In pm's words
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June 17, 2019, 12:00 AM

the one where we don't know everything...


Sermon from Holy Trinity Sunday, June 16, 2019

Text: John 16: 12-15

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, we come to an interesting day. Not only an interesting day in the life of the church, but a pretty interesting one in the life of many young people in our community of faith.

Today we celebrate with nine young men and women as they have completed significant milestones in their life. We celebrate our Confirmation Students – Morgan, Reese, and Andrew and we celebrate those graduating from high school, college, and further secondary education. We celebrate with Ledare, Vanessa, Jordan, Corey, Rachel, and Noel.

We also get to celebrate the odd and confusing relationship of the Holy Trinity. That part of our faith that continually perplexes us, confounds us, makes us scratch our heads, and at times might melt our brains as we try to ‘wrap’ our arms around just who, what, and why is the Trinity.

As we try to ‘wrap’ our minds around the Trinity, it can be a lot like these young men and women trying to wrap their lives over what comes next. Where will they go? How will they be? What will life offer them?

Some of y’all may have already asked those questions and have been thrust with dilemmas and further questions. Will I enjoy what I’ve done so far? Will the path that I’m on be the one that fulfills all that I hope for? What does the future hold? Will it change? Where is God in the midst of all of this?

Whenever we come to those significant moments in our lives, we always ask those deep questions. Those questions that gnaw at our gut, those questions that make us ponder, those questions that can keep us up at night.

We ask those questions, because we like – we want – to be in control. We ask those types of searching questions because we realize that we don’t nearly have as much control as we’d hope to have. And it can be frustrating and a bit scary.

Perhaps scary for those who celebrate their graduation from high school and college. As they look out into their potential future and wonder if they are on the right path. Some have already had intended and hoped for paths change just ever so (frustratingly) slightly.

For our confirmation students, those questions might be more personal or spiritual in nature. Sometimes those questions can rock us to our cores. Those questions of – am I doing the right thing? Do I really believe this stuff? Do I know what I’m getting myself into?

And as we all come to this day as we celebrate the Holy Trinity – we ask many questions as well. How does this all make sense? How can one God be three persons? Where does each part of the Trinity fit in with each other – where does each part fit in with my life?

Those questions too can rock us to our core. Especially as we might be told to ‘just have faith’ or ‘have stronger faith’ or ‘don’t worry about it.’

But, it’s hard not to ponder those things and ask those types of questions. It’s hard not to think about what the future holds if you are affirming your baptism, graduating, or seeking a new vocation in life.

We ask questions. We seek to know more. We desire to know all of what God has to offer to us.

Here’s the thing I know. Getting to know the Holy Trinity, doesn’t mean you’ll ever know it fully. You just can’t. I just don’t think we are capable of fully comprehending the glory and beauty and love of the One God in Three persons is for us and the world. Every attempt to ‘fully realize’ the Godhead fails to capture all of what the Three are to the world and to us. Every explanation glosses over another aspect of life or even diminishes the role and fullness of another part of the Trinity.

It is good to think, to ask questions, and to get to know more – but, all the while trying to reason with the fact that we will never fully know what this means for us and for the world. How the Trinity interacts and shares and works with one another.

We just cannot fully know.

Kind of like finishing school or completing confirmation.

You know a lot. Y’all do. You’ve been taught. You’ve been shaped and formed. You’ve asked questions. You’ve sought answers. You’ve had triumphs and setbacks. You’ve had joys and frustrations.

And yet, in spite of all you’ve learned and grown into so far. You aren’t done. Even if you’ve now achieved the role and title of “Doctor” you’re still not done learning and growing.

There will be more to know. More to learn. More to learn about yourself, more to learn about life, more to learn from others. More to learn from those you know now, and more to learn from those you haven’t even met yet.

There’s always more.

And it is something we do together. All of us.

To ask a question, you need someone to answer it. You need someone to talk to about it with. You need someone to teach, to guide, to love, to grow.

You need others.

You have others. We have others. We have a community that is shaped by love, care, and questions.

We have a God who – though at times confusing and frustrating – invites us deeper into relationship through love, grace, and mercy. We believe in a God who doesn’t shy away nor push away from questions and thoughts. We believe in a God who has gifted us intelligence, and imagination, and interpretation to read, and see, and know who God is and who we are to God.

This past week while at Confirmation Camp, we got to talk and discuss about the Trinity. One of my colleagues mentioned that the Trinity is like three chairs facing a light – the light of glory, love, mercy, forgiveness, acceptance, and more.

But, as they situate in loving relationship with one another around that light, it isn’t closed off from us. No, instead it is open. We are invited. There is a space for all of us at that table. We are encouraged and called to look into that light of Glory as well. We are invited to enter into that relationship with God. Where in that relationship we are known and loved. We are shaped and formed. Where we ask questions, we gather with others, we walk with our God.

We celebrate the Holy Trinity today. We celebrate the work and accomplishments of numerous young men and women within our congregation. We remember that God has claimed us in the waters of baptism.

We remember that we don’t know everything (even though we do like to pretend that we know it all), but not knowing doesn’t mean we cannot be with one another. Not knowing encourages us to walk with one another as we – together – get to learn and grow and discover.

Discover this God who has, who does, and who will always love us. Grow in relationship with one another as we see what comes next. Learn from God through those around us just what it means to love and be in relationship with the world.

So, yeah. Today is an interesting day. A day that we celebrate not knowing fully what is before us. But, a day that we celebrate that we are in this together with one another, and our God invites us in love to enter into a deeper relationship of discernment, question, and conversation. And why are we invited? Because God loves us through and through. God loves you. Amen.




June 10, 2019, 12:00 AM

The one about stirring things up...


Sermon from Pentecost Sunday - June 9, 2019

Text: Acts 2: 1-21

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Risen Lord Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, here we are. We come to the celebration of the in-rushing of the Holy Spirit. In many ways, this is the birth of the church itself. Not Redeemer, but the church to which Redeemer and all other congregations belong. The day that Jesus promised his disciples came. The Holy Spirit – the advocate – the helper – rushed into creation and set everything on its side.

This morning, we get to read on of my favorite biblical stories. The text from Acts depicts what that event was like as many gathered in that space around the disciples. Where the Spirit rushed in and… confusion took over.

Confusion because no one really knew what was happening. So much so, that Peter utters one of my absolute favorite lines in all of scripture – this must be the work of the Holy Spirit, because it is too early for these guys to all be drunk. I always chuckle at that, because obviously Peter has never been to college.

But, there is confusion as to what is going on. Everyone is speaking in their own native languages and everyone around them can understand them in their own native tongue. Imagine if that would happen today? People speaking English, Spanish, Farsi, Danish, Italian, and more and we would all be able to understand what was being said. In fact, when I was younger, that is exactly how I thought learning a new language would be like. It would just ‘click’ and like a universal translator on Star Trek or the opening scene to Hunt for the Red October, you’d just start hearing everything in English.

This of course, doesn’t even mention the tongues of flame that alight upon the foreheads of those who are speaking.

I’m pretty certain, if I had walked into on this event, I’d slowly start backing out of the room and turning tail and run. It’s a weird event. It turns the world on its side.

I think we like to believe that the Holy Spirit is something that only gives us warm fuzzies. Opens our mind to new ideas, and altogether kind of makes us feel at peace. Somewhat like how the two on the road to Emmaus felt when they exclaimed that their ‘hearts burned within them’ as the walked and spoke to Jesus on the road.

Or perhaps the feeling I get when I venture up the mountain once again and pass through the entrance to Lutheridge. That feeling of God’s presence, amazement, emotion, and more. That feeling that makes me think and ask, “What does God have in store this time?”

But, I’m not so sure that is only what the work of the Holy Spirit does. Those feelings are definitely NOT what the disciples, the faithful, and the ones speaking are living in at the moment. They are confused, they are confounded, perhaps there is a bit of hesitancy and fear running through their minds as well.

Something has changed, something has made this different. Something is at work in the world far beyond our control. And that, my friends, is scary.

The Holy Spirit moves us into unease. The Holy Spirit guides us into uncomfortableness. The Holy Spirit pushes and drags us out of our comfort zones. The Holy Spirit rushes in and stirs things up. The Holy Spirit does all the things we’d rather not be a part of – because we like to be at ease, and ‘at peace’ with what is going on.

We don’t like to be pushed. We don’t like to be uncomfortable. We want to be in control.

Yet, still, the Holy Spirit rushes in, breathes into us new life, and we are sent out and into places we couldn’t imagine. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are guided into ways and ministries that we wouldn’t expect. It isn’t comfortable, it isn’t easy, it can be a little scary.

Scary like seeing flames dancing upon the foreheads of people around us as they utter the praises of God’s work and life in languages of the world. Putting them in a position that makes others sneer, perhaps drives others to ‘squash their proclamation’ in decisive ways. Causes others to turn around and walk the other way.

Perhaps even puts their life – their physical, social, political, and economic lives – at risk. Risk of humiliation. Risk of loss. Risk of death.

The Holy Spirit rushes in and stirs things up.

We are going through that moment now as we continue to move through this visioning process this year. Where at the end of this month, we will gather as a community to reflect on the past, look at the present, and vision for the future. Where is God leading us? How is the Holy Spirit guiding us? Where will we see Jesus in places and ways we’d never expect?

It can be scary. It can make us hesitant. It can cause disagreements. It can make us uncomfortable as we follow the movement of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit rushes in and stirs things up.

Two things happened this week that remind me of how the Holy Spirit works. One was I saw a movie, and the other was I read a news article.

They both centered on similar issues. Both were powerful. Both made me feel uncomfortable.

While at the SC Synod Assembly this past week in Spartanburg, I and about 70 other attendees were able to watch the movie The Hate You Give. The movie centered around the death of an unarmed young black man by a police officer. The main character – a teenage woman – was witness to the whole thing.

The Spirit moved within her as she was able to use her voice to speak out against the broken system in our country and how it views young black men. She speaks out and she loses friends, she’s torn between the two ‘worlds’ she lives in. But, she also doesn’t speak out just against the broken justice system, but also speaks out on the cycle of life that keeps and locks young black men like her friend in a terrible cycle of drugs, gangs, and violence. Speaking out puts her and her families’ lives at risk.

I highly recommend everyone watch that movie.

The Holy Spirit rushes in and stirs things up.

I recently read a news article about a high security prison in Texas. Where the most violent of criminals are placed in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, behind thick steel doors with just a few airholes. That if they are taken anywhere, they are chained and shackled. Where prison guards are in front and behind them, with two others holding on to their arms. Just in case they act out on their violent tendencies.

Yet, this article was about a church that went into this prison full of violent individuals. Men who were part of numerous and rival gangs. Gangs and groups where the other is considered a mortal enemy and the only way to get ‘out’ of that life is to be killed. Either by one of your ‘friends’ or by a rival gang member.

The church came to those men. The Spirit moved through not only those church members, but also through these men as they shared their stories. As they shared and heard the gospel. As they discerned that they too are a part of this new life that God has promised in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus who is the Christ. The Spirit moved through them all as they uttered the same words of the Eunuch to Philip – what is to keep me from being baptized?

And so, these men were baptized. As one man told the campus pastor, “I have tried it my way my whole life and it’s gotten me here. I want to try it God’s way…we’re going to come out of the water as new men."

