In pm's words
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June 12, 2017, 8:00 AM

the one about God with us...


Holy Trinity Sunday Sermon - June 11, 2017

Text: Matthew 28: 16-20

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our 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, my fellow colleagues and I gather almost every week to discuss and brainstorm about that Sunday’s upcoming sermon. We read the texts, we share insights about what we’ve read or how we might interpret a word, phrase, or meaning behind the text, we tend to get lost in the weeds of our conversation a lot. This week – like every year around this time in the church year – is met with both awe and hesitancy.

The Holy Trinity – that we celebrate this day – is a particularly difficult revelation of God to speak about. As we joked this past week, ‘whenever you begin to talk about the Trinity, chances are you’re stepping – unintentionally most of the time – into a little bit of heresy.’ Which is to say that just because we wear these collars and humbly place these stoles upon our shoulders, we don’t understand it all fully either. Each way we attempt to explain the Holy Three-in-One and One-in-Three we always – always – fall short of the fullness of God.

I mention that, and I try to do that every year, as a reminder to y’all and others that I don’t have all the answers. I too still struggle in this life of faith in many ways, one of which is to define those things that are foundational to our faith. Pastors, they’re just like everyone else!

There is a tendency to try to focus this day solely on ‘explaining’ the very unexplainable and mysterious. I try not to do that because like I mentioned early, the more we do that the more likely we are to unintentionally venture into places that we just don’t want to trifle with. However, as I read this Gospel text we receive this morning, there is something particular about it that when I noticed it was sort of mind-blowing.

But, before we get to that part, I’d like us to think a little bit about the beginning of this gospel. The birth narrative. We really haven’t paid all that much attention to it since Advent – at least not specifically within our worship readings. Way back in chapter one of Matthew Joseph experiences a vision. A vision of an angel of the Lord speaking to him about the child that grows in his fiancé’s womb. The angel specifically cites scripture (Isaiah specifically) that speaks of a virgin who is to conceive and bear a son and that his name shall be called Emmanuel, which means God with us.

I always chuckle a bit at that. Because the angel cites this scripture about how the child shall be named Emmanuel, but tells them to call him Jesus instead.

But, that name Emmanuel is indeed the name we place upon our Lord. We believe in that celebration of that pregnancy and birth that God has come down to be with us. That out of that great love that God has for creation, that God has come to dwell in the chaotic messiness of life. Not only with us, but as one of creation.

That name is lived into throughout the gospel of Matthew. Jesus ventures into places and interacts lovingly and compassionately with those that others steer clear. People who are sick – Jesus is with them. Visiting places (and people) outside the ‘normal’ cultural realms – Jesus is with them. Amongst those who disagree with him – Jesus is with them. In the midst of discussions that make people uncomfortable – Jesus is with them.

Jesus is with them – teaching, healing, traveling, standing alongside, listening, forgiving, calling. Jesus is with them.

And, what do we hear Jesus tell his disciples and friends at the very end of the Gospel of Matthew this morning? The final promise that Jesus speaks unto his disciples is this – Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. For me, that was pretty mind blowing.

The promise of Emmanuel has been fulfilled in our Lord.

This time, I think the promise we hear is a desperately needed one. Because, Jesus is sending out his disciples – including us – into the world in the name of the Trinity to do ministry.

I think we need that promise that Jesus is with us because well, sometimes it is really hard to see and to know that Jesus is indeed with us. That we do live a life of Emmanuel. We may get close to this realization during times of tragedy or loss, when even the most infrequently religious of us call on God for some extra help. (Though, now that I think of it, calling on God and experiencing God with us are not the same.) But what about all the other times. Good times, not so good times, joyous times, sad times, expectant times, anxious times. Do we sense God’s presence?

Whenever I am humbled and honored to be with a family or person that has experienced loss in some way – a death of a loved one, an ending of a relationship, a failure to achieve a desired goal, receiving dire news – I usually say something to the effect of, “I don’t know how and I’m not sure where, but I know God is here with you and all of us in this. I know this, because God has promised to be here. Jesus has promised to be here. The Spirit is promised to be here.”

Jesus’ promise as he sends his disciples (and us) out in ministry is said in the present tense. It isn’t a ‘will be’ or a ‘might be’ scenario. Jesus says he IS with them. Here. Now. Forever.

That same promise is extended to each of us. God is here with us. Christ is here with us. The Spirit is here with us.

We don’t quite know how it all works, or what exactly it looks like. But, we trust in the promise that God has made. God is revealed to us in three persons – Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This Trinity that shares in the love of creation – in the love of each of us. Where that love so flourishes that it spills over the sides and washes us within it. Full of grace and forgiveness. In that model and example of love, we too are called to live out that sort of love. Loving, respecting, and caring for each other that spills out from our lives and into our neighborhoods and communities. Where that love is revealed to others in ways where others can see, touch, and participate. Giving out water to those on the road. Holding those in our arms as they are sent to camp. Being present with the sick, the hurt, the grieving. Finding new ways to be loving in a community that invites others to participate. Working, talking, and listening to one another to see where God is present.

Where we live into the promise that God has for us. Promises bind us together, they provide hope, and they create courage to live with each other, support each other, forgive each other, and encourage each other. At the heart of every real relationship, when you think about it, is a promise. A promise that is a whole lot like Jesus’ promise: I will be with you. I am for you. You can count on me. I’ve got your back. Let’s see what we can do together.

On this Holy Trinity Sunday – as we are sent out in the ministry that Jesus invites us into we do so in the promise that God is there. God is here. God promises to be present with each of us. Always. Forever. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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June 5, 2017, 9:00 AM

the one about breath and wind...


Sermon from June 4, 2017
Day of Pentecost

Texts: Acts 2: 1-21 and John 20: 19-23

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, I don’t love this day just because it has one of my favorite ‘funny’ verses in all of scripture. Where Peter tells those making snide comments around him that these disciples and followers of Jesus are NOT acting in a drunken stupor, because its only 9am. Peter of course must not have ever lived near a college campus. No, I love this day because this is truly one of the most important days and celebrations of our lives of faith. This Day of Pentecost, unfortunately, is not celebrated nor does it garner as much attention as Easter or Christmas, though it is right up there in that echelon of feast days.

As you listened to the readings this morning you might have noticed that we get ‘bookended’ with a text that we heard the Second Sunday of Easter in our gospel reading this morning. Of course – the focus during the second Sunday of Easter was on the reassurance of those disciples that there is no need to be in fear because Christ is alive – Jesus brings peace.

This morning, while we still hear and welcome that reassurance from our Lord – our emphasis is on Jesus breathing. Now, the NRSV that we read from translates verse 22 as Jesus breathing on the disciples, but another and perhaps more correct translation would be that Jesus breathes into the disciples. In the original Greek, it can be translated both ways.

