In pm's words
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June 1, 2016, 9:00 AM

June 2016 Newsletter

Grace and peace to y’all during this beautiful season of the year!

Can you believe that it has already been a year since I was called to be your pastor? It has almost been a year since I have been in ministry with each of you. I remarked to Erin the other day that it is amazing how quickly this past year has flown by. I guess the tried and true statement of ‘time flies when you’re having fun’ is pretty spot on!

During this summer for the newsletter, I wanted to try something a bit different with this spot in the Reader. I’ve been asked to write a little ‘refresher’ on some of the things that we take for granted in the church or the things that we don’t necessarily notice – or at least ‘look past and through.’ Not that we don’t care about those things, but because they are always there in front of us, sometime we just don’t ‘see’ them like we used to.

So, this month, I’m going to write and share a bit about the paraments colors!

First – because I’ve been asked – what’s are paraments? Paraments are what many call the ‘altar cloths.’ The colored fabric and draping that are placed on the altar, the pulpit (where I preach from), and the lectern (where our readers speak from). The paraments also include our banners and the stoles that I wear as well.

There are different seasons of the church year and each season is designated a specific color. When I was a camp counselor and would be leading a Campfirmation Group (Confirmation Camp) we had a way to remember the seasons of the church year – ACELEP. Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost.

The church year is divided into two main parts. The first half (the Christmas and Easter Cycles) celebrate Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The second half (referred to as the season after Pentecost) and concentrates on Jesus’ public ministry.

Each season is designated a specific color to help further instill in us what that season is meant for.

Advent’s color is blue (though in some traditions it is purple). Blue is the color of hope. During Advent we wait in expectant hope for God’s advent (Latin for ‘coming’) in the birth of Christ.

Christmas’ color is white. The white paraments symbolize the light and purity of Christ and our great joy at his birth. All specific celebrations in the church that emphasize Jesus in some way are ‘white’ Sundays and seasons.

Epiphany is where things get a little ‘wonky.’ The day of Epiphany - being that it celebrates the light of Jesus – uses white paraments. However, the season of Epiphany is adorned with green paraments to symbolize our growth in knowing Jesus as God’s Son and the savior of the world and all creation.

The color of Lent is purple. This is a color of penitence. Penitence is our feeling of sorrow of knowing that we have done something wrong. Another word for penitence is repentance. During this mournful season we show great regret or remorse. Purple is a color that helps us live into that thought and belief more fully.

Easter is of course white. Throughout the seven weeks of Easter we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. The color white in the church symbolizes purity, being set a part. On Easter Sunday – the day that we celebrate the empty tomb and Jesus’ resurrection – Redeemer uses gold paraments to celebrate the wonderful uniqueness of what the Day of Easter is. This is the only day that gold paraments are used in the church. That’s how special and significant this celebration is!

Pentecost and the Season after Pentecost are both very short and very long. The day of Pentecost is the shortest ‘season’ of the church year for it is only one day and on that day we have red paraments. The red paraments – which are also used on Reformation Day and days that the church celebrates ordinations – are reminders of the fire of the Holy Spirit. That Spirit that burns within us, sets our hearts on fire, and sends us out into the world to be re-formed, shaped, and molded into the way that God has set for us. During the Season after Pentecost the church is adorned with green paraments for 27 weeks – except for the occasional festival Sunday (Reformation [red], All Saints Day [white], and Christ the King [white]). Green again is a symbol of our spiritual growth.

So, there you have it. At least in this the first of the occasional ‘Pastor – I wish I knew more about that stuff’ Series. Much if not all of the information I used and have learned from come from S. Anita Stauffer’s seminal work Altar Guild and Sacristy Handbook. Otherwise known as the “Altar Guild Bible.”

As you look through this newsletter see and read not only where God has been at work in the life of our community of faith, but also see what God is up to and where the Spirit is guiding us and see where YOU are being invited into this life of faith at Redeemer as well!

God bless each of you and the work we all GET to do in ministry!

May 30, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one about foreigners...

Sermon from May 29, 2016

Text: 1 Kings 8:22-3, 41-43 and Luke 7: 1-10

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, recently I was gifted the chance to reminisce a bit about my time abroad. As many of y’all know, I was lucky enough to live in a foreign country for a significant portion of my life. In 1992, my mom – who is a retired navy nurse – was stationed in Naples, Italy. For four years we got to live in a place that people only dream about living. Not necessarily dreaming of living in Naples per say, but living in Italy and Central Europe.

One of my friends and colleagues is soon going to be moving to Stuttgart, Germany because his wife accepted an incredible job to work in the American schools there as an occupational therapist. Naturally, they are very excited and they asked me to come over to talk to their young sons about what life is like living in a foreign country at their age.

One of the more profound things I believe I said – mixed deeply into the myriad of random statements about living in another country – was that being foreigner in a foreign land has helped me not only make me the person I am today, but I think a better pastor. Their oldest boy responded, ‘Yeah, I can see how that could be! Foreigners aren’t bad since you were one too!’

I thought that was pretty good for an 11 year-old to pick up on who is on the cusp of being a distinct ‘outsider’ in a new land and place. There will still be others like him and his family. Fellow Americans to live around, talk, share, and be with. But, they will still be a small minority amongst a vast majority of people who have a different cultural, speak a different language, and have different views on life.

I started thinking about all this again as I read our first lesson this morning.

Here we have King Solomon praying to God before the altar of the Lord. And within his prayer (which quite a bit gets skipped over too I might add) he includes a petition aimed at foreigners in the land of Israel.

Now, I thought that what Solomon lifts up to God about foreigners is pretty incredible – especially in the world and climate we live in today. The views that many take towards those who are not ‘from here’ today were pretty similar to the way that many felt during the early times that these scriptures were written. There is the thought that if things are ‘bad’ in the place we live; it must be because of those people are not from here.

They are the cause.

They are the problem.

They are not like us.

They have to go.

In fact, it is probably the single most-known platform that one of the myriad individuals running for president these past eight months has stood on.

Yet, contrary to that viewpoint – take a look at what King Solomon says again – when a foreigner – a person not of Israel – comes from a distant land – hear them.

When they come and pray. Listen O Lord.

When they come because they have heard of your great name, mighty hand, and your outstretched arm. Do according to all that they call to you.

This is not the typical prayer that would’ve been directed at foreigners – not only during Solomon’s time, but for what appears to be quite a few people during our day and age as well.

Hear, listen, and do according to all that they ask.

That’s just crazy talk right?

Well – God is kind of crazy – in a good way.

The prayer that Solomon invokes is that of a God who cares for those who call and come and seek refuge. God’s great name, mighty hand, and outstretched arm.

Outstretched arms are those images of drawing one in a close embrace, of invitation to join the group, of showing the grand richness shared with all.

Solomon is calling upon God not to shun, drive out, and rid the land of those who are different, but calling and pulling into the lands and people of Israel those who are outside. That the God of Israel hears their prayers and is their God too. That the God of Israel is not exclusive to those who are Hebrews and Israelites.