These men were baptized. Not separately. But together. Each members of rival and violent gangs. Where the mere friendly interaction with one another could mean their own death at the hands of the group they pledged loyalty to.

The Holy Spirit rushes in and stirs things up.

So, my sisters and brothers. So, my friends. Where is the Holy Spirit rushing in and stirring things up for you? For this community? For this world?

Where do we go boldly proclaiming God’s way, coming out of the water as new people – in spite of what others say? Where do we go as we lean into God’s love and ministry for all when it makes us uncomfortable and hesitant? Where is the Spirit flowing through us, around us, in us, and moving us towards ministry and service where we don’t feel quite in control?

Wherever we go. Wherever the Spirit leads us – we remember that God is with us. We remember that as we go proclaiming God’s goodness, love, mercy, and forgiveness to a world in desperate need to hear of that peace that we do this work and ministry of God – together. As one body, working together – not doing the same thing – but, working as one to bring about the new life that God has promised to the world through Jesus who is our Christ.

The Holy Spirit rushes in and stirs things up. Amen.




June 3, 2019, 8:00 AM

the one about Jesus' prayer...


Sermon from June 2, 2019

Text: John 17: 20-26

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus who is the risen Christ! Will y’all pray with me! Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen!

Is it just me, or as you read this part of John’s gospel you want throw in an ‘I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together – I am the walrus coo coo ca-choo coo coo ca-choo!’ Jesus can get a little confusing here…

So, have you ever had anyone stand up for you? Anyone ever speak on your behalf? Has anyone ever written a letter or voiced an opinion of your recommendation – unsolicited – to ‘authority’ figures for you? Have you ever stood up for someone else – whether you knew them for a long time or not – shown your support, maybe even your love for them – so that others might know who that person was and how good of an individual he or she is?

Have you ever stood up - or had someone stand up for you - so that others might know how much you have in common or that something should be done to help that person in need? Has there been a time where you lived into the prayer that Jesus prays today - so that we all might be 'one'?

I read a story once about a high school in Michigan. At this school, there was a boy with muscular dystrophy. Anyone who knows someone who has MD knows that they aren't able to physically do the things that others without MD can do. For example, in this school, the young man with muscular dystrophy had a difficult time opening his own school locker. In fact, there was a helper student at his side throughout the day. This person was there to help him physically as he needed it. 

However, the robotics team took notice of their fellow student and friend's plight and decided that they would go one step further. They decided to use their own gifts, talents, and skills - bestowed upon them by God - and help him to open his locker on his own. And they did just that. They used their gifts and ministered and served this young man in his need. They spoke with him, knew of his ordeal, and with him developed a way to make his life easier.

Now, I was particularly touched by this story. Especially in light of our gospel this morning. As I read this story, I couldn't help, but think how Jesus prayed so that we all might be 'one' in the name of God and in Jesus' name. Where we look past those things that might separate us and instead see the beauty of the other person before us. Where we see someone in need and seek to serve them in that need. Where we develop the relationship with each person before us - building that love up and making that relationship even deeper and stronger.

When I read this prayer by Jesus I'm struck by how personal and intimate it is. Jesus is here praying on the behalf of and FOR the disciples. But, not just the disciples, but for all those who will believe because of what they proclaim. As Jesus asks for each of us to be 'one' with another - striving to be in a relationship of love with one another - like the robotics team who helped a friend in need - but, Jesus also prays to God on our behalf. Jesus prays for us.

Think about that for a moment. Think of all the times that you or I pray to God. We pray for help; we pray for strength. We might even pray for those that do us harm. We ask for guidance; we ask for presence. We pray in thankfulness; we pray in anger. We pray for answers; we pray for peace amid confusion. We pray to God a lot. It's what we do - it is what we've been taught to do by Jesus himself.

Yet, here towards the end of John's gospel - before Jesus is to boldly walk to the cross - suffer humiliation, punishment, and death. Before Jesus dies and rises from the dead. Before that tomb is even occupied (and of course before he leaves it). Jesus prays for you. Jesus prays for us.

Jesus prays to God for you. And you. And you. And even me. Jesus prays for your neighbor. Jesus prays for your child. Jesus even prays for that guy who cut you off on the interstate a few days ago. Jesus prays. Jesus doesn't just pray for those around him, Jesus prays for all who will believe because of what they say. Jesus prays for you.

Jesus' love for us is so deep and wide that he prays for everyone. Jesus here is about to 'go away' from the disciples to a place that they won't be able to go. Yet, he doesn't go without saying a word for them to the Father who creates, cares, and loves us all.

In this prayer, Jesus asks that we might be in union. That we might be united. That we might know that the Father who creates, cares, and loves us all would show us that we all are one. That we all are one in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - that we are all one in each other - coo coo ca-choo.

Jesus calls for all of us to be one, there are no lone rangers in the faith. We cannot do it alone. We may be able to experience God in solitude, but what good is it if we cannot, will not, or do not tell anyone about it? What good is it if we do not gather in community to learn, grow, and discern – together -what this life of faith that God has poured into us in baptism is for us? Jesus wants us to be in relationship not only with God - but also with each other.

Jesus wants us to see past those things that separate us - disabilities, political beliefs, race, color, lifestyles, cultures - and see that thing that gathers us together as one. That each of us, all of us, every last one of us - have been created by God, cared for by the Spirit, redeemed by the Son - once for all and ever more.

Jesus has done this for all of us. Before he departs from the disciples during the night of their final meal together, he prays to God - on their behalf - on our behalf - that we might know that we are one in God. We are all in this together and that God doesn't set us apart from one another, but gathers us together in one big armful as a parent stretches to hug all their children. As a teacher strives to help every student. As a group reaches out to help even that one on the outside.

Of course, in that oneness Jesus isn’t asking us to be the same. I don’t believe he is looking for uniformity in our unity. We aren’t being called to be a melting pot, but perhaps a salad – or a pizza. Something that has multiple parts that enriches the entire meal.

And whenever you have unity – unity built among people who are indeed different and beautiful because of that diversity – you’re going to have squabbles. Jesus’ prayer reminds us that our unity, our “oneness” is to be a sign to the world of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. Oneness and unity are about love. And as we have all been a part of a family, a member in this church, this community, you know that within that love there can be disagreements and tiffs. We are human. It’s going to happen. And yet, Jesus prays that we might see and know what we have in common – in God’s love for us and living that love for one another – first to deepen those relationships. Perhaps, even to guide our conversations within touchy subjects.

The mystery of the incarnation is that God desired unity with us so much that God became one of us. And in that moment, we were drawn into the oneness of God, the Creator/Father/Mother, the Son, and the Spirit. It is with God’s help that we can live into that oneness.

The disciples were in the time between the Ascension and the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost. We are in the time between the first and second coming of Jesus Christ. May we rejoice in the assurance that Christ is with us, continuing to pray for our oneness, our unity, for us.

Our Lord prays for us. Wow. Jesus continues to pray for us to be united in love. Jesus prays for us. That is all sorts of cool. Amen.




June 1, 2019, 8:00 AM

June 2019 Newsletter


Grace and peace y’all!

The weather is getting warmer. School is over this month. Vacations and trips are soon to take place for many people. Relax. Breathe. You’re good.

Here’s my encouragement to you this summer, no matter if the weather is oppressive or discouraging; no matter if you’re busy or relaxing; no matter if you’re working or taking some time off; no matter what is going on in your life, give thanks to God.

Seriously. I think we sometimes forget to do that. We get caught up in the busyness of our lives and we forget that God is indeed present with us. We forget the promise, hope, grace, and love that God has given us through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We forget.

Take moments to be in silent prayer. Set aside time to read and study. Peruse some books on faith that just might rekindle something you felt was lost inside you. Come to worship and be present with the community as we collectively give thanks for what God has done, is doing, and will do.

If you go on vacation, check out a place of worship in that area (pastor’s note: it is not a requirement to bring me a bulletin to ‘prove’ that you were worshipping somewhere else. Though, I do find it fun and cute when some of y’all do that 😉).

The summer months don’t usually bring that much ‘downtime’ in the life of the church, even though it might be a bit more ‘relaxed’ in some ways. We’ve got Confirmation Camp, VBS, Vision Retreats, and so much more heading our way this summer.

Remember to pause. Breath. Relax. Pray. Give thanks.

God is with y’all. Amen.




May 27, 2019, 8:00 AM

the one about peace...


Sermon from May 26, 2019

Text: John 14:23-29

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our Redeemer; amen.

So, have you ever thought about peace? Of course, we have, right? It is literally the main point of every political campaign in the history of all humankind, right? Countless politicians, private citizens, monarchies, and more have all advocated for peace in some way or another. Each has a different way of approaching it, but it is what we all want and hope for.

In addition to world peace we want peace in our lives as well? We want peace from all the troubles, all the worries, all the things that place us in any sort of discomfort.

Typically, how do we approach that sort of peace that we crave and desire? If it is on the world stage, when ‘peace’ is mentioned, it is usually sought after by having the bigger stick, right? We want a peaceful world, and the way we most want that to be accomplished is making sure the other people are too scared to mess with us.

We make sure we have a better army, more devasting weapons, and quicker responses.

We want to be ‘at peace’ so we desire to build walls, guard borders, and have ‘more weapons’ in all the ways we can.

When we search for peace in our homes, we desire to be safe. You might have a gun in the house, or a bat. You make sure your windows and doors are shut and locked, you might have a security system.

Yet… does that bring true peace?

I’m not saying that having a means to protect yourself isn’t bad. It isn’t. I’m not advocating that at all. But, does putting up more walls, accumulating more weapons, and having a bigger ‘stick’ than others really bring the peace we desire?

Because no matter how formidable your arsenal is, there’s always the question of what if. What if the other guy has a lot of stuff? What if they have something more powerful? What if the wall isn’t tall enough? What if they use this new technique to bypass the security system? What if? What if? What if?

And typically, what is the response to those what if questions we have? Build more. Spend more. All to make absolute surety that we’re going to be safe.

This sort of peace doesn’t seem to bring true peace to our lives. We can become more cautions, wary, and nervous around those who are different. We can become skeptical of new folks around us. Keeping an eye out the windows of those walking down the street from the ‘safety’ of our homes. Not venturing out into the dangerous world.

Is that really peace? Is that the peace that Jesus offers?

Thankfully, it isn’t. This morning we read and hear Jesus say that the peace he offers and brings isn’t the same type of peace that the world gives.

What is that peace? What is the peace that Jesus offers?

This week, I was able to visit a friend who was in the hospital. He’s a guy you’d never expect to be sick in any way. He’s literally built like a superhero. But, he’s sick; his body doesn’t work they way it is intended to.

But, while we sat together in the hospital and talked, he mentioned that he was pretty frustrated and bored in his room. Just waiting. Things didn’t seem like they were moving as quickly as he’d like.

He, like literally every person I visit in the hospital, wants answers. And they want them in a timeframe that usually doesn’t mesh up well with the schedules of doctors and nurses caring for them. And it can be frustrating.

But, in that moment, I mentioned to him – as I do to pretty much everyone else I visit –, I think the peace we can see in this moment is that the doctors and nurses are caring for someone who is in greater need than you. Yes, you’re here and it isn’t fun. But, would you rather be bored or have everyone tending to you?