Doesn’t that change how we view and interpret this text? Jesus breathes into them and says – receive the Holy Spirit. When, I hear of that action I think of how when someone stops breathing how we perform CPR. Along with those chest compressions you give rescue breaths into their body. You give those in need air from your own body to help move their lungs – all in the hopes of bringing signs of life back into them.

Here our Lord sees that out of fear and trepidation his disciples and friends are ‘locked away.’ They are not living in their called life, in many ways they are ‘dead.’ So, Jesus breathes the Spirit into them. Giving them new life. New life and hope to live into and proclaim the resurrected life of Christ.

Scripturally, this directly connects what Jesus is doing to what God did to the a-dam in Genesis during creation. God breathed life into the first of creation. Filling them with God’s breath.

Through his own breath Jesus is gifting the Holy Spirit– the one whom Jesus has promised will come – to his friends and followers.

In our reading from Acts we see a wider gifting of the Holy Spirit as we read of a group of individuals who see tongues of flame upon one another’s foreheads and they begin to speak about God – they prophesy. Those around them are awestruck as they hear this group speak in their own native tongues. It is a miracle of hearing.

This group is brought together as one – but retains their own culture and that which makes them unique within God’s good creation.

This is one of the most fascinating and awesome things about our faith history. This is the birth of the church; the faithful gathered in Christ’s name.

Unfortunately, I continue to hear from so many sources that believe that you’re only the ‘true church’ or only a ‘true anything’ when you act, look, speak, and believe like the ‘true’ ones around you. That if you aren’t ‘like us’ then you are not ‘one of us.’

One of the ways that people ‘distinguish’ if you’re ‘one of us’ and a part of the ‘true church’ is how the Spirit manifests itself in your life.

I remember watching the movie Jesus Camp (have y’all seen that documentary? It is a fascinating yet, at times incredibly troubling and sad depiction of theological life in our country). One of the young girls in the documentary railed against ‘quiet’ churches as being ‘dead’ or without the Spirit. In her opinion and the formation of belief in which she had been raised – if your church isn’t hopping, screaming, dancing, and being ecstatic with the Spirit you weren’t really ‘church.’ She expresses that those churches (that look and sound like ours) are ‘dead’ and where the Holy Spirit is not present. Instead, you always hav to be ‘up.’ Anything ‘down’ or ‘quiet’ was bad and non-spiritual.

Just so y’all know – one of the quickest ways to upset your pastor is to state the spirit isn’t ‘present’ in this place (or any place) because it reveals itself ‘differently’ than somewhere else. The Spirit is alive and well within this place and all places.

The Spirit’s job in ‘unifying’ us as one isn’t done in such a way that we all speak the same language – act the same way – or look the same as everyone else.

We are not a ‘melting pot.’

We are not melted down to our base parts and molded into similar shapes like everyone else. Instead, the Spirit uses us and expresses itself differently in each of us as we come together in praising God and Christ in our own unique ways and flavors. Our reading from First Corinthians helps emphasize that quite a bit.

I like to think that in the body of Christ we are more like a salad. Having a salad of just lettuce doesn’t seem all that appetizing – at least not to me. Having a salad of just tomatoes ceases to really be a salad. However, when you continue adding in additional parts it helps bring out so many wonderful flavors. Salad, spinach, onions, tomatoes, cheese, dressing, and more all add to the salad and help make it more full, rich, and whole. Sometimes, you receive a salad and it contains items that you initially don’t like – carrots, cucumbers, arugula – yet they are there because they are good for you and they help enrich the entire flavor of the salad. Further bringing out the richness and fuller taste of that meal.

In the body of Christ, we can have those who clap, raise hands, and yell amen next to those who pray mightily and fervently with their head down, seated next to the ones with their eyes closed as they absorb the act of worship and presence of the Spirit around them.

The Spirit that we are gifted is a beautiful and wonderful part of our lives. That Spirit which guides and helps us to discern God’s presence around us and in us. That Spirit that has been poured into us and breathed into us as the words of the Trinity were said above us and upon us in our baptisms.

Each of us gets to bring our own uniqueness into the Body of Christ to help all of us celebrate more fully and completely and passionately to our God. We get to live out and live into the Spirit that dwells in us through our whole lives – here at Redeemer; out in the community of Newberry; within each of our vocations; shown through all that we do at work, play, and in private. The Spirit dwells in us and moves us in our faith throughout all of our life and all aspects of our life.

We get to look at one another and see this wonderful body of Christ and share in the gifts, quirkiness, and beauty of all around us. Coming together in beautiful chaos as one in praise, thanksgiving, and service to God. All because Jesus breathed into us. All through that loud rushing wind of the Spirit on that Day of Pentecost thousands of years ago. The Spirit isn’t just around us and beside us. The Spirit of God dwells within each of us.

Today we celebrate that. Today we leave from this place with faith and hope. Knowing that whatever we do – God is present with us. That wherever we go – God is present with us. The Spirit has been breathed into each of us, bringing us to life. The Spirit moves through us to serve God and serve all our neighbors.

Gathering us together as one body, working and struggling together to live into and to live out those promises we’ve made in baptism – to live among God’s faithful people, hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper, proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people – following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.

We get to do that. The Holy Spirit has been breathed and rushed into us so that we can do that. We do this all together, gathered as one, in our own unique and beautiful ways. Amen.

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June 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

June 2017 Newsletter


Grace and peace to y’all!

What an incredibly busy month of May! Two weddings, Baccalaureate Service for Newberry High School and Newberry Academy, Synod Assembly, hospital visits, phone calls, and all the other things that make ministry a beautiful chaos!

June is packed as well. We’ve got Vacation Bible School with our partner in ministry Central UMC – June 12-15 from 5:30-8:30 each evening. The second-year confirmation students are heading up to Lutheridge for a week of camp – June 11-17. We all get to celebrate in two years of ministry together as pastor and people! Time flies doesn’t it?

We begin this month of June with Pentecost Sunday. Such a wonderful opportunity to remember the Holy Spirit’s in-dwelling within us, sending us out in Jesus’ name to share, proclaim, and care with and for all in the world! For me, that ‘Pentecost’ moment hit when I was a camp counselor during the summer after my first year at Newberry College.

What a wonderful time full of fun, laughs, frustrations, tears, and lots of mosquito bites.

I am incredibly excited to go back to camp for a week with our confirmation students. To watch them and the other students from our cluster learn and grow. Having a truly formational experience.

Camp is very much like Pentecost. The Holy Spirit guides us into places, in the path of people, and in ways we wouldn’t expect. Talking in ways that you couldn’t have imagined being able to do without the guidance and presence of God. Hearing others speak and saying, “Wow… I don’t quite know what’s going on, but I know God must be here!”

Please keep our confirmation students, their future counselors, all our adult leaders, and all campers in your prayers not only this month, but throughout the summer.

May God continue to bless each of you in unique and wonderful ways!