This thought again pervades even in our Gospel text. This is another story of a foreigner who is not of the people of Israel.

He’s a leader. An authority figure. An occupier. A Roman. Not a Jew.

Yet, he is an atypical Roman figure in this land. He cares and knows. He helped build a synagogue for the people – a place that he himself perhaps worships in. And he calls upon Jesus to help one within his own household. A worker, a slave.

Again – this is not your typical Roman leader. He cares for the lowly – the one who is more than likely – a foreigner too.

This centurion calls upon Jesus – someone different from him; different culture, different values, difference views – and asks Jesus to help his slave. He calls upon Jesus because he knows and has faith in what Jesus can do and who is potentially is.

Jesus is amazed at this man’s faith. This figure of authority who comes to him for help. The foreigner who sees the work and presence of God in our Lord.

Foreigners abound!

As I talked to these young boys as they soon begin their life living as foreigners in a strange land, I cannot help, but remember my time in their position as well. Learning the ability to look and be with someone who is different because you were an outsider once too. That as I looked upon them I could see that they weren’t all that different from me.

We shared, laughed, and liked much of the same things.

Yet, we all introduced one another to the wonders of our own cultures. Never presuming that ‘mine’ was better than ‘yours.’

At the core – as I look back on it now and as I am able to tell and share with these young kids – we remember that though there are those from other distant lands – God, our God, hears and listens.

God has stretched out arms of welcome and invitation bringing all into the embrace of love and relationship that is for all people.

The ministry of Christ shows us and calls us to a life that is lived for others – not just the ones who look, talk, act, and dress like us.

Being with others, not sending them away. Finding grace and love within their lives, not looking for fears or worries. Praying out to God to hear and listen to them too as we pray for God to listen to us. Maybe, maybe – our prayers aren’t as dissimilar as we might think. Amen.

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May 23, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one that makes our brain hurt...

Holy Trinity Sunday - May 22, 2016

Text: John 16: 12-15

Grace and peace to y’all 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!

Ever try to explain something to someone? Some things are easy to explain like how to get to The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. Some things take a little effort, but eventually people understand like trying to teach someone how to drive a car.  Eventually they ‘get it.’ Then, there are those things that no matter what we just can’t seem to fully explain even though we know they are true – like why do you love your spouse? Or, why exactly are the Texas Rangers the best team on earth? Or even, as we celebrate today the Holy Trinity – explain.

I remember in seminary that I and my classmates were tasked with writing about the Holy Trinity for a paper in our Theology class. Of course, before we embarked on that journey, our professor told us – ‘now remember, we as humanity and creation can never fully understand the Holy Trinity, but you better not start your paper with that. It’s never good in an academic paper to state that you really don’t know and can’t fully know what you’re writing about. Have fun!’

The Holy Trinity is something that we really and truly cannot full explain (it is a good thing I’m not in seminary anymore). No matter how hard we try, every ‘answer’ and explanation is more wrong than right, more untrue than true. There simply is no way to explain it in a way that actually gives justice and fullness to the Trinity.

So, though we may not be able to fully explain it; we can and we get to do something else. We get to explore it. Instead of trying see how each individual part fits in with the other, diving in like little engineers attempting to tear a lawn-mower down in order to build it again, we get to sit back and think about what the Trinity has to say about us and to us. 

As we sit back and think on the Trinity, most of us usually gravitate to one person of the Trinity that is the most easily understood. Some grasp for God the Father – seeing this person of the Trinity as the ‘guy in the sky,’ creator, sustainer. The loving, yet stern parental figure. The one who sets the rules and dishes out judgment.

Some center their faith on God the Son – Jesus Christ. From have you accepted Jesus today? To “What would Jesus do?” and even looking to Christ Crucified. Many find comfort in the tangible and physical person of God that we know of in Jesus Christ.

Finally, there are those of the faith for whom, feeling the spirit is everything. Speaking in tongues, handling snakes, faith healers, Charismatic Catholics and all in between. Even those who say they are more ‘spiritual’ than religious – those guided by feelings and the movement ‘of the Spirit’ in their daily lives. So naturally, they are drawn to God the Holy Spirit.

Now, all of us are a little bit of each of these, and almost none of us is completely one of them; but all of us favor one more than the other two. And the point is, each is an authentic way to experience God, and none of them is complete in itself; at least not for a healthy Christian life of faith.

Though we may not truly understand how each person of the Trinity interacts with one another we do know one thing – each person of the Trinity never works alone.

There isn’t a moment – at least in my thought and belief – that the Son goes off alone to ‘find himself’ or to seek guidance that is absent from the Father and the Spirit. The Spirit doesn’t remove himself from the other two in order to learn in solitude. The Father doesn’t abandon the others because he feels like the other two aren’t pulling their weight.

No, the Trinity works in community with one another. They are eternally one together, even though they are individually their own. The relationship they work together in is in their mutual love for one another. They work together – the work that they participate in – the serving, guiding, loving, forgiving, declaring, and more is all done together.

So what does that mean for us today? There are those that feel it necessary to go off alone, to discover themselves or find God in the midst of their life. Yet, they go alone. Lone Rangers out into the wilds of the world – searching for the ‘one.’ Most individuals that I’ve talked to who have done that or are in the midst of that journey usually remark that something is missing, it is an adventure that doesn’t seem quite full.

Of course, my response to that is usually – well, you’re forgetting one major aspect of the life of faith that is modeled for us in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – we don’t do this alone. We work in and serve through and are in relationship with not only the Trinity, but with one another as well. As we learn and grow we share and tell. We discover, we discuss, we talk, we disagree, we learn, we continue to grow in our faith.

We look to the Trinity as a model of how that community relationship works and grows. Where there is mutual love, honor, and respect. Each person of the Trinity offers their own gifts and skills, yet leans on and into the others for support and guidance.

We too are called to work in community within this life of faith. Seeing before us all those who are given honor and care, respect and love. We don’t venture off alone, seeking to find the ‘answers’ to life in solitude.

Instead, we strive, struggle, and thrive with one another. Where we are together in love serving, caring, seeking, learning, and growing. Life is better with others.

Others that know your cares and struggles. Others that pray for you. Where you celebrate the joys of those around you. As we all come together to learn and discuss.

This life of faith isn’t one that can be lived fully or completely or even satisfactorily without the presence of others around us.

That is the only way I can explain the Trinity. And it still leaves me scratching my head more often than not. I cannot explain how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are truly one God, yet three persons. Different, yet the same. United, yet individuals. But, what I do know is that as I explore – as I ask questions – as I delve into conversations with each of you – we get to experience the love of God for us. We get to remind ourselves that though we may not fully understand what we’re trying to explain – we can matter-of-factly with no doubt in our mind state – This God, this unexplainable, majestic, makes our brain hurt God loves each of us fully and completely, knows us inside and out, has forgiven of us all that we have done and all that we will do, where we are seen as perfect in this God of Love’s eyes. 