Usually when folks are running in and out of room – it doesn’t mean things are peaceful. It typically means things are dire. I’ve been in those situations before, it’s controlled chaos.

Sounds, shouts, smells, sights.

The peace Jesus offers is the calm in the moment that says you’re going to be OK. The peace that Jesus offers is the knowledge that you are love and cared for; always. The peace that Jesus offers reminds us that we are not alone.

We’re in graduation season right now, in fact we have three young women who will be transitioning from high school to college this year. And I’ve talked with them and their parents, and there is a sense of ‘unease’ in all those situations.

Mostly from parents – particularly dads – who are nervous. Their kids are going to be leaving home. They want them to be safe. They worry because they love them dearly and fully.

Yet, the peace that we can find in those moments is that those young women are strong, they’re intelligent, they’re mindful, they are compassionate. They’ve been raised well. Because they’ve been taught well by their parents, their schools, their church. They’re going to be OK. We know that they won’t be alone.

I think there is peace in that (he says knowing that he doesn’t have to face that situation for at least 10 more years).

Jesus tells the disciples this morning that the peace they receive is the reminder that they won’t ever be alone. That God is with them. Even when it doesn’t seem like it – even when there are rumors of death – spoken directly from the one you put your trust and faith in. God is there. God will be there. God is going to send another. The Spirit, the one that will guide you, push you, compel you, love you, remind you.

The peace that Jesus offers us is that in spite of the ridiculousness of life, the turbulence, the anxiety, the pressure, the fears – we are surrounded by a community of folks, by family, by friends, by the Holy Spirit who will sit-with us in those moments. Even when it is ‘boring’ in the hospital room. Our peace from God is knowing that others will sit-with us. Sit-with us out of love, compassion, empathy, and grace.

The peace that Jesus offers to us is that calm in the midst of the storm. The peace that Jesus brings to us is the content when things are going sideways. The peace that Jesus gives us is the knowledge that no matter what we are loved and cared for by God.

The peace and love that God offers to us through the life and resurrection of Jesus is that God is indeed present with us through all this. And if God is present with us, surely God is present with the person in front of us.

The peace that Jesus offers us, isn’t the peace that makes everything perfect. Or at least our idea of perfect. There is still turmoil, things still go sideways. Yet, in the midst of that turbulence God is still present. Jesus is still walking with us. The Holy Spirit is still guiding us.

Reminding us that we are loved. Showing us that we are loved. Pushing us to see and share that love in us and through us for others. Finding all the ways both in our minds and outside our control that we are not alone.

The peace that Jesus offers isn’t one about weapons, walls, and defenses. Those typically don’t make us peaceful. In fact, I think they make us more scared because of all the what ifs.

Yet, the peace that Jesus offers is the type of peace that brings us calm in the midst of sadness when a loved one dies. That calm that assures us and others that God loves them, God loves us, God is with all of us.

The peace that Jesus offers us, is that in the controlled chaos of a hospital, those nurses and doctors are able to do the work they’ve been trained and shaped to do.

The peace that Jesus offers us, is the type of peace that comes from sending your kid off to school and new ventures knowing that they’re going to be OK.

The peace that Jesus offers us, is the type of peace that reminds us that even as we go off to new ventures, we can call our parents and hear that familiar voice of love and compassion.

The peace that Jesus offers us, is the one that reminds us that God is “I am.” God is the one who is in control. God is the one who is guiding and loving us. God is the one who has and continues to offer us grace and mercy – always.

The peace that Jesus offers us, is the one that reminds us that we are not alone. As we are splashed in the font, as we are fed at the table, as we hear the words of scripture, as we sing the hymns of praise, as we are sent from this place – together – we are reminded that we are not alone. For the Holy Spirit is indeed with us.

This peace is the one that reminds us that not one thing can separate us from God’s love in Christ our Lord. Not one thing.

That is the peace that Jesus offers. That is the peace that Jesus continues to give. That is the peace we need.

The world doesn’t offer it. But, Jesus sure does. Amen.

 




May 20, 2019, 12:00 AM

the one about the new commandment...


Sermon from May 19, 2019

Text: John 13: 31-35

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

So, we get this reading again – we haven’t read this since Thursday of Holy Week. Where, we got the more complete story of Jesus’ last night with his disciples. It was that evening that we heard of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, and this morning we focus in a bit more on what he says next.

After Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, models for them what it means to serve in the kingdom of God, and tells them of what is about to happen to him, he gives a bit more to what it means to serve and love the way in which God is asking of them and us.

Jesus says: I give you a new commandment.

Now, we don’t know how long or even if there was a pause between that phrase and when Jesus continues, but imagine there is a pause, even if just for a moment.

The friends surrounding Jesus are faithful Jews. They follow the Torah. They know scripture. They’ve been taught under Jesus who has a command and authority over scripture that they’ve never heard before. They and so many others are captivated by his ability to interpret these ancient and holy words into something new, different, and life-giving in ways they and others have never thought.

They are those who not only follow rules, but also those who follow rules in new ways.

When Jesus says that he has a new commandment for them. I can only imagine how their minds quickly raced through what that might mean. What could this new commandment be? How will it differ from the commandments they already have – the ones given to Moses on Mount Sinai. The ones that the prophet handed to the people. Those rules that the people and nation of Israel – the disciples themselves – at times just had a hard time following.

Finally, Jesus is going to give a new commandment – one that will surpass all those old ones that are so hard to keep and follow.

So, Jesus – Lord, our friend – what is this new commandment?

In the words of the Beatles – “All you need is love.”

Really? That’s it? Just love one another? How is that new? How is that different from what we already have? How do we do that?

When you think about it, what Jesus asks for doesn’t seem that difficult. Just love people. How hard is that?

Have you seen the world – it’s pretty hard sometimes. Right?

I remember in my first call talking to an adult bible study class about this very text. Hearing from a sweet and dear older woman in that group say, “I don’t know what the big deal is. It’s easy being a Christian – just love people, go to church, and be happy. How hard is that?”

Of course, on paper that seems really easy. It’s even easier to say it.

I just love people. What’s difficult about all that?

But, it becomes difficult when you realize that people find it much easier to ‘love’ those who are similar to them. Those who look like them, those who act like them, those who love like them, those who believe like them, those who work like them, those who cheer for the same team/people/organizations like them.

It’s much easier to love people who we like. It’s much easier to love people who we agree with. It becomes rather difficult when we try to start loving people that are different from who we believe our selves to be even if just a little bit different.

Things we would let slide if folks were ‘similar’ to us, we home in on and demand they be perfect. Even though we wouldn’t follow the same advice.

Or perhaps we speak of love in one breath, but then speak of hate, death, and more in the next because someone is different, or caused some sort of pain, or they give an idea that is contrary to how we’d like to see something take place.

We’ve all done that. No one is guiltless when it comes to those actions.

It’s hard to love people. This whole life of following Jesus would be so much easier, if it wasn’t for all the people.

But, thankfully – there are other people. There are others who challenge us, confront us, inspire us, lead us, change us. They do all that as they live into the life that Jesus has called us into. We are invited to deepen our life in what Jesus shares with us by being with them, loving them, serving with others.

Jesus says, that they’ll know we are his disciples if we have love for one another.

It isn’t about doctrinal statements. That doesn’t make us disciples of Jesus.

It isn’t about traditions in our churches. That doesn’t make us disciples of Jesus.

It isn’t about how well you know scripture. That doesn’t make us disciples of Jesus.

Love – as commanded by Jesus, makes us disciples. The love that we have received from God. The love that we share and live out around us. That is how others will know that we are disciples of the Son of God.

Jesus’ commandment to love – I believe – transcends those things that we like to think make us true disciples. Because, without love, what good are they?

As people, we are always going to naturally gather with those who are like-minded. That isn’t necessarily bad. But, when we start gathering with only people we agree with, refusing to acknowledge, serve with, be around, talk to, or simply love those who are different from us, we fail at the commandment that Jesus calls us into.

Being united with folks, doesn’t mean we are all uniform in our identities. We have a habit of only loving folks who are exactly like us and refusing to extend even the simplest of ‘love’ to those who differ even slightly from who we are.

Loving in the way that Jesus commands of us, isn’t easy. But it is needed. When it proves rather difficult, when we fail and fall short of loving all of God’s children around us, Jesus is still there with us. For remember, Jesus told all the disciples what was about to happen, he’s about to tell Peter how he’ll deny even knowing his Lord. Yet, Jesus still sticks with them. Jesus still walks with them. Jesus still forgives them. Jesus still returns to them and offers his peace.

God’s love for us through Jesus the Son sticks with us, even when we mess up. Constantly calling us to love deeper, to expand our love, to crumble our walls and shatter the boundaries between us and them. Surrounding each of us with others who help us to love, who challenge us to love, who inspire us to love.

All you need is love, right?

Recently, I read of a story about someone who was going around and asking people if they were Christians. Why? Who knows – people do weird things on the street who are captivated by faith.

This person approaches a woman in town and asks the question, “Are you a Christian, ma’am? Are you?”

Her response was rather peculiar. She said, “Why ask me if I’m a Christian, I could tell you anything. I could tell you just what you want to hear.

But, instead of asking me if I’m a Christian. Why don’t you ask my neighbor, the store clerk, the hurting one, the immigrant, the people around me. Ask them and they’ll give you your answer.”

Isn’t that what Jesus tells us this morning? If you have love for one another, everyone will know that you are one of my disciples. Amen.




May 13, 2019, 12:00 AM

the one about being known...


Sermon from May 12, 2019

Text: John 10:22-30

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, we live in a world with so many questions, don’t we? Anyone who has children or interacts with children – perhaps moms and all those who are like moms to us – who hear countless ‘simple’ questions. Mostly the constant barrage of ‘Why?’ as those children continue to learn and grow in this world.

But, we never really stop asking questions – especially not the simple ones, right? Questions like, “How do I look?” or “What should I stream tonight?” and “What did that person say?”

Though we ask really simple questions at times, we are never far removed from the deeper questions, the questions that rock us to our core, stop us in our tracks, and makes us ponder and think. Questions like, “Why am I like this? Or “Where am I going?” “Who will love me?” “What more is there?” “Why does this keep happening?”

We live in a world where those questions seem to come up quite often especially in light of the news that we see played out in front of our eyes at a seemingly increasing rate – another shooting at a high school, another verbal altercation between people who disagree.

After each of those, we ask more and more questions. Searching for answers to a life that we at times (perhaps most of the time) just don’t understand. Trying to comprehend all that is shown to each of us. We ask these questions because we are always searching for more. No matter how religious, spiritual, or none of those a person is – we are searching for meaning somewhere.

We ask those questions because we want to belong. We want to find a place to be welcomed and loved. We want to hear something, learn something, know something that brings a deeper meaning to our lives.

This morning in our text, we get to see a bit of that ‘meaning’ play out. In our gospel reading from John, we hear Jesus talking to the religious authorities. They continue to ask him those deep questions, those questions that we all ask of Jesus – if you really are the Son of God – if you are who you say you are – if we are to really believe you – then why don’t you show us?

How many have asked those questions before? I know I have. Those questions that keep you up at night, those questions that gnaw at your gut, those questions that make your mind race.

Just tell us! Give us a sign!

The religious authorities’ questions remind me of the scene from Bruce Almighty –as Bruce is having his crisis at the beginning of the film, he prays and asks (perhaps demands) that God give him a sign – and immediately he passes by numerous signs – even a utility truck literally full of different signs.