May 28, 2017, 12:00 AM

the one about prayer...


Sermon from May 28, 2017

Text: John 17: 1-11

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, I want to ask y’all a question. How do you feel when you hear someone has prayed for you, offers to pray for you, or you overhear them pray for you? If you’re like me – while it does make you feel ‘good’ and ‘loved’ there is also a little bit of ‘why?’

There are all sorts of interpretations to that question that we all run through. Why should they bother – for I’m not good enough for those words. Why, do they know something that I don’t? Why are they praying for me – I’m sure there is someone else more in need of their prayers. I believe we react in those ways more often than we care to admit – I know I do.

I’ll give an example. Each week we lift up prayers for a community of faith within our synod. We do this every week and we are just over halfway through every congregation in the South Carolina Synod (and yes, when we pray through all our congregations and worshipping communities we will start it all over again). A couple of months ago I happened to be in a Synod meeting at a church that we had just prayed for that previous Sunday. I was talking to a member of that particular church’s staff and they realized that I was the pastor of the church that they had just received a letter of prayer from. The person chuckled a bit and said, “thank you for your prayers. It was also kind of funny though when pastor so-and-so saw it, their first reaction was, ‘Why? What’s going on that we don’t know about?’”

We all do this. We perceive something to be ‘wrong’ when we discover that someone has been praying for us. When in actuality – it is what we are called to do as faithful followers of our Risen Lord.

In those prayers for others it connects us to them on a deeper level. Taking deliberate time where we focus on someone else – someone we love or someone we don’t know – to pray for them. Asking God to give them peace or strength. To ask for our Lord’s presence be made known to them. Sometimes prayer is done without any words. Just being with someone in need. Acting through and in our love of others. Whatever it is and however it is that you pray – it is good.

I think it humbles us to realize that others pray for us. We’d rather be the one’s ‘giving’ the prayers than receiving them. In our American culture today, we have this sense that you cannot show any weakness, you can’t give an inch, you cannot let anyone see you be vulnerable. For whatever reason being told that you’re being prayed for or even that you are in need of prayers constitutes weakness or vulnerability to many.

I’ve talked with several people in my years of ministry who ‘want to be prayed for, but please don’t let others know.’

We crave and we yearn for prayers, for someone to know the struggles we encounter, but we try to put up so many obstacles so that we don’t appear ‘weak’ or as a ‘loser’ to those around us.

So, when we hear someone praying for us, we always want to ask ‘why?’

People pray for you. We are called to pray for one another. It is a mark of our discipleship in following our Lord to be in prayer.

This morning, we overhear a prayer from our Lord. At the end of the meal – the night before he is to hand himself over to the authorities and leave his disciples – Jesus prays for his disciples.

In fact, just a bit further in this reading we read that Jesus not only prays for his disciples, but he prays for all those who will come after them; Jesus prays for you and me. Jesus prays for us.

This morning we overhear Jesus praying for his friends and disciples. We overhear Jesus praying for each of us.

And this prayer that Jesus gives is not locked away in a private room. Jesus isn’t huddled in a corner silently whispering his words to the Father. No, Jesus in the midst of his friends and followers speaking so that all might hear him.

Father, I’m praying for them. They need you. Help them be ‘one’ as we are one. I’m praying not only for them, but for those who will come to believe because of them.

How does it make you feel to know that our Lord prays for you, prays for all of us?

Jesus wants to pray for you. Jesus does pray for you. Jesus is praying for you. I have faith and hope in those words and in that comfort.

Because, there’s something about prayer once we move past the question of ‘why.’ After the shock and astonishment that we are being prayed for (especially if we just overhear it), there is a sense of wholeness and peace that follows.

There’s that warm comfort of ‘wow…’ when hearing someone is praying for you. Whether it be your child, a friend, a spouse, a stranger. You are sort of knocked back when someone cares enough to include you in their mark of discipleship.

When I was in hospital chaplaincy; a part of my responsibilities when I was on-call on Saturday nights was to lead worship in the chapel on Sunday morning. Typically, the only other person who was present was the chaplain to ‘relieve’ you for that day, but the service was broadcast throughout the hospital on television and on the in-network radio system. So, there were any number of people that could be listening in to your words and the service that day.

I usually ended those services with a prayer – praying for all who needed healing and who were seeking wholeness; those family members waiting by the bedsides of loved ones, for doctors, nurses, therapists and the gifts and skills God has blessed them with. However, I also prayed for those other staff that folks always seemed to look over. Orderlies and custodians – the valiant work that they do to help keep equipment sanitized to prevent the spread of disease, the quiet care they provide patients as they listen, say hello, water plants within rooms. Cleaning up the scenes of death and new life.

I think they play an incredibly important role in the caretaking of many in need – they just happen to get overlooked a lot.

As I was leaving one day and handing over the ‘holy pager of call’ to my colleague – I was run down by a woman in tan scrubs (meaning she was a custodian) who just said thank-you. I’ve never been prayed for – I heard that and I’m happy that God sees what I do as good too.

I was touched by that.

To know that someone is praying for you can fill us with such comfort and peace. Prayer isn’t a solitary thing – nor is it a time to ‘foot it alone.’ Prayer – especially as Jesus shows us this day – is something that we do within the community so others can hear our prayers and be comforted that they are important. To know that they are good. And on top of all that, we hear and read this morning that Jesus is praying for us. That’s how much we are loved and cared for by our God and Savior. That Jesus prays for us.

So, be in prayer for others this day and also know (and welcome) that others are praying for you.

Not because something might be ‘wrong’ or they know something that you don’t. But, they are in prayer for you because you are good enough to be prayed for. You are.

Ask others for your prayers, it might not be because something is ‘wrong,’ but there is comfort to know that others are praying for you. That we are all living into this crazy community of Christ faithfully and truthfully.

Others pray for you – because they love you.

Jesus prays for you – because Jesus loves you.

You are good enough for prayer. No one is beneath or unworthy of prayers. We all need it. We are in this together.

Tell someone today that you’ve been praying for them. Tell someone you are in need of prayers. It isn’t a sign of weakness. It is a mark of discipleship and love.

Each of you are in my prayers and I pray for y’all often. I also need your prayers, so please be in prayer for me too. Amen.

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May 21, 2017, 12:00 AM

the one about the spirit dwelling...


Sermon from May 21, 2017

Text: John 14: 15-21

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our 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, there’s a question that I’m always asked that I never really know how to answer. For most people, it is an incredibly easy question to answer. The question? Where do you come from?

For many – like my wife – that’s an easy answer; Lexington, SC. For me? I usually begin with, “Well…lots of places.” Do you want to know where I was born? Then Lubbock, TX. What about the places I first really remember living? Then Austin, TX and San Diego, CA. What about the places I lived the most time in? Then Naples, Italy (4+ years) and Columbia, SC (8+ years). Maybe it’s the last place I lived? Then Mason, MI. Sometimes it’s where I live now. Right here in Newberry. Either way, finding out where someone lives or dwells isn’t always an easy answer.