Our God loves us and continually invites us into this relationship of love. Our response to this amazing gift is to tell others that we don’t have to understand God to be loved by God. Not understanding our God doesn’t keep us from exploring how this love works or what it looks like, but we cannot wait to explore it with you – together and in community with one another.

We may not be able to wrap our arms and minds around the Trinity, but it really doesn’t matter.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit wants us to know, experience, and feel that we are loved.  Loved fully, completely, without hesitation, with no regrets. Ever. No exceptions.

The Trinity loves, let’s explore it together. Amen.

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May 16, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one where the Holy Spirit shows up...

Day of Pentecost - May 15, 2016

Text: Acts 2: 1-21

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus who is the risen and ascended 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!

What a great day this is! I love the season of Pentecost. I love the imagery of Pentecostal fire, the image of refining fire, the fire of glass blowing, the fire of the Holy Spirit. I love that we deck the church out in red on this day. I love that I get to wear this stole – a stole given to me at my ordination – because I really only get to wear it on Pentecost Sunday, Reformation Sunday, and any other ordinations I’m honored and lucky to attend.

This is a fun day! This is the birthday of the church. It really is. It is here that the people of God who followed the Way of Christ gathered together and began to proclaim Christ and the work of God in different languages. They were overcome by something like a rushing wind and what was like tongues of flame upon their foreheads. I think this is a really cool story and moment in the birth of the Church of Christ – and not just because Peter excuses the odd behavior of those gathered because it is too early for them to be ‘filled with new wine’ and instead recognizes and declares that they have been touched and inspired by the Holy Spirit. Someone obviously has never lived in a college town to understand that 9am isn’t always too early for some…

These gathered in Jerusalem that day were filled with God’s Spirit and compelled to speak in all known languages about the work of God. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.  L’Esprit Saint.  Der Heilige Geist.   Lo Spirito Santo.

What amazes me most is that this is the moment that those who followed Christ felt compelled and called to proclaim Jesus in all aspects of their life. It is here that the work of the Spirit fully guides and is present with those to live into all that Jesus taught, foretold, and proclaimed. It is this interesting and crazy event of people speaking and hearing in a multitude of languages that inspires people to be willing to die for what they believe.

It wasn’t the last supper. It wasn’t the numerous miracles that Jesus performed and pointed to God through. It wasn’t even the resurrection.

It was this moment. This moment of many gathered in Jerusalem who start talking and shouting and proclaiming God’s work. Those around them heard them in their own native tongues – languages that those speaking wouldn’t have known or perhaps even have heard. This is the powder keg moment of the life of faith that explodes in Jerusalem and in which today we are still feeling the fallout.

The Holy Spirit rushes upon us like a strong wind ever blowing through the sails of the church that are her people. The Holy Spirit is there to guide and point God’s people to Christ’s presence among and in us. The Holy Spirit is here to remind us of all that Jesus has taught us. The Holy Spirit is that which enwraps our hearts and directs our bodies to God and our ministries to the world in ways that we cannot explain. This fire of the Holy Spirit is here to let our hearts burn ever so brightly, strong, and hot for God that we are –refined – reformed –re-oriented – again and again towards God. The Holy Spirit is that presence of God among us reminding us of the promise, the sacrifice, and the gift of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. And our response to the presence of the Holy Spirit is to shout in thanksgivings and praise – even when others might not understand what’s going on. The work of the Holy Spirit is that which knocks us sideways to proclaim Christ to the world.

The Pentecostal event that we hear and celebrate today is not one that anyone would expect. When we think of the Holy Spirit moving through people, we like to think of the ‘A-Team’ those stalwart men and women of faith who were moved to do wonderful things in the life of the church. People like Peter, Paul, Martin Luther, St. Francis, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., and many, many, many more. We think of them as superstars – learned individuals, deeply and truly faithful folks.

Yet, when we really look at it – Jesus doesn’t necessarily call on the Avengers to take up the cross. God certainly didn’t in this story of Pentecost that we read today. Those speaking today aren’t sophisticated and learned individuals – at least not in the way we would describe. They more than likely didn’t know the languages that people heard them speaking. They were just simple, ordinary, down-to-earth folks – Just like you and me – who were filled with the Spirit to proclaim God to the world.

God showed up in this unique and one-time way and it changed everything.

In this moment, God knocked creation sideways and from that we are here today.

Think about that for a moment – because of this event the church is birthed. Some have described this as the large rock dropped into the middle of a still pond and the ripples are being sent out today. I like to think it much more as if a nuclear bomb of faith went off. It exploded in this event of Pentecost and the fallout is still being felt today. That fallout of faith that covers everything in our lives – pointing to the one who caused it all – the one who out of love has freed us from sin and death in his victory on the cross and in the empty tomb.

The Holy Spirit is amazing. Our guide. Our helper. Our advocate. The one who Jesus sent to remind us all of what and who Jesus is, but also to remind us of who and whose we are. That we are God’s.

Most importantly the Holy Spirit is that which moves us – where we are literally blown as if by a mighty wind to new and unexpected places of ministry. That in those moments they’ll knock us sideways.

This day, as we listen to the words and this music all inspired by the Holy Spirit how will you be moved? How and where will you and this community of faith here at Redeemer and in Newberry be moved to those unexpected places of ministry? Where is the fire of the Spirit refining us as a community journeying with and for Christ?

The Holy Spirit has wrapped her fire and wind around each of us – refining us and blowing us about in this church and community of faith to see God’s work in our lives and at work around us and reminding us that each and every last one of us are prophets to proclaim the mighty acts of God. 

Y’all – God is here for you. The Holy Spirit is present among us. Christ dwells inside us. Where is the spirit blowing you and setting your heart on fire today? Tomorrow? Next week? Where is the spirit blowing you to proclaim and live out this faith and gift that is from God?

This is a great day to remember, where we remember the birth of the church that the Holy Spirit blew to unexpected places. It is also a great day to be reminded that the Spirit continues to push us to minister to the places and people who we probably wouldn’t want to or expect. Where in those unexpected places we again and again see the ministry of God at work in us and among those who we are called to as we are knocked sideways by this wily Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit brings us to mission and redemption for the world. We may not know what that looks like fully, but it is for everyone. The church is blown to different places so that all might know that God’s grace is for everyone. Amen.

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May 9, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one about Jesus' prayer...

Sermon from May 8, 2016

Text: John 17: 20-26

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord Jesus 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!

We’ve come to the end of the Easter season. Today – this Sunday – is the final day in the Easter season. We’ve celebrated and praised Jesus’ resurrection these past seven weeks. Just as there are twelve days OF Christmas, there are seven WEEKS of Easter. We have been blessed again to remember what God has done for us and for the world in the death and resurrection of our Lord – God’s son – Jesus who is our Christ.

