part of the day,
now it may be that she just needed water
but the more likely explanation
is that she came at a time when she was sure to avoid all the other people
who come to get water.
Jesus, sitting by the well,
asks her for a drink of water,
and she’s surprised,
because the story of society is that it is necessary
for men and women to stay separate
and for Jews and Samaritans to avoid each other,
but if there’s one thing we know about Jesus
it’s that he doesn’t pay attention to what society says is necessary
but what God says is,
and so he starts a conversation with this woman
and even though she’s surprised she is curious,
and after they’ve covered why they shouldn’t be talking
Jesus tells her “if you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘give me a drink’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
the woman is thrown by practical considerations,
she points out that Jesus doesn’t have a bucket
and he responds “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
Now the woman is really excited about this,
she might never have to come to the well ever again!
And Jesus knows that this excitement
is not about the work of carrying water
but about avoiding all the other people that come to the well,
he reveals to her that he knows about her history,
she’s had really bad luck with relationships
she’s had five husbands and is now living with someone
who she isn’t even married to
and perhaps to change the topic
the woman observes “Sir, I see that you are a prophet”
and they get into a theological discussion
that ends with Jesus revealing to her
that he is the messiah!
This is the first time he has told anyone this,
and this revelation changes the woman’s life,
she runs back to the city,
to all those people she was avoiding
and she tells them “come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah can he?”
and amazingly enough they listen to her!
And we are told that “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.”
the woman who comes to the well alone
at the beginning of the story
is back with the community by the end,
Jesus has given her living water,
that is, a relationship with Jesus,
and a relationship with Jesus is one that restores other relationships.
God tells the story of necessity through relationships,
what we need is a relationship with God
and a relationship with our neighbors,
isn’t that what Jesus says when pressed about the greatest commandment?
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and might
and love your neighbor as yourself.
If we attend to these relationships God says,
everything else will fall into place.
so often the stories of necessity we tell
focus on other things,
we’ve seen this first hand as COVID19 spreads around the world
as we’ve heard many conflicting stories of necessity,
the story that says we need lots of toilet paper
and the story that says it’s not so bad,
the story that says carry on with life
and the story that says the best way to care for your neighbor
might just be to avoid them.
As we go through this time
we are having to navigate the path
through the many stories of necessity we hear
and the ones we tell ourselves
and it’s not easy,
but I think it is made easier
when we first listen to God’s story,
the one where God loves us and our neighbors
and promises to be with us whatever comes our way,
and secure in that love
we are then able to consider
how we might best live that love out.
I’ve kept this in mind this last week
as each day I’ve prayerfully considered
how we as a community will live out our trust in God,
stay in relationships
and care for our neighbors,
even as this might mean changing the way
we physically live some of this out.
I don’t know what the future will hold
but I do know that however it happens
we as a community,
saved by God’s grace and rooted in Christ,
will continue to be nourished by worship
and serve Christ and community.
As we go out into a world today,
where there are so many stories of what is necessary,
we go having drunk from the living water of Jesus,
we have been fed and forgiven,
our relationships with God and others have been strengthened
and so we go out trusting that God will provide for us,
show us the best way to love our neighbor
and care for the most vulnerable among us,
and we go knowing that God goes with us. Amen
Second Sunday in Lent
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who keeps promises. Amen
This Lent we are telling stories of faith,
last week we explored how what stories we listen to
impact our understanding of our identity,
this week our stories explore what it means to have faith,
what having faith looks like.
And I think this is something that we all wonder about,
at least at some point in our lives,
what does it mean to have faith?
Do I have enough faith?
How do I get more faith?
Why do some people seem to have an easier time than others?
Any of these questions sound familiar?
It’s pretty easy to go down a rabbit hole of questions
when it comes to faith
which is why it is helpful to have some examples
of what is meant by having faith
and we have two good examples in our readings for today,
Abraham and Nicodemus.
Abraham is often held up as the model of a faithful person,
Paul points to Abraham in our second reading,
and Abraham’s story of faith is quite simple,
God comes to Abraham and says “go to the land that I will show you”
then promises to make a great nation of Abraham
with many descendants and through Abraham bless the world
“So Abram went, as the Lord had told him”
Almost too simple,
so simple as to be impossible to live up to,
I know I take a lot more convincing than a single command
Even from God
But really when we think about it
why wouldn’t Abraham go?