Where we live or dwell – today – is much more ‘transitory’ than ever before. Our world is in constant flux and people are moving around a lot. It seems the time has (mostly) passed when you are born in a place, you live there your entire life, and you stay there to raise a family, establish deeper roots, and eventually that place is your final resting. Now, of course there are many who have and who still will live into that sort of life, but the movement has already begun that we skip and hop all over the place. We live in different places all the time.

In our gospel text today, Jesus gives further words of comfort to his disciples (remember, we’re still in this text where Jesus is talking to his friends the night before he is handed over to the authorities and leading to his death on the cross). He promises them that they will not be abandoned, they will not be orphaned, they will not and never be alone.

Why? Because another – an advocate – is being sent by God to be with them. They will never be abandoned because this advocate – the Holy Spirit – will abide with them.

Abide.

That’s not a word that we normally hear outside of scripture. We don’t use it all that much – if ever – in our daily conversations. Abide in its simplest definition means to live or dwell. But, it isn’t – in my opinion – live or dwelled in the same sense that ‘living’ means now. Abide has a much more permanent connotation to it.

When you abide in something, it’s something that has taken root in you and where you take even greater comfort in that thought. There is that firmness and permanence in that word and feeling that you know it doesn’t leave you.

When Jesus tells his disciples that the Spirit will abide with them it is bringing even greater comfort because with that word there is a sense of ‘forever’ in his words. The Spirit is coming – and will be there abiding with you – forever.

In that abiding, in that love, you will keep my commandments.

Yet, even ‘keep’ in this sense is not what we initially expect. There is a tendency to think that Jesus is simply telling his disciples that they will OBEY these commandments. And, they will. But, as Jesus is speaking here it isn’t in a ‘you do this, or else’ kind of guilt trip.

In this love that Jesus knows that his disciples (and we) have for him, we will keep these commandments of his. We will hold them close to us and follow because the Holy Spirit is abiding within us.

We hold on to the words and commandments of Jesus. Following them, not because we have to but, we get to because of our thankfulness for what God has already done.

I heard a touching story this week. A mother and her daughter, every morning shared a moment of conversation, love, and coffee as the daughter was growing up. Each morning, her mom had coffee in her mug and they laughed and talked about what the day would bring and what life had brought. They did this for years  and decades – even as the daughter grew up and the mother continued to grow old.

After the mother had died, the daughter received that very coffee mug. And she began to have conversations of love and life with her own children in those daily morning gatherings. She keeps that mug and the love and promise within it close to her.

Her mother gave her that mug to continue to live in the way that she lived for her. To share with her children that special time in the morning of love and conversation. She didn’t say, “You have to do this.” But, in a way much like our Lord in our reading this morning. Keep this mug. Remember me, you are not alone. Share your love like I shared mined with you.

So, she does. Not because she has to, but because she gets to. She holds that life close to her, she keeps her mother’s ‘commandments’ and love with her children.

We are reminded today and shown in a few weeks (as we celebrate Pentecost Sunday) that all is not lost. We are not forgotten. We are not orphans. God has not abandoned us.

Another has been sent. Another has come. This one is to help us continue in the ways that Jesus has set before us. To remind us that we are good – that all are good. That we are to share in the love of God with everyone. That God continues to abide with us through the Holy Spirit.

That this abundant life in which we are grafted into and gifted isn’t an end because Jesus has died, risen from the dead, and soon to ascend to be with the Father. It is instead a beginning of living into a life of abundance that leads to eternal life with God. We get to live in it now. We get to abide in that life of love with and for our Lord and our God.

Where with the Holy Spirit with us – we can continue to live into and grow the kingdom of God before us. Where we continually invite others into this love that we have been gifted. Where we are able to scream from our mountains and valleys of Christ’s victory over sin and death for the world in the wonderfully empty tomb!

Of course – doing that at times is difficult and we get lost in our ways. We get beaten down by the world, we become short, snippy, critical, and depressed because of all the hatred, bloodshed, violence, and apathy. Yet in those moments, we are reminded by our Gospel this morning that the Spirit will be and has been sent to remind us of Christ’s presence in the world – in our lives. The spirit abides in us. In that abiding, we hold and keep our Lord’s commandments and love.

That we are supported and lifted up in and through our love for one another in the Body of Christ. Where we get to see the spirit at work in us and through us. Where we together get to see the kingdom at work in us and in the world.

We are reminded today that in our love of our Lord, because we do love our God, the Spirit has been sent to live, dwell – abide – with us. Taking up permanent residence in each of us. In that abiding spirit, we hold close the love and commandments of our Risen Lord. Not because we have to, but out thankfulness we get to.

Amen.

 

 

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May 15, 2017, 7:51 AM

the one about the here and now...


Sermon from May 14, 2017

Text: John 14: 1-14

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Risen Lord who is the 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!

So, for many of us, this part of John’s gospel is incredibly familiar. You may be even wondering why it is so familiar. Well, I’ll tell you – it is one of the most common readings you hear at a funeral. But, I want to warn you – that is about all I want to focus on that particular use of this scripture. This text does provide comfort in the words of Jesus for those who are and have experienced the death of a loved one.

But, this text doesn’t just focus on the hereafter, but on the here and now as well. Probably even more so.

I’m going to tell you a story – and for those who participated in the Animate Faith series we did during Lent this will be very familiar. There was a man who was excited to go to a fancy restaurant. One of those restaurants where you’re given each portion of the meal and when everyone finishes that particular part, the plates are removed and the next course is given. A friend of this man told him how amazing the final course was and so this man greatly waited for it after each dish. Of course, the longer the night went on he kept thinking about that last course and because the latest one that was placed before him didn’t look that appetizing, he decided to skip it and save room for the final course.

The waiters came and removed the dishes; when they returned they handed the bill. The man was despondent. He’d lost count. The very part of the meal he was waiting for was the one he skipped. He was so focused on the ‘future’ that he forgot to enjoy the present.

I share that story because of how we use this text and how we often view our life of faith. Simply as a ‘means to an end.’ I live this life solely to get the ‘reward’ in heaven. As we focus on that ‘goal’ that becomes the end all be all of our lives. Everything has to line up in order to ‘get there.’

Where instead of words of comfort, this text becomes a tool and a weapon to beat people in to specific shapes – to fit into the ‘narrow’ door of God. A threat to get people to accept Jesus – or else. Doing so robs this text from context and we lose sight as to what Jesus is actually doing with his disciples.

So, what is Jesus doing? This is an odd text to read during Easter; the seven-week season celebrating Jesus’ resurrection. This morning we listen in on Jesus’ conversation with his disciples on the last night that he was with them before his death. It is after this conversation that Jesus will be handed over to the authorities and begin his very clear path to death on the cross.