Throughout the gospels – especially in the Gospel of John – Jesus continually gives very plain signs as to who he is. Not just in the signs he performs that point to is identity and nature, but in the authority in his voice, the command of scripture, his willingness to go to the places that no one else will to show and live out God’s love for all of creation.

God has continually reached out to us through means that we don’t always understand, sometimes overlook, and even take for granted. Jesus this morning answers that question by speaking in such a way that I believe we overlook quite often – I know I did.

This day we celebrate two things, one ever year on this fourth Sunday of Easter, and one pretty special for this day. Today is Good Shepherd Sunday and today is also the baptism of Jaina Leigh Richardson.

Whenever we talk about this text, we usually – perhaps I usually – interpret this text to say, Jesus speaks, we hear him, we know his voice, so we follow. Seems logical right? That’s how things work right?

We hear a voice that we know, and then whether by relationship or comfort – we follow.

Yet, that’s not what the text says, and I think this makes it ever more important and meaningful.

Jesus says that yes – the sheep – those that belong to the flock – hear Jesus’ voice, but he knows them. And they follow him.

Jesus knows us. Jesus knows all that we are. And you know what? No one will snatch the flock out of Jesus’ hand.

You’re there. You’re safe.

Not because of what you’ve done. Not because of what you believe. Not because of who you love or what you dress like or what ‘right questions’ you ask (or don’t ask).

No one can snatch you away because Jesus. Knows. You.

That is the truth of the Good Shepherd.

We ask questions that make us anxious, scared, and fearful? Can’t snatch you away – Jesus knows you.

Ask questions out of frustration, anger, and apathy? Can’t snatch you away – Jesus knows you.

Fall back, stray away, turn away? Can’t snatch you away – Jesus knows you.

Jesus knows you. He is the good shepherd who calls to us, we hear, and he knows us, so we follow.

Some might take a little longer to follow because they are over there at the back of the field – Still, you can’t be snatched away – Jesus knows you.

This morning, we get to celebrate that knowing on a deeper level. This morning we get to participate and be witness to the baptism of Jaina Richardson. This morning, we get to remember our own baptisms.

We get to remember that we are known by God. We are known by Jesus. We are known in these waters and there is nothing that can take that away.

Jaina is indeed known by God. In these waters we remember what God already knows. That God knows us fully and completely. That God loves us through and through and there is nothing that can take that love away from us. God looks upon Jaina – God looks upon each of us – in and through these holy waters and says, “This one is mine. I know her – I know him – I know them – This is good. Always.”

But, there is something else we have to remember. Just because God knows you, just because you and I and Jaina cannot and will never be ‘snatched’ out of the hands of Jesus because we are known through these waters, it doesn’t mean that life will be easy.

It doesn’t mean that we get a smooth ride. It doesn’t mean that questions and fears and anxieties won’t crop up. It doesn’t mean that we’ll live on those ‘mountain-tops’ every day. It doesn’t.

Life still stinks sometimes. There is still hurt. There is still loss. There is still confusion. There is still sin. There isn’t much we can do to get away from that.

But, the good news is – that in spite of our questions. In spite of our acts. In spite of our ways – nothing can snatch us out of God’s hands.

Nothing can snatch us away, because Jesus already knows us.

You, and I, and Jaina, and the world are enough. You’re loved. You’re forgiven. You’re accepted. You’re washed. You’re baptized.

God already knows you. God already knows all about you. And even knowing all of that – you’re welcome to the font. You’re welcome to the table. That is God’s grace and love at work.

In her book, Searching for Sundays, Rachel Held Evans (whose life tragically ended last week as she died in the hospital from an infection at the age of 37) writes, “Grace got out of hand the moment the God of the universe hung on a Roman cross and with outstretched hands looked out upon those who had hung him there and declared, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Grace has been out of hand for more than two thousand years now. We best get used to it.

Grace is indeed out of hand. So out of hand that there is nothing that can snatch us away from the hands of God. That grace that extends from the cross, that flows through the rivers and waters of baptism, that leads us to the table, that surrounds us in our lowest moments, that lifts us up to those mountains, and that walks with us through all the days on the plain as well.

We do indeed have so many questions. But, none of those questions keeps God from loving us. Why? Because Jesus knows us already. In that knowing – that comfort and love – we follow. Amen.




May 5, 2019, 9:00 AM

Of Marvel and Faith, the last part...


Avengers: Infinity War

This is it. The beginning of the end(game). All previous 20 MCU films have led to this point. Throughout the series we have received glimpses of this powerful evil that is seeking out the Infinity Stones. If you never watched through the credits of a Marvel movie, you’d probably be a little confused about who this evil person is. He has only made a few appearances in the films themselves (mostly Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy).

Thanos is coming. And he’s got a job to do.

The film begins on the spaceship housing the Asgardian refugees as they are making their way (presumably) to Earth. And it is a mess.

Thanos and the Children of Thanos have ravaged the ship and the people. Half of the community has been slaughtered ‘for peace and prosperity.’ Thor, Loki, and Hulk attempt to stop Thanos, but they cannot. They fail.

In his last moments, Heimdell uses his power to call the Bifrost to send Hulk back to earth to warn the people and those who can help. Loki tries to sweet talk his way closer to Thanos to assassinate him, but he already possesses the Power and the Space Stones (two of the six). Thanos stops him mid strike, and ends his life.

Thor is distraught. So many people he loves he has watched die. He vows to take out Thanos.

Thanos laughs and he and his ‘children’ leave through a portal and the spaceship explodes.

Hulk is sent to the New York Sanctum where Doctor Strange is, and he arrives just in time as the Children of Thanos have arrived on earth to forcibly take the Time Stone (which resides in Doctor Strange’s amulet – The Eye of Agamotto) and the Mind Stone (which is firmly implanted in Vision’s forehead).

Iron Man, Spider-man, and Doctor Strange are able to (somewhat) hold off the powerful tandem of Ebony Maw and Cull Obsidian. But, Doctor Strange is still captured (with the Time Stone still around his neck) and Iron Man and Spider-man go along for the ride in their spaceship as it heads back to Thanos’ home planet of Titan.

The other part of this powerful foursome – Corvus Glaive and Proxima Midnight seek out the Mind Stone. They attack Vision by surprise (which is surprising in and of itself) as he is off in hiding with Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch). They are helped by Captain America, Black Widow, and Falcon. But, Vision is gravely injured. They need to find a place that not only can help his injuries, but also to help remove the Mind Stone from him. They head off to Wakanda.

Meanwhile, the Guardians of the Galaxy have answered the distress call sent out by the Asgardian refugees and they find the ship’s wreckage. They also find the floating body of Thor. After retrieving him and reviving him, he says that they need to create a powerful weapon – a Thanos killing weapon. And there is only one place to make that happen – the forge at Nidavellir. Thor leaves with Rocket Racoon and Groot.

Quill, Gamora, Drax, and Mantis head to Knowhere and The Collector who has the Reality Stone. They hope to get there before Thanos does. But, after a brief glimmer of hope, they discover that they are too late. Thanos has already arrived and taken the Reality Stone. He captures Gamora and takes her aboard his ship.

On the ship, he uses the torture of Gamora’s ‘adopted’ sister – Nebula – to reveal the location of the Soul Stone which is on the planet Vormir. When they arrive on Vormir, the keeper of the Soul Stone (Red Skull – the main villain from Captain America: The First Avenger) states that in order to obtain the soul stone, one must sacrifice that which they love the most.

Gamora thinks that this will definitely stop Thanos, because as far as she knows Thanos loves no one. Unfortunately, he deeply loves Gamora as his daughter. He sacrifices her by throwing from the cliff and discovering the Soul Stone is in his hand. He heads to Titan where he intends to meet up with the other Children of Thanos who hopefully have the Time and Mind Stones.

During this time, Nebula escapes captivity and meets up with the Guardians. She implores them that they have to go to Titan to stop Thanos. That’s where he’s going to be. Luckily they arrive well before Thanos does, but they get to meet up with Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Doctor Strange.

They hatch a plan in order to take the powerful Infinity Gauntlet from Thanos’ hand. As they plan, they notice that Doctor Strange is behaving rather oddly. He states that he has looked into the future and seen millions of potential outcomes in stopping Thanos. Only one of them works. That’s the path they set themselves on.

Thanos finally arrives on Titan and realizes that his plan has gone just off course. He fights with Stark and the others. Mentioning that the reason he is obtaining these stones and the course he’s set himself on is a righteous and altruistic one. He only wants to save the universe – by killing half of all its population. He feels that there are too many beings and not enough resources. For him, this is the only way.

The combined forces of Starlord, Drax, Nebula, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Mantis, and Doctor Strange almost gets the gauntlet off of Thanos. But, that plan is thwarted when Quill realizes that Thanos killed Gamora. Thanos recovers and knocks down all those attacking him and Doctor Strange reluctantly gives him the Time Stone.

While all this is happening, Thor, Rocket, and Groot help create the powerful Thanos killing weapon called Stormbreaker. It is a mighty weapon that even has the ability to summon the Bifrost. Thor almost kills himself to obtain this weapon, but as soon as he gets it (with a handle made from Groot’s limb) he does indeed summon the Bifrost and the three make their way to Earth.

On Earth, a massive battle is taking place in Wakanda. Proxima Midnight and Cull Obsidian unleash a massive army on the Wakanda Army, led by Captain America and Black Panther with the help of The Winter Soldier, Warmachine, Falcon, Black Widow, and Bruce Banner in the Hulkbuster suit (Hulk is apparently too afraid to fight). This forward army is trying to bide enough time for Black Panther’s (King T’Challa) sister Shuri to safely remove the Mind Stone from Vision so that it can be destroyed by Scarlett Witch.

The battle moves back and forth, and the tides seemingly turn when Thor, Rocket, and Groot arrive. Thor is able to use the full power of abilities. In this moment he is truly the God of Thunder.

He is almost able to single handidly take out the entire evil force. In the course of the battle the rest of the Children of Thanos find their demise as well. Everything seems ok.

Until Thanos arrives.

Many superheroes attempt to slow Thanos down as much as possible as he makes his walk towards Vision. Vision pleads with Wanda to destroy the stone, even if it kills him because it would be worse if he obtained.

With frustration, mourning, fear, and anger in her eyes. Wanda is able to destroy the Mind Stone – and her love, Vision in the process – before Thanos gets to them. They’ve finally won and stopped this mad Titan.

Except, Thanos uses the power of the Time Stone to turn back the clocks and literally rip the Mind Stone out of Vision’s head. He now has the full power of all six Infinity Stones. He can finally accomplish his goal.

Yet, just before he lifts his hand, Stormbreaker slams into Thanos and Thor pushes it further and further into his chest. Thanos taunts Thor and says he should’ve gone for his head.

*Snap*

Thanos disappears through a portal and everything becomes eerie and quiet. All of sudden, people all around the heroes, the world, and the entire universe begin turning into dust.

At the Battle of Wakanda – Black Panther, Falcon, Scarlet Witch, The Winter Soldier, Groot are lost. On Titan, Drax, Mantis, Quill, Spider-man, and Doctor Strange turn to dust. Yet, before he vanishes, Strange looks Stark in the eyes and tells him that this is the only way.

