In pm's words
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April 4, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one where Jesus gives us peace...


Sermon from April 3, 2016

Text: John 20: 19-31

Grace and peace to y’all 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!

Traditionally as we read this text – which if you didn’t know comes up every year during this, the second Sunday of Easter – we’ve heard it titled in a pretty specific way. It’s a title to this short excerpt from John’s Gospel that has painted an individual within this story in a very particular way, and not in a very flattering light. But, if you’ve been listening to me during my short time here as your pastor – you probably already know how I might feel about the titles that we are given for all of those well-known Gospel stories. I don’t really like how many of the ‘titles’ of particular parts of the gospel story have been labeled. They keep us from really reading them again and again because once it’s titled it is difficult to see past that one interpretation of the text.

The gospel story we have this morning is one that is very familiar to us and it occurs immediately after the resurrection of our Lord. In fact, it occurs that very night.

But, something is a bit strange, something seems off. Jesus’ friends and disciples have been given the most amazing news possible. Their Lord, their friend – the messiah and Son of God – is no longer in the tomb because he lives again. He has risen! You would think that the disciples and followers of the Risen Jesus would be out in force within the streets. Screaming to all who could hear:

Jesus has overcome death.

Jesus has turned from zero to hero.

Jesus is alive!

You’d think that would be something to celebrate. In fact, just look at our last Sunday on Easter morning. This place was packed as was pretty much every other place of worship around the country and world. We came together and sang hymns of praise and celebration. We continued (and continue) to shout alleluia from the mountaintops of our lives! We shout he is risen! We still wish those around us a happy and blessed Easter. All the candles within our worship space are lit. The excitement and presence of the Holy Spirit is palpable.

You’d think that the excitement at the news of our Lord’s rising from the dead and the empty tomb would last longer than a few hours.

Yet, that evening the disciples are scared.

They’ve locked themselves in a room away from those who would wish to do them harm.

The dangers and ‘realities’ of life seem more powerful and threatening than the joy of the empty tomb.

Just a few hours after the news of Jesus’ resurrection, his closest friends and disciples are in the midst of confusion, anxiety, and fear. The collective sense of ‘what do we do now?’ and ‘where do we go from here?’ are driving their thoughts and actions. They are witness to the greatest wonder of the world, yet they aren’t out there proclaiming it – instead they are holed up in a locked room out of fear of those around them.

Now, because of how this part of the gospel has been titled, there is a tendency to just look at those disciples (not just the one) and think, ‘oh bless their little hearts…’ in the most flattering-insult tone we can muster.

But, then if we are prone to do that (which I’m sure each and every one of us probably has at one point in their life) I’d push us all a little bit.

If we look upon the disciples in our text this morning and think, “Oh those silly and foolish disciples – they still don’t get it!” I’d ask you, “so – what you’d you do on Easter Monday? How was your week in proclaiming the risen Lord to all those around you?” Does the energy and excitement from Easter Sunday still flow through you today?

My guess is that after Easter Sunday a lot of that excitement fizzled out. Sure we filled our social media feeds with countless pictures of flowers, scripture texts, and wrote and responded to countless posts of “Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”

But, the pull and the drain of the world quickly sucks us back in. The brief glimmer of hope and grace of the resurrection gets drowned out by the world and its attitudes around us. For the briefest of moments; the locked doors of our lives were opened to the wonder, mystery, and beauty of the resurrection.

But, then the fears and those doors that we hoped to burst open and through came back again.

When given the opportunity to tell someone about God’s love for them – we might’ve thought – “oh they probably already know that. Easter was yesterday. I’m sure they went to their church.”

We may have read something on the internet or heard from a friend about a story that continued to disparage those who are different – that didn’t live into the new commandment of love that we have been given by Christ. We didn’t push back from that line of that and those words of hate because – well, that’s just Doug – he doesn’t really mean it. Stacy is just joking like usual. Besides if I said anything I’d probably just make things worse.

We might have seen someone in need on the side of the road, but we didn’t stop to help because well – they are probably just conning me and others. If I help, it’ll only give them reason to keep doing it.

Or perhaps you want to proclaim and shout and give voice to God’s love in the lives of those around you, but because of what you might suffer from it holds you back.