God has made all these promises
seemingly based on the one command to go.
On the face of it,
it kind of looks like one of those transactions
that Paul attributes to the law,
until we remember that God says ‘go’
but does not give a destination,
and God says ‘I will make you a great nation’
and at this point Abraham is very old and very childless
and then it is easier to see Abraham's going as a great act of faith,
because what God proposes to do seems impossible,
when Abraham goes,
he goes into the unknown,
holding on to the promise of God
and trusting that God will keep that promise.
And yes this is remarkable and an ideal
but I don’t know about you
but I’ve found faith- the act of trusting God-
much more complicated than that.
Which is why I love the story of Nicodemus.
Nicodemus is a religious leader,
people know who he is,
they go to him for answers to religious questions
he’s supposed to have it all,
okay well, mostly
but when Jesus comes onto the scene,
Nicodemus is intrigued,
he wants to know more,
but here’s the catch,
he doesn’t want anyone to know he’s interested in Jesus,
so when he goes to see Jesus
he goes at night covered by the darkness
and he comes with an attitude that says
‘I’m going to figure you out Jesus’,
he begins “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”
and the way Jesus responds
it’s almost as if he’s saying
‘oh you know do you?’
and goes on to utterly confuse Nicodemus
by speaking of being born again and born of the spirit
and when Nicodemus asks him
“‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?’”
I hear Jesus saying this in a rather sarcastic false shocked tone of voice,
undertones of ‘what, you don’t know everything?’
I don’t think that Jesus is judging Nicodemus
as much as making a point
that the mechanics of God’s work in the world
are confusing boarding on impossible to understand,
because then Jesus gets serious and says
look “we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony if I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things.”
Seeing Jesus perform signs has only gotten Nicodemus so far along the path to faith,
he struggles with hearing what others have experienced of God,
at some point understanding will fail
and that’s where faith has to take over,
the trust that however it happens
what God promises will come to pass.
And that’s when Jesus tells Nicodemus what God is going to do
- out of love send God’s son to be lifted up for the sake of the world-
now remember this conversation is taking place
long before the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday
Nicodemus has no idea that Jesus is referring to the cross,
and even if he did,
he’d be stumped as to how anything good could come of Jesus dying by crucifixion,
but at the end
Jesus gives Nicodemus a promise he can hold on to:
“Indeed God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Jesus promises that however incomprehensibly God chooses to act,
God intends salvation.
Nicodemus doesn’t have to understand the how,
his role is to trust that God is acting for good.
And that it seems Nicodemus can do,
we get no indication that when the conversation ends
Nicodemus understands the particulars of who Jesus is
or how God is acting
any better than when he started
but throughout the gospel of John,
Nicodemus keeps showing up
in ways that show his faith in Jesus is increasing.
The next time Nicodemus pops up
is when Jesus has been in Jerusalem for the festival of Booths,
Jesus has been publicly teaching
and people are starting to wonder if he is the Messiah
and all this is making the leadership anxious,
they want to arrest Jesus
and it’s at this point that Nicodemus speaks up
and says “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” (7:51)
and the other Pharisees
because remember Nicodemus is one of them,
but also they do not arrest Jesus.
Speaking up for Jesus in front of his peers
Nicodemus has come a long way
from sneaking out to see Jesus under the cover of darkness.
The last time we meet Nicodemus
is at the foot of the cross,
he comes with Joseph of Arimathea
to prepare Jesus’ body for burial
and he brings with him 100 pounds of spices and ointments,
an amount so excessively lavish
that it could only represent the grace of God,
and here at Jesus’ seeming defeat
does Nicodemus make public his faith in him.
Nicodemus gives me hope,
because it means that faith doesn’t have to be an instantaneous ascent
nor does it mean we have to believe everything as true right away,
can start as a small seed,
as curiosity paired with a lot of questions,
and that seed can be nurtured to grow
and God offers a promise to hold on to
while faith grows,
the promise that God loves us
and nothing can change that.
God lives out that promise
by continually coming to us in love,
in the water and word of the font,
in the eating and drinking of bread and wine
blessed, broken and poured out for us,
in the stories of faith shared with us
where we get to see how God comes to others
and as we live
both questioning and holding on to the promise of God,
we may find our faith growing,
we still have questions
but we no longer need the cover of darkness to ask them,
we also might have times where growth stalls
but through it all God keeps coming to us
keeping the promises God has made,
and we find that ultimately what it means to have faith
to is to hold on to the promises of God,
to trust that God is acting for good. Amen
Second Sunday After Epiphany
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who builds community
with an invitation to come and see. Amen
We are now in the season after Epiphany
and so our bible stories
are all about how Jesus is revealed as God to us.