Understandably the disciples are beside themselves. Their friend and leader is telling them that he is going to die. That’s not news you want to hear, especially when you believe that friend is the very literal incarnation of God. It doesn’t make sense. If they could kill him, what hope is there for you?

Yet, Jesus’ words provide comfort in this trying time. Don’t let your hearts be troubled. If you know me (and you do) you know the father. If you believe, you’ll do even greater works than me.

Nowhere in this short conversation is Jesus saying, “If only you’d do this, then you’d be good. Good enough to go where I’m going.”

No. That is not what is going on here.

Jesus is telling his disciples and in turn telling us – you already know the way. I’m right here. Always. You know me, you know God. In fact, because you know and believe you’re going to do even greater things than me.

Jesus is telling us of the promise in him. Jesus is not laying out a contract for a transaction later down the line.

Jesus is calling his disciples and calling us to live into the here and now knowing that he is indeed fully present with them and with us. Always. In that truth, great things will happen.

Now, that’s where people can be a little put off right? How in the world can we do ‘greater’ things than even Jesus?

I don’t know about y’all, but I haven’t seen anyone multiply a few loaves and fish and feed thousands. I haven’t seen anyone be healed through the act of simply touching someone’s clothes. I haven’t seen anyone call someone out of their grave. And, as much as I’d love to see it, no one has turned water into wine in my presence.

So, what exactly might Jesus be getting at?

In Jesus’ name, we have established hospitals. In fact, looking back through history, very many times it followers of Jesus who cared for the least of those in their communities. It was a prevailing thought at that time (and in some cases still today) that it was taboo to care for or even simply touch the sick and dying. In a world and time that was centered on cleanliness, you didn’t go near those who were sick or dying. You let them ‘handle’ it in some way. Followers of Jesus have followed in his ministry to be with and touch even the most ill and potentially contagious and have provided health and care to millions upon millions and still do today.

In Jesus’ name, we have helped and continue to provide relief for hunger throughout the world. It may not have been a miraculous multiplying of loaves and fish, but through creativity, intellect, and faith we have helped increase the yield of harvest in so many ways. Out of our abundance of our gifts, wealth, and time we share and provide need to those most vulnerable in our society and world.

In Jesus’ name, we haven’t called anyone literally back from the dead by simple words, but we have fought back and conquered disease in so many ways that people indeed are given more life and time.

In Jesus’ name, children and families are united and made whole through adoption and foster care. Homes are continually filled with love and life as parents say to children of all ages, “You are my child. I love you.”

In Jesus’ name, we have gathered those who have fled in fear for their and their families’ lives from war torn areas and welcomed them here.

In Jesus’ name, last night we gathered with members across so many different parts of our community to share in stories, laughter, song, and more. And yes, alcohol was indeed present there – just as it was present in those same shared conversations, stories, laughter, and song as Jesus walked and gathered with his disciples and those who he met in his ministry. Though – to my knowledge – no one turned water into wine or beer.

Jesus has called us to live this life of faith now. Not so that we get something in the end, but in thankfulness of the promise that we have already received it from God in our Lord. That our Lord is indeed present with us today, filling us with new and an abundance of life to proclaim, share, and care for those in the world.

In the words of Rev. Dr. Elisabeth Johnson – professor at the Lutheran Institute of Theology in Cameroon:

Jesus promises to be with us through the power of the Spirit, to work in and through us to accomplish his purposes in the world. This does not necessarily happen in easily visible, spectacular ways. Yet, wherever there is healing, reconciling, life-giving work happening, this is the work of God. Wherever there is life in abundance, this is Jesus’ presence in our midst.

Amen.

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May 8, 2017, 7:24 AM

the one about gates and walls...


Sermon from May 7, 2017

Text: John 10:1-10

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, today is Good Shepherd Sunday and our Gospel focuses a bit on that. But, there is something kind of startling about the text we read on this day. Jesus makes a few ‘I am’ statements, but he doesn’t make the one that we expect to hear. At least we don’t hear it in this part of the text that we get to read courtesy of the Lectionary. Though, if we extend the gospel selection by one verse we do get that ‘I am’ statement that would fit so neatly into the celebration of this day, but then it would kind of mess with the theme of those first 10 verses.

Nonetheless, today is indeed Good Shepherd Sunday, but instead of hearing Jesus matter-of-factly state that he is the Good Shepherd, we hear instead that he is the gate or the door to the sheepfold.

As I pondered about and talked with my colleagues and friends about this text this week, something struck me. If Jesus is the gate or the door to the sheepfold it means that there must be a wall. For what would the thieves and bandits be climbing over if not a wall?

Walls, borders, and more are pretty loaded terms during our current time and day. In fact, today you can’t mention the term ‘wall’ without thinking (or being asked) about what side of that ‘proverbial’ wall you place yourself.

When we think of walls what tends to come to our minds first? We’re keeping something away, right? Separating what is mine and what is not yours. You stay over there. Keep out. Not for you. Members only!

We put up walls for privacy, for protection, for separation. And, they don’t have to be literal walls either. There are walls that we place within ourselves, that we lock ourselves behind so that we feel we cannot be hurt by others. Perhaps, anyone who has ever shared a room with a sibling or a roommate has probably gone through the stage of dividing your stuff from their stuff. If things got heated, you may have even drawn a line down the middle or around your ‘side/portion’ of the room to announce to any and all where people were freely welcome and where they needed invitation and permission.

Our gospel reading this morning invokes the image of a walled garden and because of the world we live in today, I think we are tempted to say that even our Lord is keeping out what doesn’t belong. There is a lure to believe that Jesus has setup this exclusive club and only admits those who are worthy. Would make sense, wouldn’t it? He’s the gatekeeper, he’s the one who opens the door. It would be easier if it were that way, wouldn’t it? Where Jesus clearly marks and separates us from them, we from they, me from her.

But, that’s not really how Jesus works from what I can read in the gospels. Jesus has been more about breaking down the walls and borders that we continually set up to separate one from another. In fact, Jesus makes not one literal mention of a wall, we just allude to that. What Jesus does say is that he is the door – he’s the gate to the sheepfold.

If there is a wall to keep out thieves and bandits it isn’t to prevent them from being a part of the sheepfold. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know too many thieves or bandits whose desire it is to be a part of what they are sneaking into. A thief doesn’t break into your home to claim his or her spot around the dinner table. The thieves and bandits that Jesus is talking about here are not seeking to be a part of the sheepfold.

In fact, their desire is to sneak in, to climb over ‘the wall’ in order to take the sheep from the shepherd. To entice the sheep away with false hopes, puffed up words, and insincere gestures of love, truth, care.