I can’t proclaim the love of God in Christ our Lord because I don’t feel worthy of God’s love or don’t think there are those that love me. Why would they listen?

I want to point to the resurrection, but I really don’t know how to explain it all and I’m scared of the questions that they might ask me. I don’t want to look stupid.

I want to believe and to share – but, I’m afraid – afraid of what others might think, or say, or ask for. I’m afraid because I have questions and thoughts. It all seems too good to be true. If I don’t have it figured out, how am I supposed to invite others into this life too?

No matter how we hear and experience the resurrection and are called to be witnesses like those first women at the tomb – the locked doors of our lives and our minds seem so strong and sturdy. Impenetrable to the love that God exudes in Christ’s resurrection for us.

Much like Jesus’ disciples, we too find ourselves behind those locked doors.

We too seek the ‘data’ that Thomas asks for.

We step back, we don’t move. We stay locked in the room – even amid the crazy excitement and energy of this new thing that God has done.

And then in pops Jesus.

In our story – pretty literally.

Jesus appears in the room with his friends in spite of the locked doors.

Now, if I was there I probably wouldn’t be too excited. I’d probably be freaking out.

One, because Jesus is there and the door never opened.

Two, because I’m in here and not out there spreading the news.

I’m sure the disciples have the racing thought of, “Oh man, we are so going to get it now…”

Yet, Jesus’ words to his friends and disciples is not one of anger or rudeness or snark or disappointment. Instead Jesus speaks the words that I think all of us need to hear and listen to. Those words that burst through locked doors and fill those ‘rooms’ of our lives where we hide with love and presence.

Peace be with you.

Words so important to hear that Jesus says it twice.

Peace be with you. I’m with you. I send you. The Spirit leads you.

He then comes again the following week to give that sense of peace and presence to Thomas. He doesn’t chastise him or belittle him. Jesus gives to him what he needs to continue to point to the risen Lord.

Throughout our lives – even in the midst of the excitement and energy of Easter – we still find ourselves behind the locked doors of our lives. The locked doors and tombs that seem so stubborn and real to us. Those places in which we hide for fear of how others will see us, view us, or treat us.

Those locked rooms have so many names – fear. Anxiety. Addiction. Stubbornness. Disease. And more.

In the promise and reality of the resurrection – Jesus steps into those locked rooms of our lives. Jesus bursts open the doors with words of peace, presence, and mission.

Peace be with you.

I’m here.

I send you.

We do hide within the locked doors of our lives. We do shut ourselves off from the world even when we hear the grace-filled news of the resurrection.

Jesus continues to step into those moments. Bringing us peace, reminding us of his presence, and sending us out.

Not alone. But with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in the community of the Body of Christ.

No matter how strong of a lock or how encompassing of a room in your life that you feel keeps you from proclaiming the good news of the resurrection; know that Jesus comes into that space. Not to chastise, not to reprimand. Not to demean or belittle.

Jesus steps into those rooms to free us from the bonds and chains that shackle us into inactivity. That keep us from being sent. Jesus steps into those moments and places and offers us peace. Jesus has breathed into us the Holy Spirit that guides us in this life of faith – this life of faith that calls and compels us to speak, act, and live out for and in God’s love for us and the world.

Even in our doubts Jesus doesn’t turn from us or turn us away. Jesus comes to give peace so that we might know we are loved and not alone. In that faith of the empty tomb and in that promise of the resurrection – we are sent to proclaim. Amen.

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April 1, 2016, 9:00 AM

April 2016 Newsletter


Grace and peace to y’all and Blessed Easter! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia! It is April, can y’all believe it? The warm weather is quickly approaching, there is a nice breeze around us, and we all impatiently wait for the brief rains because there is a ‘lovely’ shade of yellowish green blanketing everything. I almost forgot about the pollen in the South, but I’d still take it 100 times over the potential of snow.

So, we’ve all triumphantly burst into the Easter season. It has been a long Lent and Holy Week. Incredibly fulfilling and spiritually lifting (as Lent and Holy Week always are), but it’s still a long season. We’ve all begun our shouts of Alleluia! We’ve sung our praises to the new thing that God has done in Christ our Lord. We’ve reflected on what the empty tomb means for us today.