With very few exceptions,
this revelation occurs in community,
God uses people to reveal Jesus to others
and so today we get the story
of how the first core community of those people is formed.
With a search for something more,
and an invitation.
It all starts with John the baptist,
remember God works in the world through people.
God calls John the baptist to prepare the way for Jesus,
and that’s what John has been doing,
he’s been telling people to repent of their sins
and baptizing them when they do,
and some of them have started to follow him,
they are searching for something more out of life
and they think they’ve found it in John.
but John knows his role is one of preparation
for the one that is coming after him,
he doesn’t know exactly who this is,
just that the spirit will let him know,
and when he baptizes Jesus
the spirit descends
revealing Jesus as the one he has been waiting for
and John’s preaching changes
to a very simple message
“Look here is the lamb of God”
John is standing with two of his followers
when Jesus walks past
and John points to him and says “Look, here is the Lamb of God”
and just like that
they start following Jesus,
not in the metaphorical sense
but literally walking behind him
and Jesus turns around and asks them
“What are you looking for?”
which is a loaded question,
what are they looking for?
They probably don’t know exactly themselves
but it’s certainly more than the answer they quickly give
when they ask Jesus where he’s staying,
and Jesus responds “Come and see”
a loaded answer
because what they will see by going with Jesus
is certainly more than the place where he is staying,
they will see God revealed.
And they go with Jesus
and spend the rest of the day with him
and that’s all it takes to start off a chain reaction of invitations,
Andrew goes and finds his brother Simon
and tells him “we have found the messiah”
Andrew brings Simon to Jesus,
and when Jesus looks at him
he gives him a new name, Peter,
the rock, the foundation of the community.
People are searching for something more
and all it takes is an invitation from someone they trust
to experience what they’ve found
as well as an invitation to remain and explore for themselves
to see if they find what they’ve been searching for.
Most of us are here
because at some point,
someone we trust invited us to come and see,
invited might be a strong word for those of us brought as children
but still the people we trust wanted to share what they’d found with us.
We remain because we found Jesus,
and a place that lets us explore
what it means to have found Jesus as our lives play out
because even when we find Jesus,
we still continue to search
because humans are constantly searching throughout life
sometimes this is because of the sin that tells us we can be God
and control our own destinies
and so we search for a way to achieve that,
sometimes we search because we want to know who we are,
what our purpose is,
sometimes we search for God
because it seems as if God is hidden,
and Jesus knows,
even if we don’t realize it,
is that what we’re searching for is a community,
an identity and a purpose,
all things that God has already given us
first and foremost
we are beloved children of God
we always have been and always will be
this identity will never change
and because we are beloved children of God
our purpose is to love God and love our neighbor,
and we discover this identity and purpose in community
and all it takes to find
is for a person we trust to point and say
“Look here is the Lamb of God”
followed by an invitation to “come and see”
Of course we humans try to make it more complex than that,
we ask questions like how?
And then we try to make the community in our own image instead of God’s
and we make rules and get into disagreements
but at the heart of it all, it’s really simple,
people searching for something more
gathered together because someone pointed to Jesus
and extended an invitation to come and see, remain and discover
and as we do
it becomes our turn to reach out to others we see searching,
to point to Jesus and invite them to come and see, remain and discover.
And Jesus knows that this isn’t always easy,
we get discouraged,
or our search changes,
so Jesus comes to us again,
in word and water, bread and wine,
and once again invites us to come and see,
and we are present at the table
because someone we trust has once again come to us saying
‘we have found the messiah, come and see’
because just as we keep searching
we keep needing to be invited,
reminded of our identities as beloved children of God.
This year my hope is that we as a community
learn to better do this for one another
both those already here
and those who have yet to encounter Jesus,
to see when someone is searching,
to point them to Jesus
and to invite them to come and see,
because we have found the messiah. Amen
Second Sunday of Christmas
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who created the world
and who chose to become a part of the world. Amen
I know, it may not feel like Christmas anymore,
even though we still have them up in Church
decorations have come down many places
and in stores have already been replaced by Valentine’s hearts
and we’ve done our year end retrospectives,
this year, depending on how you count it
we’ve even looked back ten years over the past decade,
and generally things feel like they are moving forward,
we are past Christmas.