As we come to this Sunday, we get to hear a pretty important Gospel reading. We would think that this would be the day – this final Sunday of Easter – that we would be celebrating God in what God has done in Jesus. Where again we would be witness to the beauty and mystery of the resurrection and the empty tomb. That final fell swoop to remind us of the magnificence and greatness of what God has done in Christ our Lord.

But, that’s not the story we read this morning. Those aren’t the words we hear Jesus speak. Instead, we get to listen in on a pretty private moment between Jesus and his disciples. A moment that each of us are invited into because Jesus is praying not only for those gathered around him, but also praying for those who will believe because of the disciples’ word and proclamation.

That’s pretty powerful isn’t it? To know that Jesus is praying for us. That makes you step back a bit and take stock of things doesn’t it? That the one who boldly walks to the cross, who willingly dies in a way of torture, who then is raised from the dead – he prays for us. He prays for you; he prays for me. He prays for the whole world. All those we know and all those we will never know or meet.

That’s pretty powerful.

And what is his prayer?

To be happy? No.

To be successful and filled with abundance of riches? No.

That we might find that special someone? No.

To finally wise up and act right and listen to him? No, not really.

Those prayers? Those are mom prayers. And believe me I know. My mom has told me she has prayed those prayers – for me it’s mostly the last one. And, as a pastor I’m told a lot that that’s what many moms pray for.

They aren’t bad prayers in anyway – though depending on what your mom thinks, that last one might not go very far. They are indeed wonderful prayers, but that isn’t what Jesus prays for. Not even close.

Jesus prays that we might be one. That we might be one as he and God are one. That we might be ‘in them’ as they are in one with each other. Now, at first glance it is all pretty confusing and structured in a way that isn’t clearly or easily read and understood.

But, Jesus prays – at the most basic level – that we might be one.

What does that mean for y’all? To be ‘one’ with another?

Does it mean that we are all exactly the same? Does it mean that we all rigidly adhere to and follow the same beliefs and doctrines? I hope not and I don’t think so.

As I think about Jesus’ prayer that we might be ‘one’ I cannot help but, think that Jesus might be a little disappointed in us. That as Jesus looks out upon the world that he sighs in frustration and sadness.

Because, we aren’t ‘one.’

In so many ways we aren’t ‘one.’

We aren’t ‘one’ in how we view one another – in how we view race, lifestyle, political leanings, sports allegiances.

We aren’t even one when it comes to the church. There are a myriad of different traditions, denominations, and flavors of the Christian faith. IN fact, according to a study done in 2011 – there are over 41,000 different Christian denominations and organizations – taking into account of the overlaps based on cultural distinctions from denominations in different countries.

That’s not a lot of ‘one-ness’ being had there. Then you break those divisions even more when we talk about divisions between schools, companies, families, and friends.

Now, like I said earlier I don’t think Jesus is praying that we all be exactly the same or rigidly follow all the same specific practices, doctrines, and beliefs.

Being different from one another is not bad. It never has been and never will be. Differences are natural. We are all different, we cannot help that.

However, what I think is sad and depressing at times – and what makes me personally sad given the prayer that Jesus prays for us – it isn’t that we are different, it is that we are divided. That in many aspects of our life – even our life of faith – we aren’t ‘unified.’ We are divided and we revel in our division. We at times promote our division.

So what can be done to help us live into this prayer of ‘one-ness’ that Jesus prays for us?

For that, I continue to evoke my mom – and what I imagine are what many moms say to their children and families, “For the love of all that is holy – just love each other.”

As Jesus gets to the end of his prayer he says, “so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them.”

Love, again you’ve heard me say before and I will say it again and again. Love is the crux of Jesus’ ministry and life.

That unconditional love that we strive for that God has for us. That love that looks to those around us and sees them as honorable, worthy, and equal. That love that a mother and father bestow upon their children. The ones who follow and the ones who might stray a little.

The one-ness and unity that Jesus prays for – that Jesus prays that we might have – isn’t a unity that is like the proverbial melting pot. We aren’t melted down to our base parts and poured into similar molds so that we are all the same.

No, the oneness and unity that Jesus calls for is that we view one another as fellow children and creations of God. That even in our differences, we can have love for one another.

The love that calls us to help, serve, and proclaim. That love that honors and cherishes and respects the one before us. The love that gives of ourselves so that others might be full. The love that Jesus has given to us – that love that we share with the world.

Where our ‘one-ness’ and unity is that of a salad. Where each part contributes to the wonder and health of that meal. Where all the different parts of the salad help make the meal even better.

That is the unity that I hope to live into. That is the prayer that I find comfort in that Jesus prays for us.

That the love of God and our Lord might be in us as we live out that love for and with those around us. Amen.

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May 2, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one about the wily Spirit

Sermon texts: Acts 16: 9-15; John 14: 23-29


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? 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!

When I was a camp counselor at Lutheridge during the summer of my freshman year at Newberry College – I felt called by God to ministry. I felt called to be a pastor. So, when I came back for my sophomore year, I decided to enroll in some religion classes – the ones I was required to take and some extra ones so I could minor in religion and philosophy. I worked at St. Philip’s off of 219 my senior year to get some church work experience. I took some years off to ‘get settled’ and have a nice break out in the ‘real world’ for a bit before heading to seminary. I also got married then.

In 2007, I was accepted and enrolled at Southern Seminary in Columbia. In 2009 I was sent to Huntsville, AL for internship.

Everything seemed to be going ‘exactly according to plan.’ At least according to the plan and path that I felt God was calling me on. In fact, at my approval panel (the final ‘academic’ hurdle to get through before one can be approved for ordination) the head of my panel even mentioned that things were going pretty well – I was doing well in school, I had just welcomed into our life the birth of our daughter, and the Texas Rangers were well on their way to their best year ever. Things were going very well.

As Erin and I approached the day that I would be assigned to a region in the ELCA – the part of the country that I was to begin my ministry as a pastor – we really thought that we’d end up somewhere that would be familiar, perhaps even as far away as – Georgia or North Carolina.

Well, it didn’t work out quite like that.

In our first reading this morning, we see that Paul has a vision of a man who calls him and his friends to come help the people of Macedonia – to come to Greece and proclaim the gospel. Naturally, Paul and his friends set off to go to this foreign land and place. Sure, it was a Roman colony (something Paul would be familiar with), but it was still a new and different part of the world that he hadn’t been to before.

They arrive in Philippi and they hang out for a few days. Who knows what they were doing during that time. But, then on the Sabbath they went in search of a place to worship and pray. They happened to go to the city gates, by the banks of a river, and it was there that the Spirit led them to do ministry.

I can only imagine that that is not what Paul and his friends thought it was going to be like. His vision said that a man cried out to them from Macedonia. However, it was not a man, but numerous women that they talked and proclaimed to and shared with. Here they were – foreigners to a city and strangers to a land – and they come and talk to women on the outside of the gates of the city, by the river.