We’ve done a lot, and there will obviously be more to do as we live into this new life that God has given to us – a life that proclaims the blessed emptiness – the empty tomb – because Jesus is risen!

With all those preparations, with all those wonderful moments, with all that excitement we can become pretty tired – some exhausted because of the work we have done together and the glorious work that is still to come. Because of the world and attitude we live into there is the thought that within our tiredness that we just fill the cup with a stronger, richer coffee; suck it up; and keep on truck’n.

The attitude of the world is that you just work, work, work. No matter what. You can’t stop because if you take a break something or someone will pass you by. You have to keep working in order to stay ahead.

Yet, as we do that we continue to fall into the sense that what we cannot do enough so we must do more. In our quest to always be ahead and not to ‘let anything in our work fall behind’ we end up leaving behind family, friends, our lives. As we dive into the culture of the world to always stay ahead and busy, we end up pushing away those who love and care for us. We end up pushing away any sense of rest in our lives.

What I’m writing for us – all of us – this month is that we continue to follow in the lead of our Lord Jesus Christ. As we strive to live into the life that he has called us to – caring for others, inviting others into our lives, getting to know all who are around us. There is another aspect of Jesus’ ministry that we usually fail to live into – the ministry of rest for ourselves.

Many times throughout Jesus’ ministry and recorded in our scriptures – Jesus went away to a secluded place. To pray. To rest. To be with himself. To get away – for a bit – from the many who gathered around him. We read of Jesus pursuing a time of rest in Mark (1:35), Matthew (14:13), and Luke (4:42). Each time of rest is preceded by a lot of activity done by Jesus or knowing that something big was about to happen.

So, what does this say to us?

It is OK to rest. In fact, it’s probably pretty needed. The work can wait. You’ll be thankful for it.

Of course, rest from our work requires an actual time away. That means turning off our phones, closing our laptops, and getting away. As we enter into those moments of rest, we open our minds, our hearts, and our lives to our God, to our family, to our friends, to those activities and hobbies that we find great joy in.

We step away – only for a brief time – so that we can be reinvigorated, recharged, and rested to continue into the work that (hopefully) fills us in so many ways.

Resting is not a sign of weakness. Taking a vacation is not bad – no matter what others in prominent positions might say. Stepping away from the work we are invested in is following in the path and ministry modeled by our Lord.

We step away. We rest. We come back to the work of our vocations.

It’s good. It’s fun. It’s OK. Amen!

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March 28, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one about being a witness...


Sermon from Easter Sunday, 3/27/2016

Text: Luke 24: 1-12

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!

Welcome to each and every one of you who has gathered here to worship this morning as together we get to celebrate our Lord Jesus Christ’s resurrection. No matter how you got here this morning – because it’s tradition, because you were curious, because you were dragged here – know this; today is the most important day of the year. This is the day that God’s promise to creation is made known to the world.

This is the day in which we celebrate that in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ – God is victorious over sin and death. Where God has shown this great love to us in Jesus’ death and in his rising from the tomb. We get to celebrate all those other wonderful, holy, and special days in our life and in the life of the church because this day we remember that the tomb was empty.

This is a day that we celebrate and we do. Our worship this morning is packed with symbolism and with the gifts shared by all of you this morning – in our presence, our voices, our music, our words. Today is a wonderful day.

But, I think at times there is a part of this day that gets only a little attention and screen time. Which is understandable, the image of the stone rolled away is a pretty powerful one.

But, let’s break this story down a little bit. Perhaps to hear it again as if for the first time.

Throughout this week we have been walking through the story of our Lord’s final days before his resurrection. Jesus has shared a meal with his friends where he gives them – and us – a new commandment.

To love one another as he has loved us. To live and show that love so all will know who and whose we are; even if it means placing yourself into situations and stations in life that others would think are beneath you – much like Jesus stooping down to wash the feet of his friends and disciples.

We then journeyed to the cross. The place where Jesus died. We remembered the sin of our lives. We remembered the price God paid to show us what love looks like.

Even some others continued on in remembering the promises that God has made throughout history. Where God was and had been made known in countless ways throughout our shared history as a part of God’s people.