Our heroes have lost. Thanos won.

Talk about a gut punch. We’ve been used to seeing these powerful individuals win. Sure, with plenty of setbacks and losses (especially for Thor), but ultimately they win the day.

This time they don’t. All hope seems lost (which will become even more evident in the beginning of Avengers: Endgame). What in the world can they do?

There is so much going on in this film and so much to draw from, the I only want to focus on a few things. Back in May of 2018, our Nerd Word group have a wonderful discussion about the faith themes present in this film, but we didn’t touch on what I’m about to state here.

Thanos sees himself as a savior. And, in a way – he has good intentions with what he wants to do. He wants to see life thrive; to be beautiful in all its unique ways. But, the only way he sees that being possible is to remove half of the universe’s population. In a twisted way, Thanos sees himself as the father of a new world.

As I contemplate on his role in the universe, I cannot help but compare him to Barabbas. Barabbas is the one that the crowds demanded instead of Jesus as Pontius Pilate gave them a choice. The crowds chose the fighter. They chose the one who physically stood up to the Roman Empire and chose the one who it is implied – killed for the greater good of the people of Israel.

That’s who they wanted their savior to be. That’s the kind of savior that Thanos sees himself being. In his mind, it’s the only way.

However, we know (now) that this isn’t the only way. God finds another way to bring hope, life, and love into the world in and through Jesus. Jesus is the one who boldly looks creation in the face and says the same words that Doctor Strange does do Tony – This is the only way.

We know the story isn’t over. But it hurts right now. Bad. Just as it hurt for those on Good Friday when Jesus died on the cross. There wasn’t any possible way to recover from this. Their leader was dead. The one they thought to be the savior of the world – the literal Son of God – had died. Violently. In a humiliating fashion.

Our heroes were defeated in Infinity War. They were humiliated by the one who accomplished his goal. The ones who no one thought could be defeated weren’t able to win. How do we come back from this?

Again, we look to the wise and sage words of Doctor Strange – there was only one outcome out of millions and millions of scenarios where they won. This is it. What does that look like? Especially since Strange was taken by the Snap-ture? Only time will tell. Hopefully our heroes will be vigilant enough, trusting enough, to see it through.

This film also features a lot of other elements of faith – exile and journey, sacrifice, and how we approach impending death. But, I think as heavy as this film is, I’ll leave y’all to ponder those thoughts.

 

 

These last few weeks have been really interesting. I’ve greatly enjoyed writing these summaries and faith reflections on films that I have greatly enjoyed. Getting to watch them again gave me a deeper understanding of not only each individual film, but how integral they are all together (except maybe The Incredible Hulk…). 22 films. Over 50 hours of comic action. Battles, jokes, tears, surprises, and all the emotions throughout have been a part of this journey for me. It really is an excellent series of films.

Re-watching these films through a lens of faith has been eye-opening as well. Being able to see glimmers of the gospel at work in these films has helped deepen my own faith. Seeing how God is at work even in the places that we don’t expect.

I love seeing those interesting spaces where God is at work. I love looking at things through the eyes of faith. I love talking with others about nerdy, geeky, and faithful stuff. In fact, I kind of like writing about it too (and I should at almost 40 full pages and counting).

But, I have one more film to summarize. One more film to reflect upon in faith. If you haven’t seen Avengers: Endgame yet – you need to see it. Not just so you can read further on down this page, but because it is a phenomenal film. I believe it is my personal favorite film in the entire MCU.

So, without further delay…

 

Avengers: Endgame

The film opens on Clint Barnes’ (Hawkeye) farm with his family. He’s teaching his oldest daughter how to fire an arrow and she’s good. The rest of the family is getting ready to eat lunch outside. Yet, in that moment, literally as Barnes turns his back to each member, they all turn to dust. He doesn’t know what’s going on (he isn’t in the battle taking place in Wakanda). This moment reminds us of the fear, sadness, and confusion that existed for everyone in his shoes. It’s a hard moment to start this film on.

Next, we see that Nebula and Stark are trying to make their way back to Earth. They’ve gotten their ship fixed enough, but it doesn’t seem like it is enough. They’ve been lost in space for weeks. Life support and food are running out. Stark knows he’s failed and all he wants – all he hopes – is that Pepper Potts (his fiancé, his one-time assistant and current CEO of Stark Enterprises) will be able to hear his messages of pain, love, loss, and apology.

Yet, in the middle of space, they are found by the only person who could find them – Captain Marvel. She takes them back to Earth where the world is still reeling from the affects of Thanos’ ‘snapture.’

They want to reverse it all. They need to find Thanos. Nebula tells them where he is and off they go.

They discover that Thanos is living on an uninhabited planet. It’s just him. No defenses at all. And he’s gravely hurt. He isn’t putting up much of a fight, or any fight at all.

They notice that his gauntlet and the arm it is on is destroyed and scarred. Thanos knew that the Avengers and their friends would come to try to reverse what he did. So, he did the only thing he could do. He used the power of all six stones to destroy themselves and it nearly killed him in the process.

Overcome with rage and sadness, Thor finishes what he promised he’d do after Thanos killed Loki – that he’d die for that.

Even after finally defeating Thanos, they haven’t won anything. Nothing changed. In fact, nothing appears to be able to change at all.

The film then fast forwards five years into the future.

Things are not prosperous. Earth (and presumably the rest of the universe) is still in mourning. There is no joy. Just depression. Just apathy. Black Widow has taken the role of leading what is left of the Avengers because people still need to be helped, but it isn’t the same. Yet, it’s the only thing that keeps her sane and not falling into a puddle of tears and emotions.

Yet, in this moment, something from the past – something from the dead – comes back. Scott Lang – who has been stuck in the Quantum Realm since Thanos’ snap comes back (with the help of a rather large rat). He makes his way to Avenger’s headquarters to tell them all that there might be away to save everyone. Why? Because time works differently in the Quantum Realm. Perhaps they can make a ‘time machine’ to go back and get the stones to prevent or reverse what Thanos did.

But, they’ll need help. They need Tony Stark.

But, Tony is different now. He’s married. He’s a father. In many ways, the Snap of Thanos did him good. His life might actually be better than it was before. But, he’s one of the few.

They plead with him to help. To set things right. He balks.

But, it wouldn’t be Tony Stark if he didn’t try. So, he does. And he thinks he figured it out. He figured out time travel through the Quantum Realm. But, he’s at a crossroads. He loves what he has right now. He doesn’t want to change that. He vows to help – with the urging and permission of Pepper – only to reverse those who were lost. Not to prevent it. Not to erase the last five years.

So, they all get to work and devise a plan. They’ll go back to specific moments in time to obtain all six stones ­before Thanos gets any of them. They’ll come back to the future do their own ‘snap’ and bring everyone back.

There are four groups.

Bruce Banner (who now is fully the Hulk in strength and appearance, but all Banner in mind and attitude), Captain America, Iron Man, and Ant-man will go get the Mind, Space, and Time Stones during the Battle of New York.

Hawkeye and Black Widow will get the Soul Stone from Vormir.

They also travel with Warmachine and Nebula who will take the Power Stone from Morag before Peter Quill does.

Finally Rocket and a broken and depressed Thor will go to Asgard to get the Reality Stone.

There is one kink in this whole plan. Each person only has enough ‘fuel’ to make two trips. One to the past, and one back to the present. They have to get this done. They all agree to it, and all step on to the time machine platform.

In 2012 New York, Cap, Stark, Banner, and Lang search out for each of the respective stones to get. Banner goes for the Time Stone while Cap, Stark, and Lang work together to get both the Mind and Space Stones.

Banner confronts The Ancient One (who has the Eye of Agamotto around her neck) about needing the Stone, but she is unwilling to part ways with it because doing so will create divergent timelines. Only after a lot of talking and realizing that this is Doctor Strange’s idea does she agree – with one condition. That each Stone must be put back at the exact moment they were taken. That way the timeline can remain constant – nothing changes in the future. This was the easiest stone to obtain.

The rest of the New York group have a bit more difficulty, they are able to get the mind stone ‘easily’ enough. Captain America pretends to be that timeline’s current Cap and just takes the case with Loki’s Scepter in it since that is where the Mind Stone is at the moment. They have a bit more trouble with the Space Stone. They obtain it, but get stopped on the bottom floor of Stark Tower. After a bit of an argument, some confusion, and a debilitated 2012 Iron Man (thanks to the tiny hijinks of Ant-Man), the Space Stone ends up at the feet of Loki. He, of course, takes it and uses its power to flee.

They think they’ve failed altogether, but Cap has another idea. They’ll go further back in time where they can get the Space Stone and more of the fuel they need to make more time jumps.

Thankfully that plan works. In the process Captain America sees the love of his life – Peggy Carter – and Stark gets to meet his father and have a good conversation with him.

Three stones down, three more to go.

In 2013 Asgard, Rocket and Thor plan to remove the Aether/Reality Stone from Jane Foster who was ‘infected’ with it during the events of Thor: The Dark World. This should be simple. But, as mentioned before Thor is a bit broken.

Since he killed Thanos and wasn’t able to save the world, he spiraled into a world of drinking, being lazy, over eating, and feeling unworthy to hold the title of ‘king of Asgard’ let alone the ‘God of Thunder.’ He’s out of shape, disconnected from reality, and emotional.

It doesn’t help that the moment they travel to is just before his mother is killed. Frigga seeks Thor out and has a heart to heart conversation with her son. She knows that he is broken and hurting, but reminds him that maybe he just needs to be who he is and not what he’s supposed to be. That’s a lot of pressure and its been weighing on Thor since the events after Infinity War.

As Rocket is being chased by the royal guards of Asgard, Thor discovers that even in his broken state, he’s still very much worthy as his hammer Mjolnir (which he hasn’t been able to use for over five years since Hela destroyed it) comes to him. He takes the Hammer and they both travel back to their present.

In 2014, Nebula, Warmachine, Black Widow, and Hawkeye arrive to get the Power and Soul Stones. They stop on Morag, while Hawkeye and Black Widow take Quill’s ship (the Milano) to Vormir.

On Vormir, Black Widow and Hawkeye confront something that they didn’t expect, and no one prepared them for. They too are met by the keeper of the Soul Stone – the same keeper that met Thanos. He tells them the same rules. In order to obtain the stone, you must give up something precious: A soul for a soul.

Hawkeye and Black Widow, best of friends who care deeply for one another, fight with each other in who will sacrifice themselves so the other can get the stone. After a bit of back and forth, Black Widow ‘wins.’ She willfully drops from the cliff, sacrificing her life so that Hawkeye can take the Soul Stone back to the present.

Trouble arises in 2014 because the 2014 Nebula and the 2019 Nebula share a neural network. Thanos and his closest followers are able to discover the Avenger’s plan to reverse what he will successfully accomplish years in the future. He of course, cannot have that. His plan must succeed and be permanent.

They capture, use, and take advantage of 2019 Nebula and switch 2014 Nebula in her place.

All the Avengers return to the present day with the stones they were assigned to claim. They go to Tony’s lab and decide which one of them will put on their version of the gauntlet to ‘snap’ the lost back to life.

They decide to give it to Banner since he’s the only one thought to be strong enough to withstand the combined power of all six Infinity Stones. Anyone else wouldn’t be able to survive. Stark insists that Banner only bring back the fallen, not to revert time back to that moment five years ago.