I don’t think that is what they thought was going to happen. They didn’t even help those within the city proper – but, instead proclaim the Risen Christ to those outside the gates. And then, the one who they talked to the most – the one who heard their words most fully – was a woman who wasn’t even from Macedonia or Philippi – she was from Thyatira or what is now modern day Turkey.

Talk about a curveball right?

I remember when Erin and I were sitting in the chapel at Southern Seminary waiting to find out what region we were going to be called to. I remember opening that envelope and thinking – something’s wrong. This number is upside down. It says 6, it’s supposed to say 9 right?

The Holy Spirit has a way of throwing us for a loop. Sending us to places that we wouldn’t expect, calling us to the places that we least expect in order for ministry to be done. It isn’t out of spite or out of foolishness. The Spirit doesn’t do this simply for the jokes and laughs. The Spirit sends us where we are needed. The Holy Spirit guides us to where ministry can take place.

I don’t know how Paul and his friends might’ve felt as they traveled from Troas to Philippi. I don’t know how they felt when they wandered around this new and strange city not knowing what to do, where to go, or who to speak to. But, I know how I felt when I was assigned to a region and then to a synod I never expected or even heard of.

I remember being frustrated, a little hurt, upset, and depressed. Really, really bad stuff. This isn’t what I expected. Why did I do all of this? What are we going to do now?

That crazy Holy Spirit – the wily one of the Trinity. Always stirring it up so that ministry might take place. Good, fruitful, and faith-filled ministry.

In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus tells his disciples and in turn tells us that the Holy Spirit doesn’t come to make us feel good. To give us those warm and fuzzy feelings. Gently assuring us that things are always going to be alright – safe – comfortable – familiar.

The Holy Spirit reminds us of Jesus’ words. The Holy Spirit is the one who continually points us to the one who gives us peace. Who promises that he is there – here. The one who commands us to love one another as he has loved us. The one who tells us that in our love – we will follow.

Of course, those are all things that are easier said than done. The disciples had a hard time with it. There was hesitation among the faithful like Paul and his friends.

This work of the Holy Spirit is not usually the story and action we want to hear and take part in.

It’s scary. It’s unfamiliar. It isn’t ‘quick.’

As most of y’all know, I was called to Michigan. It took quite a bit for me to work through that. A southern boy taken by the north. It took a bit for me to realize that I wasn’t so much sent to Michigan, but I was called to do ministry there. A place and a people that viewed what I had done and who I was and said, “Yeah – this guy could do well here. He has gifts that can be used here.”

We had four wonderful years of ministry ‘beyond the wall’ to the north. During that time, I and my family grew in our relationship with God – with one another – with the responsibility and vocation of what it means to be in ministry in, for, and with God and God’s people.

Each day I was reminded of Jesus’ presence. The Holy Spirit was doing her job. The Holy Spirit is doing her ministry and work.

What I think we can learn from these texts is that the Holy Spirit is not something we can control or fully – if at all – understand. That when we are called by God to do ministry – any ministry. Whether it is feeling the call to be a pastor or even to come to serve and be with those in need.

Whether you are knitting hats for babies and cancer patients.

Whether you are called to speak out against those who attempt to oppress those around you.

Whether you are being present with those who are grieving.

Whether you feel a call to gather food, clothes, and more for those in need.

The Holy Spirit moves through those wonderful acts of ministry and then directs and guides us to where we are needed the most.

We might be sent off to places we didn’t expect. We might be sent to people we wouldn’t expect. We might journey to ventures we never even considered – all because of the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Throughout it all – Christ has promised that the Holy Spirit is there.

That the Holy Spirit will remind us of him. Remind us of his words and actions and promises. Remind us of the peace that Christ has offered to us.

That peace that God is with us. That we are saved in the death and resurrection of Christ our Lord.

The Holy Spirit does send us into ministry in ways and places we wouldn’t expect, but that doesn’t mean we do it alone. Christ is here. God is present. The Spirit is guiding.

It’s going to be OK. And along the way? Amazing ministry can and does happen. Amen.

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May 1, 2016, 9:00 AM

May 2016 Newsletter Article

Grace and peace to each of y’all this month!

April was a crazy month. It was a month full of the highest highs – as we ventured into the majority of the season of Easter. Shouting Alleluia, lighting all the candles in worship, getting to be witness to absolutely gorgeous South Carolina weather.

But, April was also a month full of heartache, sadness, and death. One of our oldest members – Charlie Altman – died. We received news of the death of Elaine and Woody Cornwell’s son. Our community was rocked with the news of man’s body found by a passing driver, Lindy Richardson’s drowning death and the fatal car wreck that took the life of Newberry County Schools Superintendent Mr. Bennie Bennett. All of that happened in one week.

Throughout this past month, the one question I have been continually asked is, “Pastor – what can we do? What can we say?”

We ask because it is difficult to know how best to care and love on those who are grieving. We want to help. We want to be able to bring comfort – in any way we can.

What I have been able to share with those that I have been in ministry with during these very mournful times is to say that there is no word or prayer or act that I or anyone else can do to make the hurt go away; to remove this pain from life. The only thing that I can say and do is be present and to say that God is indeed present in this with you. Even when we don’t know exactly where; we have faith and hope that God is there.

What I think gets us in trouble is that those small things don’t feel like they are ‘enough’ of something to do. We feel we have to say something in order to ‘fill the space’ because we don’t like awkward silences and moments.

We say things like, “There is a reason for everything.” “You’re young, you can have more children.” “God loved him so much, God needed him.” “I know how you feel.”

None of those phrases brings comfort to those experiencing death and loss. In fact, many of the things we think are being helpful end up causing more pain and hurt. When you or someone you know has said those things, they were never meant to cause harm or hurt. They were and are said with the best intentions, but it still doesn’t bring comfort.

So, what then can we do or say? We can sit with someone. Tell them we are praying for them. We can acknowledge that we don’t know what to say, but know that we care. We can offer hugs. We can share a memory of the one who died.

We can be present in the moment with someone. Sometimes the best thing we can do is not say anything at all. We’re just there.

We pray. We are present. We remember that God is here with us – in all of this. No matter what.

As I end this, I want to do so on a lighter not so here is a story from one of my favorite comedians – George Carlin. In one of his final shows before his death he talked about what people say after someone dies that no one really questions. One of those things is directed at the surviving spouse and members of the deceased family, “If there is anything I can do – anything – don’t hesitate to ask.”

Carlin’s response (cleaned up for his language…), “Well fine, you can come over this weekend and paint the garage. Bring your plunger too; the upstairs toilet overflowed. You drive a tractor? Good the north forty needs a lot of attention. Get your chainsaw and pickaxe, we’re going to put you to work.”

When we truly think about what we say, we can come to an understanding that not all of it brings comfort. Though we don’t intend to hurt; we might just inadvertently cause pain.

Sometimes – a lot of time – we don’t need to say anything. We just need to be with the ones we love because they are hurting. What a wonderful reminder that God is present with them – as the community surrounds them and is present as well.