All of that – a meal, love, death, promise, presence and more have led to this morning, to this moment where we are gathered here to celebrate the blessed emptiness. The empty tomb. The stone rolled away. The burial clothes neatly rolled and folded.

And we know all this – not only because God has done this – but we know and celebrate all this because of one word that is usually rushed over in the excitement, confusion, and the general ‘what the what?’ attitude that comes from hearing and reading this wonderful story.

That word of course – is witness.

Witness is a cool word. A word that for many of us is pretty familiar. We’re familiar with that word because really it’s all around us. Especially on our televisions. Dare Devil. Better Call Saul. Matlock. The Good Wife. Law & Order. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Law & Order: LA. There’s a lot of legal drama shows on TV – lots of them.

But, as familiar with the word and role of a ‘witness’ as we are, I think we take it for granted quite often. It is used so often in our lives that we have kind of lost its true meaning. Some might know witness from the numerous legal dramas. Some might know witness simply from the depiction (and in some cases the reality) of churches portrayed in the media – where a witness is someone who yells ‘AMEN!’ as a pastor calls for the witness, any witness, during his or her sermon.

The way we usually define a witness is someone who sees something; who happens to notice a person, an action, or an issue. They see it. They’re a witness.

But, being a witness is more than just seeing something. It isn’t so much that the women who came to prepare and tend to Jesus’ body saw that he wasn’t there. It isn’t so much that they saw the stone rolled away. It isn’t so much that they saw a stranger telling them that Jesus had gotten up.

What they saw was and is important. But, that isn’t what makes them witnesses of the resurrection – witnesses of the holy emptiness.

These women are witnesses because they told others what they saw – or actually what they didn’t see.

The women shared the story. The women told those around them. The women spread the news. The women proclaimed. The women preached. The women were witnesses.

Being a witness not only requires seeing, but it also requires action. It requires telling others of what you saw and experienced.

We are here this morning because the women saw, shared, and proclaimed. They were witnesses to God’s love and new-life.

And where does that leave us this day? Where does that lead us this day as we begin the Easter season?

It isn’t so much that we see and hear the good news of what God has done in Christ’s victory over sin and death. It isn’t so much that we gather this morning to hear this story. We are called to be witnesses of Christ’s resurrection.

To share, to be with, to show, to point, to walk with others so that they too – so that we all – can continue to share in the love that God has blessed us with because of the empty tomb.

We are called to be witnesses of Christ’s love and resurrection. To share in this love and this story for all when others feel that those around them because of how they look, act, or where they might be from are unworthy to be here.

We are called to be witnesses of God’s presence in the world because the tomb is empty. So that we can proclaim the gospel to a young couple that because the tomb is empty God is here with them in love as they bury their infant son who never breathed life.

We are called to be witnesses of God’s love and grace. To talk in love with those who feel all hope is lost, who feel unloved, unworthy, who feel no one cares, or would notice their absence. To talk of God’s love for them in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus – for us.

We are called to be witnesses – just as those first women at the empty tomb were.

And that can be scary and crazy – just as those women were bewildered and awed as well.

Yet, that is the call that God has placed on us and we don’t do it alone. We witness together. We witness in community. We witness with Chris dwelling – living – within us.

We see and hear. We share, tell, proclaim. We are witnesses to God’s love and grace in Jesus’ resurrection. Amen.

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March 25, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one with a new commandment


Maundy Thursday Sermon from 3/24/2016

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, as I mentioned on Sunday, we continue with this big long worship experience that is Holy Week. On Palm Sunday we got to hear all of the story of Jesus’ life before his death on the cross. During this week – and beginning today on the first day of the Triduum – the Holy Three Days – we get to dive in a little deeper to certain parts of this wonderful story.

This evening we read the Gospel of John’s account of the last supper. Except – there really isn’t a whole lot of eating going on, nor do we hear the traditional language that we have come to expect from this story. There isn’t any real focus on bread or wine. There’s no mention of – do this in remembrance of me. All the things that we expect to hear because of our own celebration of communion in remembrance of this night don’t appear in John’s telling of this last night with Jesus and his disciples.

This particular version of Jesus’ supper with his disciples focuses a bit more on things that are more active and for others.