Banner snaps his fingers and the sounds of birds can be heard, not to mention Hawkeye’s cell phone starts to ring as he’s receiving a call from his wife. Everything seems to be good. Finally.

Except it isn’t.

2014 Nebula hijacks the time machine and uses it to not only bring Thanos to the present, but his entire ship, army, the Children of Thanos, and the Chitauri army. Thanos has come to put a stop to these meddling humans and their friends.

He also has a different plan, since he’s discovered that his original plan didn’t lead to life and thriving in the world. In his mind, if it had, no one would’ve wanted the fallen to return.

His new plan is even more sinister. He’ll use the power of the stones to wipeout all life in the universe and scrub the memory of the Avengers from all of history. Only after that is done will he then use the power of the stones to recreate the universe in his design.

This isn’t the ‘altruistic’ and reluctant villain of Infinity War. This is the Mad Titan Thanos that the galaxy has been in fear of.

A huge battle ensues. Surprises await at almost every turn. Especially when just as it appears that Thor is about to be killed by Thanos, he’s hit with Mjolnir; wielded by Captain America. He is worthy to hold the hammer and is bestowed the powers of the God of Thunder as well.

But, even that new advantage still isn’t enough to stop Thanos and his army. Thanos knows that he has numbers on his side. He’ll just beat them into submission by overrunning them.

Captain America isn’t backing down. As he stands to continue the fight. Countless mystic portals created by the returned Doctor Strange begin to appear all across the battlefield. Every fallen hero is back. Not only them, but the combined forces of the Wakandan, Asgardian, and Ravager armies and space fleets are with them.

Now, it’s a fair fight. Thanos no longer has a numbers advantage.

The epic battle of all battles begins as Captain America shouts out, “Avengers assemble!”

As the battle goes back and forth and more heroes enter the fight (namely Captain Marvel who destroys Thanos’ ship that is bombarding the battlefield and taking out not only the Avengers’ forces, but also his own) individual superheroes take possession of the infinity stones (still in the gauntlet that Stark made) to get it as far away from Thanos as possible.

However, he eventually takes possession of the gauntlet and places it upon his hand as Iron Man flies into him.

Thanos snaps his fingers…and nothing happens. The Stones aren’t on the gauntlet, Stark has taken them and placed them on his hand. He snaps his own fingers and Thanos’ entire army turns to dust. Thanos slumps and is resigned to his fate as he too turns to dust.

They finally won. But, it wasn’t without loss.

Those who were killed before Thanos’ snap are still gone; Loki and Vision. Those who were sacrificed to obtain the Soul Stone, Gamora and Black Widow, are gone. The one who snapped his fingers last, Tony Stark – Iron Man himself – is dead. He couldn’t survive the combined power of the Infinity Stones.

A funeral is given for Tony and is attended by all those who had ever fought at his side. His friend, body guard, and driver – Happy – promises to take care of Stark’s daughter, Morgan, and take her out for cheeseburgers.

Finally, the time for the Stones to be returned to their rightful times comes. Captain America decides to be the one not only to return the stones, but to also return Mjolnir to it’s proper timeline as well. Cap makes the time jump, but he doesn’t jump back.

Hulk, Bucky, and Falcon are distraught as they believe something is wrong. Yet, they notice on a bench overlooking the lake is an older man. Falcon walks up to him, and notices that it is Steve Rogers. Much older now.

After returning the stones, Cap decided to ‘have that dance’ with Peggy Carter after all. They got married and lived the life that he missed. Steve then gives Falcon his shield. Passing the mantle of Captain America to him.

Thus ends this chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

 

When I was in my first call, I remember talking with the adults during Bible study one Sunday morning about the ‘life of faith.’ One person was adamant that the life of faith was easy. Just love people, go to church, and be good. God will take care of the rest.

A few others and I were kind of taken aback by that sentiment. So, I gently pushed her. Just love people – what about that person who cuts you off in traffic? Is it easy to love them? How do we love the person who hurts us? Who hurts others? Who we disagree with? Who gives us the ‘creeps’?

I wasn’t trying to be mean, but this life of faith is not always easy. It isn’t always about rainbows and sunshine. We don’t have mountain top experiences every day – and our goal isn’t always to have those mountaintop experiences.

Life is hard. The life of faith doesn’t make it easier, but it does make it possible to live into that hope that God does love, care, and is present with us always.

Endgame starts out with heartbreak and depression. The world is quiet, and tears are shed at almost every turn. People are broken. The every day folks like the young boy on the bike who meets Scott Lang after he gets out of the Quantum Realm and even the heroes themselves. Thor is broken and suffering and he’s ‘let himself go’ as it were. Black Widow is on the verge of tears as she speaks to Captain America in the beginning of this film. Hawkeye breaks really bad as he mourns and grieves the loss of his entire family.

Five years of tears, heartbreak, and loss. Five years of lost relationships, lost love, lost joy, and more.

As I watched those scenes play out, the eerie quiet, the constant tears, the dreary color of the world, I couldn’t help, but think of that time between Jesus’ death and resurrection. When Jesus breathes his last and is placed into the tomb.

His friends, his family, his followers have lost all hope. It isn’t there anymore. They were supposed to win with Jesus at their side. He is the Son of God. He’s raised people from the dead, healed countless folks, spoke with authority and presence in the temples, on the mountains, he calmed the storm – both the storm on the lake, and the storm that his closest friends felt in their hearts.

How; how could this one lose? And lose so humiliatingly?

The beginning of this film focuses on that lost hope. It shows in ways how some are best ‘coping’ with it, but no one is really ‘complete.’ Not even the Starks. There is so much loss.

Yet, one person speaks of a truth, a hope, a possible way to bring everyone back.

That small hope, that infinitesimal hope is all they need. All they need to hope again. To believe again. To trust; again.

That hope was proclaimed by the women at the tomb in what they saw (and didn’t see). There were told of the great victory of Christ – he isn’t dead anymore. He’s back. He’s been raised. Share and proclaim this news.

Yet, people didn’t believe them. Not even his closest friends and followers. Why? Because dead men don’t get up. Yet, that light burned in the darkness, finally they listened to the story, the passionate preaching of the women, they believed.

This film is all about hope – no matter how small – being what drives us to move forward, to believe, to trust, to have faith.

That slim hope of ‘could it be possible’ is what they need to give meaning and trust back into their lives.

Not only is that hope won, but all those who have been brought back are needed to fight back Thanos’ army. Their combined strength, their ability to assemble together is exactly what is needed to combat this evil that wishes to now destroy all life in the galaxy.

I don’t know how many people caught it, but when all those portals opened up, there is a quick shot of Thanos’ face, his surprise, his anger, his frustration, and dare I say his fear that things are going to go his way.

That quick look is what I feel “death” sees in Jesus. Where we aren’t gathered to ‘fight,’ but we are gathered to love. That this hope in Jesus, this love lived out together, does indeed strike fear into the heart of sin and death.

This light that shines and drives out darkness – for good.

This love that perseveres through struggle and hardship. This love that reconciles and mends what is broken. This love that makes us whole. This love that reminds that we are enough.

That hope and love fills us as people of faith and sends us out into the world proclaiming this good news to all.

That hope and love brought Tony and Cap back together, helped Banner wrestle with his ‘literal’ monster inside him, walked with Thor and brought him back from the edge.

It’s also the same hope and love that caused Hawkeye and Black Widow to fight over who would be the one to sacrifice themselves for the future of the universe.

Endgame helps us see that hope, love, and trust are needed in a broken world. Christ reminds us that hope, love, and trust do exist in this broken world. We have it already. It doesn’t make life easier, but boy does it allow us to live into this life that has been gifted to us.

 

I’ve only seen Endgame once, so there may be other things that I’ve missed. I hope to talk with our Nerd Word group about the film this month. Because, yeah – there’s a lot to talk about.

Thanks for reading through this with me on this journey of fun and faith.

Grace and peace to each of you – true believers! Amen.




May 1, 2019, 8:00 AM

May 2019 Newsletter


Grace and peace to each of you!

This year’s Holy Week was pretty incredible. Those few days are the most holy, important, and pivotal days in the life of the church. Without that story and history – the rest of it wouldn’t matter. This time when we are confronted by our own sin, our own complicity in Jesus’ death, and confronted with the love of God that can make us feel uncomfortable because of the lengths it can go to show us how deeply we are loved and cared for.

With that in mind, I was able during Holy Week (along with a number of other folks) to live into that uncomfortable showing of love in our Maundy Thursday service. I mentioned that evening that I really don’t like feet. My feet hurt a lot after years of running, tripping, and being a klutz while also trying to be an ‘athlete.’ Because of this aversion to my own feet, I really don’t like other people’s feet. So, Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet and in turn his command (in love) to wash one another’s feet has always made me uncomfortable.

I don’t want others to touch my feet, just as much as I don’t want to touch other peoples’ feet. Yet, this year I couldn’t help but notice where I was stopping myself short in living out God’s command of love to the world because it made me or others around me uncomfortable. So, we washed feet at that service. I was still uncomfortable and nervous in it, but I did it. Others joined in that humbling act as well.

So, it got me thinking – where else can we as a community of faith – as individual disciples of Christ – live into the uncomfortable love that God has gifted to us and the world? Does it mean standing up for what you believe? Does it look like joining into ministries (new or established) here at Redeemer and in the community that you’ve always shied away from? Does it mean going out on a limb and talking about your faith and God’s love for the world with the people around you?

Where does God’s showing of love make you uncomfortable? Where is God leading you in that love for others and the world? What would it look like to live out the uncomfortable love of God in your life? Just something to ponder…

Y’all – you’re loved. I love you and I mean it!




April 30, 2019, 9:00 AM

Of Marvel and Faith, part 5


Black Panther

Black Panther introduces us to the reclusive world of Wakanda. Everyone in the MCU’s Earth believes that Wakanda is a poor agricultural society. What they don’t know, is that for hundreds of years, Wakanda has been hiding its true self. In fact, because of a meteor that crashed into the land of Wakanda that contained an immense amount of vibranium (the super element, metal, thingy of the entire MCU) it has transformed this small country into an incredible powerful and technologically advanced society. Wakandans are decades ahead of the rest of the world technologically.

They however have never shared this wealth and abundance with the world. They have instead elected to remove themselves from the on-goings in the world even when they could’ve helped significantly. They have decided to remove themselves for fear that they would (and others would desire) to use their power for evil and harm.

That’s Wakanda. This film shows how their unwillingness to be a part of the world has created resentment among those in their society who feel they need to help. That resentment even created their greatest foe so far – a direct descendent of their royal line who grew up in California and has harbored a lot of hurt and hate towards his people.

He forcefully assumes the throne by defeating their king and his cousin, T’Challa (who is the Black Panther). T’Challa and his allies then race to keep his cousin – known as Killmonger – from sending Wakandan weapons and technology around the world and into the hands of those who too have this pent-up frustration and anger at the world.

As T’Challa defeats Killmonger, he realizes that his life and Wakanda’s history has been wrong. They were wrong to not share and be a part of the world. They’ve caused more hurt and devastation by not engaging and sharing than they ever thought possible. He vows to change that as the new and rightful king of Wakanda.