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April 25, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one about a new thing...

Sermon from April 24, 2016

Text: Acts 11: 1-18

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? 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, every week we have four readings within our worship service. Each of the readings that have been chosen – as a part of the Revised Common Lectionary – try to have a running theme or thread within them. Sometimes that thread is easily noticed; sometimes it takes some digging to discover it.

Fortunately, I believe this Sunday the thread that binds these texts together is easier to discover than others.

We are in the midst of Easter and we continue to give praise and honor and shout alleluia for what God has done in Christ our Lord. We get to come to worship in the faith, knowledge, and hope that what God has done in the resurrection of Jesus – God will do for us as we are grafted into that relationship and love because of Jesus’ and God’s love for us – shown to us in the victory over sin and death that Christ achieved in his death on the cross and the empty tomb. The promise of the resurrection.

But, where does that lead us? How does that compel us to go forward each day in that knowledge? Where is God taking us in this venture?

What I think that we see here in our readings this morning is that God has done something new and continues in this ‘new’ throughout our lives and world today.

Your response might as well be, “Well duh pastor – we’ve heard that one before! Of course God has done something new!”

And you’d be right. We have heard that phrase before, but I wonder how often we actually see where this ‘new’ takes us and leads us.

Because there is something interesting about a ‘new’ thing. It’s different. It isn’t like what we had before. It involves the dreaded Lutheran word – change.

Look in our first reading this morning from Acts.

As I read this text I cannot help, but think how much this short story reflects what we see in our world – in the church – today.

Those who have ‘always’ been a part of the religious establishment. Those who have always been ‘here’ questioning if these ‘new’ people are really a part of them. They haven’t paid their dues yet. And in the context of our first reading here – the ‘dues’ to be paid could be very painful to quite a few of us here – if you know what I’m saying.

Those who have been Jewish (from the beginning) and who are now following the Way of Jesus the messiah are hesitant about this message being spread to those who haven’t always been a part of their life and group.

I remember in a previous church setting where an individual had a private meeting with me over a concern they had. Their concern? Some people hadn’t ‘been at the church long enough’ and were starting to lead and start things. They hadn’t paid their dues. Of course the individuals in question had been at the church for over eight years.

The underlying concern is that ‘new’ people bring new ideas, new ministries, new ways of doing things, new identities. We get wrapped up in what we’ve always been that we fail and hesitate to see who and where God wants us to be for the world.

These longtime faithful Jewish followers of Jesus were worried about how these new gentiles would change their dynamic, the conversation, the way we approach issues, and more. Their underlying thought was that what we have is for us and no one else. How can we share this?

Yet, Peter tells them a story of a vision he had where God commands him to eat of food that has normally been forbidden. God is adamant. What I say is clean – is clean. Eat and be fed. So Peter eats.

So, Peter living in the midst of this new thing that God is doing goes to those who have always been ‘outside’ the faith of the Hebrew God and they are welcomed. Welcomed because Christ is for us all – not a select and exclusive group. Christ is for all – especially the ones who you – we – think wouldn’t or shouldn’t.

We are able to see and welcome this ‘new thing’ that God is doing in Christ as we read in our Gospel text about Jesus’ new commandment to his disciples. To love one another as he has loved them. Of course, this love isn’t just saying it and it isn’t showing love in the ways that they had done in the past. Jesus’ command to love one another as he has loved comes immediately after Jesus has stooped to wash the feet of his disciples.

Where the love that Jesus talks about is a love that serves others. That brings wholeness to the least of these. A love that gives selflessly to those in need around us. It isn’t a love that is self-serving or only concerned with a select few. It isn’t a love that only walks in familiar buildings, down well-worn paths, and surrounds itself with similar people and ideas.

The new commandment of love that Jesus proclaims and commands is one that sends us out to new places, new people, and in new ways. Proclaiming the gospel to those that others would rather steer clear of. Helping those in need that others have written off because of who they are or where they come from. This commandment to love as Jesus loves guides us into situations and into relationships with others that can make us feel uncomfortable, a little scared because it is different.

And as we live into this new commandment of love, where we are welcoming those who are new, we help live into the vision that the writer of Revelation conveys to us. A new heaven and new earth – where the holy city of God comes down to be with us. Where we realize and recognize that God comes to be with us. The ‘new’ is not that we shed what God has already gifted us to be somewhere else, but that God comes to be with us fully and completely.

This new thing where God is fully and completely present among creation.

As we live into this commandment of love and in this welcoming of those who are not ‘of us’ as those in Acts were critical of; we know that change will occur.

We will be changed. Our community will be changed. Our lives will be changed.

But, in that changing – in that re-formation – God will be present with us. Christ will continue to love on us and we in turn love in and through Jesus.

Where we are made more full and whole.

God is doing this new thing. It can be scary. It can be awkward. But, God is here. Christ is present. The Spirit is guiding.

In this love – this new love that we are commanded to live out – others will see. Others will come. Others will help us to see Christ more fully in the world so that we can continue to live more completely in the commandment of love that Jesus has given us.

We give praise to God for the love that we have been given, for the love that we get to share, for those who see that love and join in, and those that help us love more fully God’s children and creation.

This is indeed a new thing. Amen.

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April 18, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one about the good shepherd

Sermon from April 17, 2016

Text: John 10: 22-30

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus 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, since I was a young boy, I have always loved video games. As a somewhat awkward and shy child who found it difficult to make friends mostly because my family moved a lot; video games were a way for me to escape to far off lands and worlds. I helped save princesses from giant lizards, fought off robots with a blaster arm, and wielded magic to bring peace and justice to an oppressed people. Much like with books, I became mesmerized by these worlds and I’d like to think that I was pretty good at them too. Living in Italy, 30 minutes away from my friends and from school, I guess I would become pretty ‘accomplished’ at video games. I didn’t really have anything else to do.

However, unlike today’s games where they are hooked and connected to the internet, where you receive ‘achievements’ and ‘trophies’ based on your accomplishments, for the entire world to see, when I started playing video games, we didn’t have such ‘luxuries.’

So, if I nailed a 30+ hit combo in a fighting game, or threw a no-hitter in the latest baseball game, or even beat a game on the highest difficulty in record time, I was the only one who knew. Usually my little brother too. After accomplishing what I considered a superhuman feat, I’d tell my friends, and they would scoff and ask for proof. But, much like taking your car into the shop, it is sometimes rather difficult to ‘re-do’ or prove what you say you saw, heard, or accomplished. Of course, with the advent of technology that allows people to watch truly gifted players; I’ve realized that as good as I was and am… well… let’s just say there is a wide gap between what I’m able to do and what others can do.

Anyways, no matter how hard I tried to convince them with my words, no matter how plainly I spoke, some would not believe me. If you were my parents, grandparents, or even now with my wife…well… You’d just get a little annoyed.