And yet this year the way the calendar falls
we get a second Sunday in Christmas,
the season in the Church calendar
runs until Epiphany on January 6th,
that’s where we get the 12 days of Christmas.
As epiphany is not until tomorrow
this year we get one more Sunday to dwell on Christmas.
So often when we think Christmas
we think of the baby in the manger
and the angels and shepherds
but today we get to focus on Christmas as the incarnation of God,
God the Word becoming flesh
and dwelling among us,
the Greek is literally translated as “pitching a tent among us”,
God became one of us
and lived with us
no special treatment but the full human experience
and all that goes with it,
including suffering and death,
things God could easily have avoided and yet didn’t.
which means we have a God who knows exactly what we’re going through
as we live out our lives
even in those times in life where we feel that
the only ones who understand us
are the ones who have gone through what we’re going through,
and that is the miracle of the incarnation,
that God loved us so much
and wanted to be as close to us as possible
that God became one of us,
God is intimately concerned with our lives,
all the more amazing
when we consider this is the same one who created the universe.
And as we go through life
God seeks to remind us of this intimate relationship,
on the last night with his disciples,
Jesus blessed bread and wine
and told them this bread and wine is my body and blood given for you,
and he commanded them to eat and drink
and to do this whenever they gathered,
so that they would know that he was with them,
a part of them.
Jesus is that close to us,
closer than we sometimes like to think of
and if we try to figure out the how of it
we get confused very quickly
but the how is not the point,
if God can become human
certainly God can be bread and wine
and that is how God has chosen to come to us
as mysterious as that may be.
God is mysterious to us,
because as intimate with us as Jesus is,
and as much as he reveals God’s will to us
according to God’s good pleasure,
at the same time God is so much bigger,
than even our wildest imaginations can comprehend.
John, in his description of the incarnation,
echoing the opening of Genesis,
brings us all the way back to before creation
when God the Father and God the Word and God the Spirit
all together created the world
and set the foundations of life in motion
and had hopes and dreams and a plan for interacting with that creation,
first through the gift of the law and then through Christ.
That is both big and intricate planning.
Paul in Ephesians tells us
that God chose us in Christ
before the foundation of the world,
and we wonder at the enormity of that
as well at the intimacy of being part of God’s plan
from even before time
God is bigger than we are,
bigger than all of us
with greater understanding,
but even as God is so much bigger
God has included us
God doesn’t need us but God has made us part of the action
Again as Paul explains to the Ephesians “with all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, that that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.”
God’s will for us is abundant life,
and “us” means all creation to God,
creation that God will gather in,
because as we are well aware,
sin has entered the world
and because of sin there is pain and suffering
but God has promised to gather us in
the gathering is still in process,
and until then
our purpose is to live for the praise of God’s glory.
And how do we do that?
We live for the praise of God’s glory
when we live in ways
that bring more of God’s will into the world,
the will of abundant life for all,
and that means sometimes living in ways
counter to the way of the world.
The world says there is not enough for everyone,
God’s will says that there is plenty to go around.
The world says that those who appear different
are to be feared,
God’s will says that they too are children of God.
The world says power is gained through shows of strength.
God’s will says that serving your neighbor is the strongest way to live.
Our purpose is to live for the praise of God’s glory,
not the praise of the world,
and the world will push back,
it will be difficult at times
but we are able to do so
because we have been claimed by God,
and promised that whatever the world does to us
will not have the last say.
At our baptisms
God claimed us and marked us
“with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.”
And yet even marked with the Holy Spirit
there may be times when the enormity and mystery of God’s will
and then Jesus comes to us again,
in Word and water,
bread and wine
reminding us that God knows exactly what we’re going through
and that God is with us.
This is the miracle of the incarnation
that we celebrate at Christmas,
the intimacy of God with us
all as part of God whose will stretches before time.
Some days we need the baby in the manger,
the Word become flesh living among us,
and some days we need God who is bigger than us
with plans and understanding far beyond our measly comprehension
but who still cares for us.
At Christmas we get both
and we celebrate all the mysterious truth that comes with it
secure in the knowledge that God is bigger than we are
and that God is with us. Merry Christmas.
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.