And here’s another thing. It’s hard to ‘break-in’ to a place when the door is opened. As Lutherans, we believe that Jesus is at the door – outside the door – and calling us each by name into the fold. The sheep know the voice of the shepherd and that’s who they listen to and for. Jesus isn’t holding us back at an arm’s length to make sure we are ‘good enough’ to be in the fold. That isn’t how this works.

We are called and welcomed by the one who knows our name. In that voice – in that call – we find comfort and grace. We find hope and acceptance. We find forgiveness and love. All are welcome – I’m certain even those bandits and thieves – to enter into the sheepfold by the wide-open door.

Sometimes it is hard to differentiate those two voices – the one of the thieves and bandits; and the one of our shepherd. It really is. We live in a world that constantly is seeking to know whether the voice we are listening to is the right one. And sometimes we might just be wrong. Many times, we may be correct in whose voice we listen to, but sometimes we might be wrong. Yet, even in those moments of error our Lord – our Shepherd – does not push us away, but is still calling to us out of love, grace, and forgiveness. The door that our Lord gracefully proclaims that he is, is always open still.

This week I read a quote from Frederick Buechner that one of my friends shared. It’s a quote that I think helps us find comfort in the fact that we cannot always tell with certainty where God is calling and is present, but how we still live into the faith and hope of Christ’s presence here among us and within us. Buechner writes, “A Christian is one who points at Christ and says, ‘I can’t prove a thing, but there’s something about his eyes and his voice. There’s something about the way he carries his head, his hands, the way he carries his cross – the way he carries me.”

You see, the ‘wall’ that we’re talking about isn’t about keeping things separated. It isn’t about dividing the good sheep from the ‘bad’ sheep. Perhaps, it is instead a wall that gathers the sheepfold. A wall that gathers the faithful under the love and protection of the shepherd.

It’s hard to ‘break-in’ when the doors and gates are opened and the only ‘requirement’ to wander in is to hear the voice and listen to the call of the shepherd. The one who knows us, who knows you by name.

Of course, we will still have walls. We always have walls. We are broken, sinful, and fallen creatures that try in desperation at times to separate ourselves for a multitude of reasons. Separate one from another, separate ourselves from those around us. Yet, our Lord’s ‘I am’ statement this morning continues to ring loud and true. Jesus adamantly proclaims that “I AM THE DOOR.”

Jesus is the door. Jesus is the gate. He’s the one breaking through the boundaries that we set up. Jesus is the one calling you by name. Calling in comfort, love, peace, and forgiveness.

Hear it now. Listen. Come. Follow. Be gathered. Amen.

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May 1, 2017, 8:22 AM

May 2017 Newsletter


Grace and peace to each of you during this joyful Easter Season! This month, I wanted to share an article from LivingLutheran.com that really spoke to me in the past few weeks. It was posted on April 14, 2017. I hope and pray that each of you will be stirred by these words and live into what we are called as followers of Christ on this side of the empty tomb. This article is written by Rev. Brian Hiortdahl pastor of Atonement Lutheran Church in Overland Park, Kansas at Living Lutheran.

Robert Goeser was leading his class at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, Calif., through Martin Luther’s treatment of Jonah. As Jonah languished in the belly of the fish, Luther (and his spellbinding, disheveled mouthpiece, my professor) made a point that has stuck with me for 25 years: we know how the story ends; Jonah did not. Too much familiarity can strip a story of its emotional power.

Do we recognize how much Matthew’s account of the resurrection convulses with terror? God’s megawatt angel appears and slides back the hulking gravestone, causing an earthquake. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men (Matthew 28:4). When some of them finally wake up, they are bribed by frightened authorities into lying about what had happened. Meanwhile, the women are told: Do not be afraid—twice! The entire scene is drenched in fear.

The implications are mind-bending. Everyone knows that death is how our stories always end. With its sadness also comes a dreary sort of comfort—we know what to expect. Resurrection changes everything. If angels can invade and freeze security while a corpse returns to life, what kind of reality are we in? All rules are broken; all bets and safeties are off. Easter is scary.

This has enormous, fresh potency in our present climate. The cross and resurrection of Jesus testify to humanity’s seemingly endless capacity for horror-making, and also to God’s power to work both with it and against it for goodness and life. When chaos and fear overwhelm us, our faith repeats: Do not be afraid. Upheaval means God is up to something.

Remember Jonah, Luther teaches us. Remember Luther too. As we recount his story in this Reformation anniversary year, notice all the chaos and fear. The church put a bounty on his head.  He was captured and locked away. He married an escaped nun. All this and much more in a time of high political anxiety and sweeping change across a bloody Europe. Our Lutheran story’s opening scene is drenched in fear.

Remember Luther and Jonah and the risen Jesus when reading news feeds about immigration politics, international saber-rattling, new technologies, environmental and human rights crises, and even the global dynamics of the church, which is growing in the south while shrinking in the north. We also live in a time of deep uncertainty and anxiety. As terrorists and politicians grasp at opportunities to leverage and exploit fear, Easter brings a different, stunning word: Do not be afraid. God is up to something here.

This is both good and news. As Richard Rohr explains in his book Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, “people have always been afraid of God,” seeking to control or placate God with religious efforts to keep God from showing up to bring death. Easter flips this on its head. The God who terrifies humanity shows up to bring life.

It begins with Jesus—and that’s scary too. One of the many things Easter means is total, cosmic validation of the heart-stopping things he said and did. Love your enemies, for example. Violence and self-protection give way to meekness and mercy. Healing and restoring others is prioritized over personal survival.

Follow me, he beckons on his way to the cross. Now Easter kills our excuses. Of all the people and prophets and teachers God could have raised from the dead, God chooses Jesus and gives him all authority in heaven and on earth. How does that change our lives and priorities? Easter is scary.

You can feel it in the sanctuary.

For many people, stepping into a church is scary. Old wounds, fresh judgment and desperate people may lurk inside. But Easter expectations prevail upon reluctant worshipers. Will Christ’s church comfort and welcome them with good news? Will the worship experience communicate Do not be afraid? Will they be surprised with joy?

Church leaders are scared too. Council members monitor attendance and offerings, warping Easter into a numbers test like a cholesterol level or a credit score. The pastor sweats her only chance to reach guarded and wary souls. Choir voices and altar servers suffer graceless demands of perfection. Will an anxious church communicate Do not be afraid?

Remember Jonah and Luther and Jesus. The outcome doesn’t depend on us but on our trustworthy God who is heaven-bent on overcoming death and fear with life and joy. God doesn’t insulate us from trouble but guides us through it. The great fish, the angry pope, even the brutal cross were no match for God’s saving, life-giving power.

So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples (Matthew 28:8). We still don’t know how this story ends because now it’s our turn to live it. Everyone’s afraid. We can either be shaken guardians of a vacated past or stirred disciples racing forward with urgent good news. Let’s go.