The Jewish leaders in our gospel text today were annoyed. They were annoyed with Jesus. The Greek in verse 24, literally says, “How long are you taking away our life?” This ‘suspense’ as the translation that I read and which is in your bulletins is not the suspense that you or I are familiar with. These are not individuals waiting in bated breath about what will happen next. These are individuals who wanted Jesus to leave because they were tired of what he preached. They wanted for him to go away because they found what he said annoying… The Greek idiom used in verse 24 can then essentially mean… how long will you continue to annoy us?

They ask Jesus to speak plainly about his identity, about who and whose he is. As you read the Gospel of John, you read of Jesus, who is not secretive about who he is or who he comes from. The previous nine chapters of John’s gospel are filled with Jesus saying, “I am…” in response to many questions regarding his identity. Yet, as Jesus states, despite this ‘plain speaking’ they, the ones questioning him, do not believe.

Jesus preaches that the works that he does, healing the man born blind, walking on water, healing on the Sabbath, turning water into wine, are all signs that testify to who he is. Jesus’ identity is together and is one with the Father. Yet they, the Jewish leaders, do not believe. They say to themselves that they cannot believe. It is too good to be true. There has been some miscommunication. There has to be a reasonable explanation for all that has happened. That and they continue to be annoyed by the one who faithfully claims he is the messiah, the son of God, one with the Father through his words and actions.

Today there are many who don’t believe, they call themselves Atheists, agnostics, and more. Some even call themselves Christians. They hear the words of Christ through scripture, yet they don’t believe. They ask for proof. 

“Show me this Christ, this living Lord, and I’ll believe.”

When we are asked for proof we respond in one of two ways, but really we must do both. We state that belief without tangibly seeing or touching is faith. We believe because, well we believe. But, we also show ‘proof’ of Christ, the living Lord, through the works of our own hands.

I love the imagery to which Christ speaks regarding hands in our gospel today. We are in his hands; he encloses us in his promise of eternal life through his sacrifice and love.

As we are safe in Christ’s hands, we are also safe in the hands of his Father, our Father. No one can snatch us away.  I love knowing that we reside and live in our Lord’s hands, and it is through hands, our hands, that we prove Christ is alive and living in the world today.

Think about that for a minute. We are held in God’s hands, safe and secure. Through our own hands we show the thankfulness for the grace through our works. Hands are indeed so important.

Now, of course, as Christians who view the world through a Lutheran lens, we know that we are not saved by our works. So, in many ways, we have been taught to not really talk about our works. But, through our faith, our belief, we are saved; we are secure in our Lord’s hands. But what does that faith produce? It produces, it should produce, good works, signs that Christ in in us and that we are in Christ.  Through the works of our hands, God can be revealed to the world. We give, we praise, we serve, we are thankful, all with our own hands. It is no wonder that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – our governing church body – has adopted the motto of “God’s work, our hands.”

So, it is interesting that those Jewish leaders approach Jesus and say, “Tell us who you are.” Yet, Jesus’ response isn’t, “I am who I am.” Instead Jesus’ response is, “Look what I’ve done. The works that I do point to who I am.”

So, we think of those works and signs that Jesus did as we celebrate this day – this Good Shepherd Sunday. And, as we celebrate this day, we think about what makes a shepherd good.

Is a shepherd good because when the shepherd calls – the flock hear his voice and listen? Kind of, if the shepherd was not good, I imagine that the flock wouldn’t listen to him. But, that’s not what it is; not quite.

Is a shepherd good because as our psalmist writes – the shepherd’s rod and staff comfort, they protect me? I suppose that could give a little insight into what makes a shepherd good. And if we are honest, that is the kind of Jesus we like isn’t it – or at least the Jesus we want. We want Jesus to shelter us and protect us. To keep all harm and evil from us – to not lead us into dangerous places. In many views, Jesus is the good shepherd because Jesus keeps us safe.

And Jesus does. We are told that in the hands of Jesus – in the hands of God – we cannot be snatched away. We are protected. We are safe. Nothing can take that away from us. Nothing will ever snatch us away from our Lord’s embrace.

But, I’m not sure that’s the only thing that makes a shepherd good.

There’s an interesting thing about that shepherd’s staff. Yes, it is hooked to keep the flock from going to places that wouldn’t be good for them – for us. Jesus’ words, life, and presence keep us and remind us of where we should go and what might lead us away in sin.

Caring for others. Not hurting others and creation in so many ways. Loving God and loving our neighbors.

But, the shepherd’s staff does something else as well. The crook of the staff is used for drawing the sheep away from danger, but the staff also has a ‘blunt’ end. The blunt end for prodding them toward places they would rather not go.

A good shepherd both protects and agitates as needed, the good shepherd both gathers the flock in for shelter and leads them out to graze in new pastures.

So too is it with our Good Shepherd. It isn’t always the words of Jesus that remind us who he is. But, it is the actions and the work of Jesus that show us God’s goodness. Yes; God draws us in to comfort and protect but, God also knows something of our potential and urges us toward that vision.

The Jewish leaders who come to Jesus in our gospel this morning seek the easy answer. It is easy to ‘discredit’ someone because of the words they say. It’s easy to deny that you’ve done something when others only hear that you did it and only because you told them. But, it’s another thing to see the works of what someone can do and then deny their gifts.

Jesus – our good shepherd – points to what he is doing in the world and proclaims that his works of justice – not his words – are what causes the flock to hear him, know him, and follow.

So, we celebrate this Good Shepherd Sunday knowing that it is not the words we use that ultimately show someone the love of God.

It isn’t just saying, ‘I’ll pray for you. Or I’ll feed you. I’ll tell someone of your troubles.’

Doing that is good.

But the goodness of our Lord and the comfort and safety we have in God’s hands – that safety of knowing that we are firmly in God’s embrace – that compels us to act in our love and in our faith.

Where we are able to say, I’ll feed you and then as one of our young friends mentioned last week during the children’s sermon – I’ll have dinner with you too. And in that action we see where God is ‘prodding’ us into pastures that are unfamiliar, but where the feast is grand. Being with and in relationship with those around us – who are potentially different from us – may initially make us uncomfortable. But it is there that we can see Christ at work – in the meal we eat, in the stories we share, in the relationship that grows.

We know Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He protects and comforts. But, he also pushes us to live into the faith and renewed life that we have been gifted in his resurrection. We are nudged and prodded into new places as well.

Where we too might be confronted with those who pose the same questions as those who approach Jesus in our gospel today. And our response? “I’ll show you – join me in this.” Amen.

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April 11, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one about where our faith may lead us...

Sermon from April 10, 2016

Text: Acts 9:1-20 and John 21: 1-19

Grace and peace to y’all from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus 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, whenever you hear of someone who has ‘seen the light’ and has turned to the life of faith, how do you normally react? Many of us are happy and excited about this new sister or brother in the faith. It is great to see God at work. We rejoice, we celebrate.