There are many faithful followers of Christ who feel that because the world is ‘lost’ in some way or so far removed from the ideal and mission of the Kingdom of God that they feel drawn to remove themselves from the ‘life’ of the world. They don’t participate in the on-going function of the world, limiting their interactions to the bare minimums (if at all). And with this, I think the world (and they) lose something.

Granted, none of those communities of faith are technologically advanced (not that I know of at least, but I’m open to be proven wrong 😉), so they aren’t on that same plane as Wakanda. But, they do share a truth – the truth they know – of who God is and how God is active in the world. Because they refuse to ‘share’ that knowledge, the world might be a little less bright than if they had their voice joining in with the rest.

But, there are many things where the church (in all its multitude of flavors and traditions) has been like Wakanda and refused to speak, take a stand, or voice their opinion on a certain aspect of society. I’ve fallen victim to this as well, where even I as a pastor have been more concerned about my ‘well-being’ or how I’m viewed instead of speaking what I know to be God’s truth and love for the world.

Whether it be views on women’s ordination, climate change, racism, homosexuality, how the church has interacted with other faiths, where we place extreme devotion to objects, power, money, and monuments and not in God’s grace and love, etc… The church has been silent on a lot of these issues in its history.

Because of this silence, there is a lot of resentment towards the church itself. Much of that resentment, frustration, and even anger is probably justified.

What the church has to offer is vital to the life of the world. The message that Jesus proclaims and calls us to share is indeed a truth – the truth – that this wounded world needs to hear. Much like how Wakanda could’ve benefited the world throughout its history – not just with its technology, but with its culture, its ethic, its life. So, much could have been shared, gleaned, and grown if that history had been different.

But, we don’t belabor the fact that Wakanda didn’t share or that the Church has been silent, but we strive forward with a new history, a new story woven together. A new story for Wakanda, and a new story for the Church itself.

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming

This is a slightly different way of telling the story of Spider-Man. We aren’t given the ‘beginning’ of the story. In fact, this film occurs after the events of Captain America: Civil War. We already know that Spider-Man exists, we don’t need to rehash his origin story for a third time. But, we do get a new story in the world of Spider-Man, and it’s a good one.

The film starts in the weeks after the Battle of New York (the climatic battle scene from The Avengers) and a man name Adrian Toomes has won the contract of cleaning up the city from that aftermath. He and his crew work hard, work well, and make a decent income from their labor.

But, things get turned sideways when an ‘official’ group sponsored by the government and funded by Tony Stark barges in and takes over the operation. Toomes and his crew are not happy.

Though, they do have their secrets. They use a forgotten load of alien technology to create devices and weapons to do their same job, but on the darker side of life. Becoming an illegal operation that sells and distributes technology and weapons made from the alien stuff to the highest bidders on the streets around New York and in more places. Toomes himself is outfitted with a winged flying device and takes on the moniker of “The Vulture.” And it fits, for he flies in and takes the ‘scraps’ of alien tech from bigger dig sites funded by the government.

Into this new world enters Peter Parker. A high school student who just happens to be one of the most powerful superheroes in the world. And he longs to get back to the ‘big action’ of the airport brawl in Munich. But, Tony Stark isn’t calling him back after countless attempts by Peter to reach him.

He finds the operation of Toomes and his crew and begins to do some research on his own. Figuring out that his new suit from Mr. Stark is full to the limits with tech and gizmos. He hacks the suit itself to unlock its full potential. In the process, Stark feels he isn’t ready for the suit and takes it back from him, leaving Peter to use in homemade suit to take on the Vulture’s operation.

In the end, he discovers that the girl he’s infatuated with is the daughter of Toomes, which brings quite a bit of a dilemma to him. Does he ‘forget’ about what Toomes is doing so he can enjoy the presence of this girl, or does he live into his uncle’s mantra of ‘with great power comes great responsibility?’

He does the sacrificial hero thing. A big battle ensues, he defeats Vulture and in the process realizes that the suit isn’t what defines him or gives him his ‘power.’ He is the one with the skills and ability, if he doesn’t understand that – he’s nothing.

Throughout this movie, Peter Park is a little annoying. Not in the same way as Tony Stark, no Peter is ‘annoying’ because he’s constantly trying to please people. Pleasing his friends, his aunt, Mr. Stark, Happy, his hopeful girlfriend, his teachers, strangers, the Avengers, and more. Peter wants to make everyone happy and will do almost anything – even to the detriment of himself – to make them happy.

But, he realizes that that isn’t always a life worth living. It isn’t sustainable. It’s full of frustration and disappointment. Not only for himself, but especially for those whom he wants to please, but can’t.

So, who does he listen to? Does he listen to his ‘gut?’ Does he listen to his ‘elders’ and the ones he believes ‘know’ better than him? It is a delicate balance that he holds on to (and one that we do as well).

Ultimately, Peter has to decide how to confront evil when he feels inferior. As a typical teenager, he feels under-appreciated, like he’s talking to empty space, and that he can’t live up to the expectations that he feels others are placing on him (but, which are probably things that he’s placed solely on himself). Of course, he also as the ability to really help people but, has been told to lay low and let ‘others’ take care of that.

In many ways, we too feel this way as people of faith. We feel we have something to say, have something to offer, have a truth to share. But, we don’t think we measure up as well to that individual over that, that organization on the other side of town, or even the ‘big church’ across the street. We do have something to offer, but what is it compared to what all these others are doing or can do?

We also want to consistently ‘please’ those around us. Please them in the church, please them outside the walls of the building, please them outside the ‘walls’ of the community of faith. Always bending over backwards to accommodate others – and it can be frustrating and draining.

What do we have? Well, we have Christ – we have the promise of the resurrection – we have the life and faith poured into us in our baptisms. We have and can share the story and truth about God who accepts us for who we are, loves us fully and completely, and walks with us each day – no matter what.

Knowing that we have that life, love, and mercy in us we feel called to not only share it, but to live more fully into that life of faith. Striving to not be pulled and swayed by the power of the ‘world’ and the power of sin in the life of the world.

 

Doctor Strange

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before… A leader in his work and field is pretty arrogant in the approach to his very specific skill, makes a lot of money, and treats the people around him pretty terribly. All the while being a charismatic individual that draws others to him. Doctor Strange is a film that at its core is quite similar to the first Iron Man.

Dr. Stephen Strange is a world-renowned neurologist and surgeon. He takes on the cases that others think are impossible. He finds the solutions to difficult surgeries that other surgeons just can’t imagine doing (or thinking up themselves). He’s really, really good at what he is able to do – and he knows it. In fact, he flaunts his ability pretty heavily.

He loves being a doctor because he gets to save lives. But, he also chooses the cases and surgeries that – though difficult – are not (in his mind) impossible. Those cases that fuel his ego, but won’t damage his ‘record.’ He lives life to the limit because he believes that he’s untouchable.

This of course, is where he falls. As he’s researching cases with a colleague (while driving on a twisty road well, well, well above the speed limit) he falters. The care crashes over the ravine and severely damages his hands. He requires surgery and there is a long road of recovery ahead of him. But, the outlook of him ever being able to do surgery again is almost out of the question.

Strange has an existential crisis in this moment. He doesn’t know who he is if he’s not able to be a surgeon – and the world’s best surgeon at that. He can’t handle it. He has to find a way to ‘fix’ himself (because he’s always about fixing people). It is tearing him a part that he can’t do the ‘fixing’ himself.

This leads him to seek out an individual who had a broken back and loss the use of his legs, who now miraculously is able to walk fully again. In fact, Dr. Strange passed on this exact case because it was ‘hopeless’ and would’ve placed a mar on his otherwise pristine surgical record. This guy tells Strange about a place called Kamar-Taj. A place that aligns your spiritual being through meditation and other things to fix what is broken in the human body.

Naturally, Strange is intrigued and spends all his remaining fortune to get there. When he arrives he is introduced to ‘The Ancient One’ who gives him a taste of what could be in the future for him. A look at different planes of existence, harnessing that power, and using it to manipulate the world they live in. Strange is hesitant, but also fascinated by what the Ancient One is speaking about and desires to know more and to be taught.

She tells him no.

That’s definitely not what he was expecting, but he sits outside the doors of Kamar-Taj for hours pleading to be taught. Finally, The Ancient One relents and begins his tutelage.

Strange at first really struggles with what he’s being taught. He feels he can’t do any of it because his hands are ‘broken.’ Only when he’s shown that ‘hands’ are not what allows people to do the incredible things that are taught here (and put in a potentially life or death situation) does he begin to make progress in his work.

After that he becomes a savant in this magical world. He studies, reads, and practices as often as he can. Even using advanced skills – like using his astral projection to read books while his body is sleeping. Strange begins to become the most promising student that this school has ever produced.

And this is also causing a stir within the community. Strange’s desire to know more and more leads him to more difficult spells and actions. Eventually he reads from a book about the manipulation of time that has a page missing. His ability to know and perform this difficult and powerful spells reminds the leaders at Kamar-Taj of another student who broke bad when he pursued the same things.

That student – Kaecilius – desires to tap into the ‘dark dimension’ where a powerful being called Dormammu promises to give him eternal life. But, in order to do that, he must destroy the three Sanctums that shield earth from the dangers of other dimensions. Kaecilius and Strange fight (though strange doesn’t really know what’s going on) and eventually Strange defeats a zealot of Kaecilius and ends his life.

This puts Strange in another existential crisis. He is a doctor. His whole life has been about saving people’s lives. Bringing them back from the brink of death to full health and wellness. Taking a life is counter to his whole life ethos. He struggles with his new friends’ and teachers’ only solution to the problem they face – killing those who oppose them. He desires another way – even if that way bends the rules that they have placed upon themselves.

There is a big fight in Hong Kong where that Sanctum is destroyed and Strange must use the powers of the Eye of Agamotto to manipulate time to defeat Dormammu. Strange places a time loop on himself that allows Dormammu to kill him over and over. The only problem is, Dormammu can’t get out of the loop. This is his life if he doesn’t accept Strange’s proposal – to take Kaecilius and his goons and to leave Earth alone.

Reluctantly, Dormammu agrees because the time loop is not how he envisioned his powerful life. So, Strange found another way to defeat the evil against him without ending a life.

Strange takes up residence at the New York Sanctum studying and becoming more powerful in the ways of the mystic arts. Though, because of his manipulation of time and the natural order of things, one of his best friends – Mordo – parts ways with him and the order itself. For him, rules are meant for a reason and shouldn’t be bent or broken just to create a more desirable outcome.

On a second viewing, I really, really like this movie. Sure, it is very similar in its overall theme to Tony Stark and Iron Man, but it takes a decidedly different turn. The most obvious glimmer of the gospel I find in this film is the desire for Strange to find another way to get a different outcome to achieve his and his friends’ goals. I also enjoy is willingness to ‘bend the rules’ to get that outcome.

I see that at play in the work and ministry of Jesus and God’s saving action in his victory over sin and death in the empty tomb.

Jesus continually preached about another way. You’ve heard it once said… Jesus turned the world upside down in his ethic and philosophy to God’s Kingdom in the world. His words are still radical to this day. Turning another cheek, giving up your cloak for another, laying down one’s life for their friends.

All of that is (somewhat) evident in this movie. Dr. Strange doesn’t want to kill or harm people. He really doesn’t. He’s wrecked by the death he causes in this film – even if it is to save his own life. That isn’t who he is. That’s not what he’s going to do. He’s going to find another way.