Throughout my life – especially as I have been on this path of ministry, leadership, and being a pastor – I’m usually asked a few things. First; why? My response? I don’t know. Because I feel called. For those outside the faith or nominally connected to the faith of the church that just seems like a really poor answer. But, it’s all I can give.

The other question – the deeper question – is usually, “Well – how do you know you’re following God? How do you know you are a disciple of Christ? How will others know you’re for real?”

Now, there are many ways to approach that question and there have been countless individuals and theologians who have tackled it in our collective search to know the true workings of God in the world and in us.

Some people will say – “We know because this is what we believe.” Normally what people say they believe is usually a list of what others believe that they themselves don’t.

We do this a lot – I’ve done this before – plenty of times.

An example – someone asks you, “What’s a Lutheran?” Our response at times – Well, it’s kind of like being a Catholic, but not quite. Or – well you see those people on the TV that talk about Christianity and stuff, the ones that seem mean and a little crazy? We’re pretty much not like them. We’re different.

How many of y’all have identified yourself in that way before? I know I have. Sometimes it is hard to put into words what we actually are without first stating what we are not. It is a problem that a lot of organizations that strive for the same ‘goals,’ but by different means have.

Other times in responding by ‘this is what we believe’ they’ll use ‘inside baseball language’ full of doctrine and theological ideas and tenants. Using phrases, words, and ‘marketing’ bullet points to tell others who we are.

We are Lutherans. We believe in justification by grace through faith. We are simul justus et peccator.

For those outside the faith and tradition – those words don’t mean anything – especially the Latin which means ‘simultaneously righteous and sinner.’

Yet, this evening we hear a story from Jesus that gives us not only language, but also action into how others might know who we are.

Agape. Love.

Now, love in our modern day and in our woefully ineloquent English language has a few hang-ups. Whenever we say ‘love’ we don’t know what love we actually mean. The love between spouses? Our love of food? Do we love someone or do we love-love someone?

Unlike some other languages – in particular Greek – we have to do a lot of deciphering to figure out what kind of love we are talking about.

In our gospel reading this evening Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved y’all. By this everyone will know who y’all are if y’all have love for one another.”

Because of English and it’s inadequacies we don’t know what exactly that kind of love is. Thankfully, the Greek language that this gospel was originally written in can help us out.

This love is not epithumia – desire or lust. It is not eros – romance and where we get erotic from. It is not storge – which is general affection. It is not phile – friendship.

No, it is agape. Selfless, giving love.

The love that Jesus commands of us is a love that is selfless and bountiful to others.

This love is not passive. It does not sit at a distance. Agape love – the love that Jesus has for us and in which we have for one another and for those around us is an active love. It is a verb. It is an action

It is an action rooted in the goodness and grace from the one who has given it to us.

We love those around us.

Every so often I ask my young friends during the children’s sermon time – how do you know you are loved? Is it only because someone tells you?

Children know they are loved because they are held, they are involved, they are cared for, they are listened to, they are supported, they are provided for. They know they are loved because they are hugged, kissed, clothed, fed, sheltered, given medicine, taught.

They know they are loved because others share their lives with them. Not to get anything from them. Not to hold something over them in the future. They are loved because others selflessly give of themselves to be with them fully.

Just as God has selflessly given Godself in Jesus to be with each of us.

We celebrate that this week as we look forward to the meal shared this evening, the sacrifice tomorrow evening, the victory over death on Saturday, and the empty tomb on Sunday.

Our new commandment from God is to love one another. To give ourselves in service to those around us.

Sometimes that giving puts us in awkward and difficult positions. Like stooping to our knees to wash the feet of those that others would think should be ‘beneath’ us. By sacrificing the life we live so that others might live more fully in God.

It might mean caring for, listening to, and knowing the person across the proverbial and literal street, aisle, and ‘life.’

It might mean doing things that we thought we’d never do or others would steer us from.

And that can be downright scary – just as anxious as those gathered around Jesus in the upper room might have been as they witnessed and experienced Jesus washing their feet and sharing himself with them.

Yet, the grace and comfort we have from God is that we do not do this alone. Jesus does not send out the disciples this night to go off as lone ‘love wanderers’ upon the dust of the earth. No. We do this in community, we do this in God’s love for us. We do this with Christ living within us. We do this in faith and hope.