April 30, 2017, 7:03 AM

the one about the basics


Sermon from Sunday April 30, 2017

Text: Luke 24: 13-35

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Risen Lord 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, who here has heard that sometimes the simplest solution is the best one?

Y’all know that I love technology. Not only do I love technology, but over the years, quite a few people have come to me for advice and tech support and I’ve been able to help them out. I know technology. And if I don’t know the answer, there’s a good chance I can figure it out.

This week the mouse I use with my computer – this one right here – stopped working. My computer would recognize it; all the lights would turn on, but my cursor wouldn’t move. Frustrating.

I went through all the logical steps. Maybe the newest beta build of Windows 10 I just installed broke the connection or perhaps there is a bug in the Bluetooth stack in this latest build. After numerous times unpairing and pairing the device and more time than I care to admit perusing the support forums. I discovered that it wasn’t my computer or the operating system’s fault.

Maybe it was the mouse? Maybe water got into the inner workings the most recent time I cleaned it? Maybe, just maybe at almost two years of life and constant and consistent use throughout those years that the mouse finally died.

However, just before I hit the buy button at Best Buy, I decided to check one last thing. I’ll just change the batteries. Though, I knew it couldn’t be that. I’m too smart to be foiled by batteries!

Well, I got the mouse to work. Though, I’m not not going to say it was the batteries.

Y’all ever do something similar? Whether it be with some sort of technology, a math problem, your car? You overlook the simplest fix because it couldn’t possibly be that one. Happens more than we care to admit, doesn’t it?

This morning we get to read my absolute favorite Jesus story from scripture. I love this story because it is such a good analogy to life in faith.

Sometimes the best solution is the simplest one.

At this moment in which our gospel story takes place, the disciples are in turmoil. They are confused and scared. Their teacher, their messiah, their friend has been wrongfully accused and executed by the powers and authority of the land. Not only that, but three days have past and stories and rumors have emerged that his body is no longer present in his tomb.

Anyone and everyone would be confused and frightened by this. Dead men are not supposed to get up. It isn’t how it’s supposed to be. You die and you stay dead. It’s just what we know.

We meet these two disciples as they travel away from Jerusalem. They are traveling away from the pain and heartbreak they’ve experienced that weekend. They are traveling away from the confusion that surrounds them. In their travels they meet their friend, but for whatever reason they don’t recognize him. Within this crisis of faith, Jesus enters into space with them.

Sound familiar to anyone’s life right about now?

Life itself is confusing and scary at times. We are thrust into situations that we don’t know how to handle. We encounter issues in life that confront and challenge our faith. We become scared because of where our minds could possibly go as we travel those paths.

When you’re confronted by those huge obstacles and hurdles in life where faith shakes, it’s scary.

How will it get better? Where is my hope to come? How can I grow? Where can we go from here? Where is God in all of this?

When I was in seminary a professor had a ‘heart to heart’ conversation my classmates and me. He wondered why we weren’t attending chapel as faithfully as he would’ve hoped and thought for future leaders in the church.

We explained that we were stressed, stretched with work, and worried about the future.

His response? If that is so – where is the one place you could go and be reminded of God’s presence in all this, hear that you are loved and not alone, and be fed to be strengthened and sent into the very world that we worried so much about?

When life turns us towards sorrow and we seek to pull ourselves out of the hopelessness we tend to turn away from the very things that remind us of hope. Much like the two disciples on the road we turn and travel away from those things that draw us towards God.

Then, in order to ‘get back’ to that place, we expect a big miracle and life altering course correction, a big, bombastic, and unforgettable encounter to steer us back towards our faith.

Jesus meets the disciples on the road and he opens scripture to them. He tells them all they had known again and again – beginning with the prophets and leading up to the death and resurrection of their friend and Lord. I assume that in their travels and companionship on the road they shared prayers and blessings with and for one another. As they came to the end of their time together, they shared a meal – and it was there that they remembered who it was that had been with them the whole time.

Folks – sometimes the simplest answer is the best one.

Together in community, reading through scripture, sharing prayers with and for one another, and sharing in a meal – it all just might be what we need to change the batteries of our own lives of faith. Perhaps in those simple ways our hearts too will burn within us. Where that fire in our souls will compel us to run and share this good news to all we meet.

Sometimes, maybe, perhaps we overthink our lives of faith much like I tried to find every complicated solution to my mouse problems when all I needed to do was change the batteries.

I fretted and doubted my abilities as a techie and geek, I became frustrated by how I couldn’t solve this issue. It should work – it’s all right there in front of me. It has to be something ‘big.’ Yet, I could’ve saved myself so much unease and sorrow if I had just ‘gone to the basics’ from the beginning.

I think that applies to us in our lives of faith as well.

When we become rocked in our faith, we doubt ourselves. We question God’s love for us. We doubt the Spirit’s presence and ability to move through us. We walk in darkness and we feel we can’t get out unless something ‘big’ comes along to shake us up.

Though, it just might be those simple things that move us into that deeper place we wish to be.

Gathering together in worship, surrounded by our fellow sisters and brothers reminds us that we aren’t the only ones who struggle in all of this. We are reminded that we aren’t alone in our thoughts and hurts. It is good to be reminded that this life of faith involves more than just ourselves. This is bigger than just us. It is good to gather in community.

We read scripture – often and daily – and see God’s work in the life of those who came before us, but also discover that they too are not that much different from us. God appears to and walks with them in countless beautiful ways. We are reminded in those words of scripture that God stays true to the promises and covenants that have been made and how those promises continue and are extended to each of us. We read that God does and will walk with us through all of this and that there is not one thing that can separate us from God’s love. Not one thing!

We share in meals together. We share in this meal that is given for us each week and we are invited and share in meals with one another throughout the week and in our lives. Building and deepening relationships with those we know and love and inviting new friends into our lives through meals as well.

It’s the basics of our faith. Gather. Read. Eat. Share.

In all of that our hearts burn within us and we invite others to gather. To read. To eat. To share.

Amen.

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April 24, 2017, 7:50 AM

the one about stepping off...


Sermon from April 23, 2017
2nd Sunday of Easter

Text: John 20: 19-31

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, we had a wonderful time of worship last Sunday, didn’t we? Trumpets. A banging drum. Full processional. Tons of lilies. Lots of people proclaiming and shouting Alleluia in celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. So many people gathering not only just here, but around the area, state, and world in celebration of this new thing that God has done in Christ our Lord. It was a good day; it always is.

Yet, how long did that worship and faith ‘high’ last? What’d we do on Monday? How’d we feel on Tuesday? By Wednesday were you already longing for that Sunday feeling again?

Who could blame you for feeling that way? You’d think after we’d celebrate God’s love literally poured out through the empty tomb, that it would just make the world better, right? What with news of potential conflicts, continued violence, heightened and heated political rhetoric from all sides it is no wonder that the new thing that God has done in Jesus’ resurrection is looked over and looked past.