I truly feel Jesus found another way to tell people – to show people – to invite people – into this radical love and welcome that God has for the world.

In the process, God ‘bends the rules’ to tell the world about this. The rule of death is bent and broke in God’s saving action in Jesus. Death isn’t the final word anymore. Death has no more power. God has won and extends that victory to all of creation.

Strange bends the rules by using the manipulation of time to defeat Dormammu. He puts him in a sort of ‘hell’ that continually repeats the same moment. This is no way to live and experience life and he wants out. Strange ‘wins’ by finding another way and bending the natural law.

God wins by finding another way in and through Jesus and bending the natural law.

 

Thor: Ragnarok

In this third entry into the Thor series, we see a bit of a change. Thor is coming into his own and his attitude is changing. In fact, his whole character has changed because he’s more of a comedian now.

The film begins with him chatting it up with a huge fire demon named Surtur. Like any movie villain, Surtur explains that it is destiny to bring about Ragnarok on Asgard – the destruction of Thor’s homeworld. Of course, in the process of telling him, Surtur mentions that the only way he will destroy Asgard is when his crown is placed in the eternal flame on Asgard itself.

With that information in hand, it is time for Thor to leave, and he does in grand style. As he attacks and flies through the air wielding the mighty hammer Mjolnir, he calls for Heimdell to open the Bifrost (direct portal back to Asgard) for hi to return home. Except, there’s a problem. Heimdell isn’t at the ‘helm’ of the Bifrost. Instead, it is an individual named Skurge who is not paying attention and using his new ‘job duty’ to impress the ladies.

Eventually, Thor returns and discovers that something is amiss in Asgard. Odin is not acting quite like himself and there is an outpouring of love given to Loki. Which seems rather odd being that Loki has been the mischievous villain throughout this series and been a thorn in Loki’s and Odin’s side the whole time.

Thor, quickly discovers that Loki is impersonating Odin and that the real ‘All-Father’ is on Midgard (Earth) at an old retirement home. When they arrive to greet there father, they discover that the retirement facility has been demolished and Odin is no longer there.

They then meet Doctor Strange who wants to know what’s going on and also knows where Odin is. He’s in Norway. Strange teleports them to Odin and the sons and their father have a rather difficult conversation.

Odin is dying and his death will mean the return of their older sister – the Goddess of Death and the true ‘heir’ of Asgard’s throne. Of course, they didn’t know they had an older sister at all (sidenote – I found out about having an older sister when I was younger. Thankfully, it didn’t turn out the same way as it did for Thor.)

Hela is an incredibly powerful Asgardian and she’s rather upset that she’s been locked away by Odin for centuries. Her power continually grows stronger the closer and closer she gets to Asgard. She even has enough power to literally crush Thor’s mighty hammer.

As the three try to get to Asgard through the Bifrost, Hela is able to knock both Loki and Thor out of the portal and they find themselves on a distant planet full of wormholes, trash, exotic life, and more.

Thor is immediately captured by a mysterious and powerful woman introduced as Scrapper-142. This woman subdues Thor and takes him to the leader of the planet, a man named ‘The Grandmaster’ who runs a gladiatorial combat ring. He’s intrigued with Thor ‘Lord of Thunder’ (watch out his hands sparkle)! Especially if he’s a match for the current champion. He wants a good show for the people of Sakaar afterall.

Here Thor discovers that Loki has been on this planet for a little longer and has slid right into the Grandmaster’s good graces (because of course he has). But, even he doesn’t know who the ‘Champion’ is.

Meanwhile, back on Asgard, Hela is causing quite an uproar. She’s singlehandedly defeated most of the Asgardian army with ease as well as most of Thor’s powerful friends. She’s intent on putting Asgard back on the track they originally were when she rode with her father many millennia ago. Her goal is to conquer all the nine realms and more.

She resurrects her greatest warrior – Fenris – a huge wolf and the rest of the great (and dead) Asgard army. But, she can’t leave Asgard because someone (Heimdell) has stolen the Bifrost Sword so there is no where for her to go. She just continues to become more powerful, more frustrated, and more angry that her plans are currently stopped.

Back on Sakaar, Thor finally gets to fight the famed Champion, and it is none other than his ‘work-friend’ Hulk! They battle and Thor loses only because the Grandmaster subdues him because of an implant in his neck.

In their shared room, Thor and Hulk argue about what they need to do. Thor wants to and needs to leave in order to save his people. Hulk wants to stay because this is the only place that has ever ‘loved’ him. With the help of Scrapper-142 (now discovered to be Asgardian herself and one of the famed Valkeryie warries of Asgardian legend), they are able to escape Sakaar and make their way back to Asgard itself.

There a huge battle takes place between Thor and Hela – Thor loses an eye in the process. In a vision, his father tells him that the hammer he wields isn’t what gives him his power, he is the God of Thunder and not the God of Hammers after all. It’s just the talk that he needs to save his people and (briefly) stop Hela.

When all seems lost, a huge spaceship led by Loki and the rest of the gladiators from Sakaar arrives to take the Asgardian people aboard. In this moment is when Thor realizes that perhaps his mission isn’t to stop Ragnarok, but to cause it – because it would destroy Hela in the process.

So, Thor, Loki, Valkeryie, and Hulk work together to put Surtur’s crown in the eternal flame and hold off the undead Asgardian horde long enough for the people of Asgard to board the ship.

Ragnarok occurs as Surtur – bigger than ever – enters the battle. He and Hela fight, but she cannot stop him from destroying Asgard. Yet, though their home is destroyed, Thor tells his people what his dad told him: Asgard is a people, not a place. Asgard lives because they live.

This is a good movie. It’s fun, heartfelt, and has plenty of action. It also teaches us a little bit more of the gospel too.

Some of the same ‘glimmers’ appear in this movie as well. Especially the relationship between Odin, Thor, and Loki being a sort of parallel to the Parable of the Prodigal Father in Luke’s Gospel. There is also the returning story of Bruce Banner contending with the ‘Hulk’ that resides in him. Which has become especially more dire to Bruce since Hulk has gained greater power in being in control. He fears that if he ‘changes’ again, he as Bruce may never come back.

But, the greatest glimmer that I find in this story is the emphasis that the community is more important than the place. That’s what God has setup for us in the kingdom of God. That’s what Jesus talked about quite a bit in his stories and teachings about the temple. That’s what Paul alludes to as this life of faith and God’s love is indeed extended to any and all, not just a select few.

However, we as people of faith really lose sight of that part of our lives. We focus a lot on the ‘places’ and buildings of our lives as they cornerstone – the chief monument – of our faith. Where caring for that which ‘houses’ us becomes more important than caring for the people within that house. I once knew of a church that set up an endowment to keep the lights on and pay a supply pastor each and every Sunday, but the congregation itself was less than 10 people. They’d lost their vibrant community, but they still had their building.

I also know of a church who took the big leap to ‘destroy’ their home so that they can better serve their community and spread the gospel. Their ‘Ragnarok’ might not have been a fire demon sticking a giant flaming sword into the foundations of their building, but in leaving that place they were able to do some amazing ministry in Michigan – and they’re still at it too!

We as a people place a lot of importance on the building. We forget about the people that make up the community. We limit our desire to care for the people outside the walls of the building.

Buildings themselves aren’t bad. People need a place to gather – that’s for sure. And some buildings are magnificent and historic places to gather the people (I’m pretty partial to my congregation’s building – it is a wonderful space). But, the building isn’t the church. The building just happens to be where the church gathers, serves, loves, reaches out, and is sent from to bring the church and community of faith the gospel.

 

Ant-Man and the Wasp

This film takes place two years after the events of Captain America: Civil War. We see that Scott Lang – our famed Ant-Man – is on house arrest and very, very close to serving out his term. He’s constantly checked up on and the people over his house arrest are very thorough – annoyingly so.

Weirdly, Scott has a dream where he is playing with a young girl in a game of hide-and-seek. He finds out, that it is not him in the dream, but that of a woman. Turns out that it is a message from Janet Van Dyne, the presumed ‘dead’ wife of Hank Pym (the original Ant-Man). She has been lost in the Quantum Realm since the late 80s after she went subatomic to stop a nuclear missile that was fired upon the United States.

Hank and his daughter Hope have been busy trying to find their way back to the quantum realm to get Janet ever since Scott was able to come back from that same place years ago.

They work and deal with shady characters (namely a new villain named Sonny Burch who is a black arms dealer) in order to obtain the devices and parts they need to complete their quantum tunnel device. However, they aren’t the only ones in search of those parts and their device in particular.

Hot on their trails is a mysterious character who is able to phase in and through matter. This individual is skilled in fighting and difficult to take down. Mostly because it is so difficult to land a punch.

Working together Scott and Hope aren’t able to stop this Ghost. Who ends up taking Pym’s research lab (that has been shrunk down to the size of a rolling suitcase). This Ghost is no where to be found.

They decide (much to the chagrin of Hank) to reach out to one of his old lab partners (Bill Foster) to use technology and sensors that would help them find the lab. They are able to find the lab and the mysterious individual – who happens to be a young woman named Ava.

Ava was the daughter of two people involved in the experiments that Pym and Foster conducted as they attempted to perfect the shrinking and enlarging technology in the Ant-Man and Wasp suits. Her parents were killed in an accident and it left Ava in an unstable physical being. She has a difficult time holding her physical form. She wants to be ‘cured’ and Foster has been working for years trying to find a way to make her whole again.

She and Foster believe that Pym’s new project will be the exact thing to cure her. But, the process could potentially destroy Janet who is still trapped inside the Quantum Realm.

So, using the hijinks and hilarity of Scott’s friends – who are now conmen turned security systems entrepreneurs – they work together to give Hank enough time to get Janet out of the Quantum Realm.

As they fight off government agents, Burch’s henchmen, and the fierce abilities of Ghost – all the while the lab is being lugged around the city of San Francisco, Hank is able to save Janet from the Quantum Realm.

But, something is indeed different about her, she has gained some impressive powers and she uses those powers to fix Ava, if only temporarily.

Meanwhile, Scott hurries home to prove to the suspicious government agents that he’s been abiding by his house arrest the entire time. With his term complete, he’s able to leave the house – legally – once again.

The largest glimmer found in this movie is the fact that all is not lost. Hope remains. Janet is presumed dead and lost in the Quantum Realm, but she isn’t gone forever. She can be brought back.

This reminds me a bit of Jesus raising Lazarus from the tomb. The community around Martha and Mary are in turmoil because of Lazarus’ death. Yet, Jesus knows that this isn’t the end. He is not lost forever. He will be raised again.

Janet is not lost, she’s not dead. She can and does come back.

I also have to think that God has called us to a life that is fun. We are created to enjoy the life that we have been gifted. I have a colleague, friend, and pastor whom I greatly respect who is knowing for ending his services with, “Go out and serve the world – and have fun doing it. Because if it isn’t fun, it isn’t much worth doing.”

Scott has fun. He makes jokes. He enjoys life. If he can’t have fun – with his friends, his daughter, with those around him – what’s the point?

God has called us to live a life of joy and love. We get to do this. Have fun serving, working with, being in devotion, walking with folks, caring for them, worshipping. Have fun in all of what God has given us.

 

Check out the Final part with Infinity War and Endgame, HERE!

 

 

 

 

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