But, what if the person who is now professing this faith and living this way – what if they were a pretty terrible person before? What if he or she did some pretty awful things, turned a blind eye as others piled on, or even instigated the actions of those who caused immense pain?

Then, we look at someone with a little warier of an eye don’t we? We are a bit more cautious about what they say and do. In fact, I bet most of us are just itching at the chance to find an opportunity to point out their inevitable mistakes and pitfalls. We continually wonder if they’ve truly turned from their ways or if they are actually just pulling the wool over our eyes.

Yet, this morning we are confronted with a story that kind of irks us in ways that we don’t expect. This story of Saul’s conversion that we heard in our second reading doesn’t unfold the way in which we’d think. We are introduced to Saul who is a pretty terrible individual.

He really is.

He was there and behind the cause to drive out – in any way possible – all those who followed ‘The Way’ in Jerusalem. He may not have always actively participated in the actions that others took against those who followed Jesus, but he certainly didn’t disagree with their actions. Standing by and tending to the coats of those who stoned the martyr Stephen. And, he wasn’t just an innocent bystander caught up in the mix of what others were doing – no, he approved of those who killed Stephen. He even states in the beginning of this reading that he has received permission to drag off in chains those who followed ‘the way.’

The more I read about Saul, the more I compare him to Francis Underwood from House of Cards. A person who seems ultimately unredeemable. A manipulative, calculating, zealous, and dangerous individual. Someone – for the most part – who is not the one to personally cause hurt, but is in the background pulling the strings and pushing people to act simply through his words and mind games.

This – for us – would be the last person that we would approach or even imagine Jesus appearing to so that the gospel might be spread beyond the relative small confines of the Jewish culture. I don’t think that those who first heard or read this story from Acts ever expected Saul to be the one that Jesus comes to and says, “This is the guy that’s going to spread my Gospel to all – to those who are and are not Jews.”

I think, most of us would definitely line up with Ananias’ way of thinking. We’d be skeptical. Perhaps even a little fearful. We’d be a little wary of what this man would do to us. Is it a game? Is it a ruse? Is this an elaborate ploy in order to ‘take me in?’ So many thoughts would be running through my mind – our minds – if we were thrust into a similar situation.

But, then that gets us a bit to where I think these readings might be directing us. You see, our readings this morning – especially our reading from Acts and John – focus quite a bit on faith. It may not come out and say the word itself, but it does a wonderful job in showing us what and how faith is lived.

Faith is something that is not always the easiest concept to explain. It is hard to wrap our minds around and to use words to better explain what it means for us. Most of the time, we try to explain faith in such a way that we state what we believe faith is not. We attempt to define faith by stating what we believe is the opposite of faith.

Some will say that the opposite of faith is doubt. But, really that doesn’t make all that much sense because much of what people consider ‘doubt’ is a wrestling and struggle with that which we have faith in. It is OK for us to ask questions and to ponder, because many times – more often than not – that leads us to a more substantial and deeper faith and belief.

It is OK for Ananias to question Jesus’ command – he has full right to be a little nervous and apprehensive.

However, what I think much of what these texts speak to about faith is that faith leads to action. The opposite of faith – would be that which keeps us from moving forward in our trust.

Ananias questions (which some would call doubt), but he trusts ever more fully into what Jesus is sending him to do.

Peter becomes frustrated – perhaps even a bit angry – as Jesus continually asks him the same question three times.

In Jesus’ words, Peter lives more fully into the life and call of faith that Jesus is leading him in. He comes to greater trust because of the faith that Jesus has in him. Jesus continually seeks him out to lead and to proclaim even though Peter has not been the best person to seek that sort of confidence in. He’s denied, he’s run away, he continually has put his foot in his mouth.

But, in spite of all that – Jesus continually seeks out Peter and Ananias and even Saul (who will later change his name to Paul). I read recently that scripture is the story of God’s relentless pursuit of people who fail to trust in God’s promises.

We can see that at play here in the three main individuals within our readings. Peter has failed to trust multiple times. Ananias (initially) failed to trust Jesus’ command to go to Saul. Saul potentially wouldn’t trust in God’s promise out of fear of what God would do to him because of what he has done.

Yet, each person we read of today has substantial and profound faith. Not in the doctrines they hold or the theological ideas they espouse. No, they have profound faith because their trust leads them to action.

Their apprehension, fear, cowardice, or confusion doesn’t keep them from living into the life that God has called them to through their Lord – our Lord – Jesus.

Peter leads, proclaims, and draws many to the way.

Ananias goes to the one who would’ve sought him out to be dragged, arrested, and even killed.

Saul follows the call that Jesus has laid before him.

So, what does that mean for us this day as a part of this renewed life we have been given in Jesus’ resurrection?

How does your faith lead you in your life?

How firm is our trust in where God leads us? The one who calls us – like God called Peter, Ananias, and Saul – calls us to places that could be scary, dangerous, unknown, and unfamiliar.

We now we have faith because we continue to follow the way that Jesus has set before us. We continue to hear the call that God beckons us with.

That faith leads us to action – action to care for those around us, action to proclaim the one who has redeemed us completely and freely, action to walk those paths that others might think foolish and wrong.

And, yet – we are continually confronted with what keeps us from moving forward. Where we are stymied into inaction.

Where have we been so zealous that it has caused hurt and pain to those around us? Where I wasn’t strong enough to speak out against the words and actions we and others have participated in?

Where have we been confused by where to go next – even when Jesus is pointing the way?

In the moments where God has called to you in the most dramatic (and simple) ways to turn us from those thoughts, words, and actions that can and have caused all sorts of hurt and pain?

Where we have questioned someone’s faith because of their past?

In so many ways, we can see ourselves in the midst of the individuals we read of today in our readings. The apprehension of Ananias, the frustration of Peter, the zealousness of Saul.

Yet, in spite of those things that would and could keep someone from living the way – Jesus comes – continually comes – to them. Jesus continually seeks out those who are not perfect, who don’t have it all together, who others would be skeptical of. Jesus continues to come to those who seem and are most broken.

So too does Jesus come to us because we too are broken in so many small and significant ways.

That is someone to have faith in. Faith in the one who seeks each of us out – imperfect individuals to proclaim the love and care of this new and renewed life. That is what we have faith in. It is in that faith that we are called to act, and to live, and to be. That is what makes us whole.

Scripture really is the story of God’s relentless pursuit of people who fail to trust in God’s promises. But, it isn’t just scripture where this happens. God continues to relentlessly pursue today. God pursues each of us – those who at times fail to trust in God’s promises. This relentless pursuit in love and grace and care.

So that we might know how cared for we are, how loved we are, how present God is with us. It is in that relentless love in which God pursues us that we are made whole, the scales fall from our eyes. It is in that love that we are free to live into the life that God has gifted us. It is in that trust and faith that we are called to proclaim God’s love to the world.

To the ones who we previously railed against. To the ones who we wouldn’t expect. To the ones who we might be wary of.

We act, we live, we are – because of our faith. Amen.

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