Of course, that’s just the stuff outside of our own little contexts and bubbles. After Easter, we still have people recovering from surgery, getting upset, and living with the general dis-ease of anxiety and fear about a multitude of issues. Where’s the next meal coming from? How am I going to get my kids to school? Do we have enough to get the A/C fixed? Why do I feel broken in so many ways?

If only we could live into the faith of those first few disciples! You know! Those closest to Jesus who were in such awe of what God had done and were out on the streets proclaiming this new thing of resurrection to their world! Well, about that…

In our gospel this morning we look in on those stalwarts of faith, Jesus’ closest friends, his first followers and, where are they? They are in hiding. Not only that, but they are in fear. The doors are locked to the outside because they fear those in authority around them. They fear the death that their and our Lord has conquered. They are hesitant of the invitation extended to them and us to the victory parade.

It isn’t that we want to live into the faith that the disciples possessed, we must remember that we do live the faith that the disciples possessed.

Even in the immediate time following the resurrection fear and doubt still exists. Evil still occurs. Trouble still arises. Death still lurks. Anxiety still pervades.

When you step back from it all it makes you think, doesn’t it? It makes you ask that question that you don’t want to pop into your head. What did Easter fix? We still have death, we still hurt, we still fear. All those things that Jesus got up to vanquish.

Considering all that, is it any wonder that the disciples hid in fear and that Thomas needed further proof? We struggle with those same issues. Doubt still permeates throughout our lives. That sense of trust – complete and utter trust – is so hard to live into. Even when you have all the signs reminding you that you’re safe.

Last year for our 10-year anniversary, Erin and I went to the mountains of North Carolina. We had a great time and we were able to do something that we thought we’d never do. We jumped off a 65-foot platform. Now, before we got there I could be pretty ‘manly macho’ about it. It really isn’t that high. Easy enough, just step off. Piece of cake.

Well, it was another thing when you’re up there. You’re set up to go. You’re securely, if not uncomfortably, strapped into a harness. The lines are connected to you and all the places they need to be. There’s a big cushion where you’re supposed to land. All signs point to this being a very safe endeavor. The leader of your group looks you in the eye and says, “All you have to do now is step off.”

That my friends is where the rubber meets the road. That distance looks totally different from the top than it does from the bottom. I’m not one who is scared of heights, I actually kind of get a thrill from it. But, given the moment to step off the secure platform? That was scary. That was nerve-racking. That’s where belief takes you.

All of the disciples in our gospel this morning are still on the platform. They’ve been witness to all the signs and miracles of their friend. They’ve seen the blind regain sight, they’ve been witness to Lazarus’ resurrection, and throughout it all they’ve been told by Jesus to not be afraid.

Yet, they’re still on the platform. Locked in fear of what could happen. Locked in fear – for all of them – of what will happen to them. We too still are locked into that fear and anxiety.

Sure, Sunday was a glorious day of celebration and resurrection. Remembering this new thing that God has done and continues to do in the world through the cross and the empty tomb. We sang with strength and love, we shouted alleluia countless times. And still Monday comes. Before we know it, it feels like were back on that Friday and Saturday before Easter. That pain, that silence, that fear.

In that moment; in the height of the disciples’ fear – Jesus shows up. Despite all the attempts to wallow away in fear and trepidation, Jesus appears. Jesus breaches those attempts to keep the outside, well – outside. Jesus breaks through the fear that clouds their minds and their hearts.

And his first words? Peace be with you.

In that moment, through the continued emptiness of the tomb Jesus changes everything. He gives them another command. They’ve listened to him all this time, leading up to this moment. They’ve heard him talk about the ways he turned the tried and true mainstays of the world upside down. Love your enemies. I am the light. The first shall be last, the last shall be first. Do not worry. They will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.

They’ve heard and seen so many wonderful blessings. They’ve been witness to it all. Yet, Jesus still has a further point to make.

As they Father has sent me, so I send you. Go.

That’s Jesus telling the disciples to step off the platform. They’re strapped in. They’re in the harness. Everything that needs to be connected to them for their safety is there. Step off. Be sent. Go.

That invitation – that command to be sent – is still given to us. After I was first ordained I remember having a conversation during an adult Sunday school forum. Someone casually said, “I just don’t understand it. We’ve got a nice young pastor, we’re friendly, our doors our open. Why aren’t more people coming?” That’s probably a statement that can be made at literally every congregation across all traditions and flavors of the church. Then, someone else chimed in right after that remark with something pretty bold, “Perhaps opening the door and just being on this side isn’t what we’re called to do. Maybe we’ve got to step out and invite people in.”

Pretty powerful, right? I sure thought so. And just so y’all know – I didn’t say it.

We live in a world where even after the resurrection and the celebration of the resurrection it doesn’t always seem that it ‘fixed’ anything. Perhaps in some very important ways, but never in the ways that we expected or wanted.

Yet, because of Easter everything has changed. As one of my friends said this past week, “Christ did not come to make bad people good, but to make dead people alive.”

Wow. That hit me hard and spoke to the depths of my being.

In many ways, the disciples are ‘dead’ as we begin this gospel story. Sure, they’re technically ‘alive’ but they aren’t really doing anything except intensifying their fear and anxiety by hiding out with one another. Building their fears inside their echo chamber.

The glorious change that Easter brings is that Jesus appears to them in that fear. Jesus brings peace to them. Jesus sends them out. Jesus breathes upon them and they receive the Holy Spirit.

Jesus steps into our fears and anxieties and meets us in them. Filled with the Spirit we are sent out to confront a world to proclaim Christ crucified. To live into the life and faith of love that our Lord commands. We get to live into this life where the brokenness and emptiness that we feel and experience are sealed and filled in the resurrected new thing that God has done.

Our Lord has shown us the harness, the line, the guide. Our Lord is there on the platform and at the bottom. Throughout it all we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses – those we know and those we’ve never met – who encourage and welcome us into this life of faith. Cheering us on to step off into that faith and belief.

And when we do step off? When we do live into the life of faith that our Lord has called each of us into? When we do step out from the closed and locked doors of our life – standing up for the oppressed, caring for those in need, living into this life of faith we do so with a word locked into our hearts and minds. Much like one might jump into the fear and unknown and cry out Geronimo. We too step out into faith and cry out as well.

What would it look like if living into this life of faith, we lived into that faith shouting, “ALLELUIA!” all the way?

That’d be fun, wouldn’t it? Sure it still might be a bit scary. Stepping off that 65-foot platform didn’t cease to be unnerving or scary. In fact, there’s always that moment where you think it didn’t work and that you made a pretty terrible mistake. Yet, the line catches, you’re secure.

The same is true in our life of faith. We step off at the command and invitation of our Lord. It can and will be unnerving at times. Yet, we remember that because the tomb was empty our Lord is there with us and within us.

So, then let’s step off. Alleluia. Amen.

 

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