Martin Lutheran in his work, An Introduction to St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans he describes it this way:

Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God’s grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace.

In that faith and trust we are able to love and share.

This night we hear from Jesus a new commandment – to love as he has loved us. We love in faith that God is leading us, feeding us, filling us, living in us, and sending us in that love for the world and everyone in it. Amen.

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March 14, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one about smell...


Sermon from March 13, 2016

Text: John 12: 1-8

Grace and peace to you from God our Father 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!

As we approach the end of Lent as this is the fifth and final Sunday of Lent before we begin the long remembrance and celebration of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection; we come to this interesting story. Now, usually I focus on the fact that for many of us we can totally see where Judas is coming from. He speaks the truth (obviously unintentionally) when he says that the amount of money spent on this perfume of nard that Mary is using to anoint Jesus’ feet could’ve been better spent to help feed and care for the poor. As much as it pains me to say it – Judas is probably right. The only thing that we can know for sure is that Mary has abundant love for Jesus – grace upon grace for the one who first gave it to us.

That’s where I usually go with this sermon, but that is not what sparked my attention this year.

Instead, I wanted to focus a bit on something else. Something that our senses would’ve been keen to pick up on if we were physically present in that room. Throughout Lent our Wednesday services have been on the theme of “Open my Life, Lord.” In each service thus far, we have called upon God to help open our eyes, hands, ears, and heart. One thing that we didn’t call to God to open was our noses. But, if we did this would be a perfect text to use.

For anyone who has teenagers or has entered into a room full of pre-teens and teens knows – even a little bit of ‘perfume’ can fill  and overwhelm your sense of smell. With the advent of aerosol body sprays – let’s just say that I have been bowled over by the smell of those younger than me more times than one.

Smell is easily one of those things that can quickly bring to mind memories of our past. The smell of a pie baking in a house can remind us of our grandparents. The smell of a particular cologne will make me whip my head around and wonder how my grandfather was here. The smell of cut grass and spring flowers reminds us – me – that baseball is about to start. Vladimir Nabokov was right when he said, “Smells are surer than sights or sounds to make your heart strings crack.”

This morning our senses would’ve been overwhelmed with smells. The smell of the perfume of nard that Mary uses to anoint Jesus’ feet. The smell of the coming death that was and is quickly approaching Jesus. Even the lingering smell of death from the story of Lazarus’ raising from the dead that are only a few verses before this one.

In fact, if you think about it – these past few weeks have been filled with stories that would’ve overwhelmed our olfactory senses; fertilizer on a fig tree, the pig pen and troughs, and the perfume of this morning.

I think this morning of the smells of those things that our scriptures tell us as we read of the life of our lord and Savior Jesus. The smell of good wine, the smell of broken bread. The smell of the river. The smell of the mud spread upon the eyes of a man born blind. The smell of a decomposing body.

What is it about smell that conjures in us so many different emotions and reactions? How we can link smell to so many wonderful and not so wonderful moments in our lives? It is no wonder how in some traditions of the church that the sense of smell is used to connect and bring to even greater life and affect that which we do in our life of faith. The smell of oil, incense, bread, wine, and more. All of it helps connect and deepen our faith to know that God is present in each of those moments.

This morning we are thrust into this story and are consumed with that smell of perfume that would’ve stuck in every nook and cranny of the room they were in. The smell that would’ve lingered still there as Mary and the others returned from the scene of Jesus’ crucifixion and would’ve been present just a few days later upon his resurrection.

There is one thing about smell that we try desperately to overcome, yet we still cannot – no matter how much it may be advertised on TV and radio. It’s really hard to get rid of a smell. New smells don’t replace others. Even though we’d like the smell of perfume of nard to drive out the revolting smell of a decomposing body – it won’t.

Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with perfume and oil doesn’t change what is going to happen. It doesn’t change what has already happened (both bad and good). Death still happened for Lazarus. Death is still coming for Jesus. But, it does offer the counterpoint of grace and new life that Jesus points to.

Nothing changes with Jesus’ resurrection. Death will still smell as it does. Death will still seep through every crevice that we might try to substitute. Death will still find the smallest crack to invade our assurances that resurrection is true.

And yet everything changes with Jesus’ resurrection. Just don’t let the smell of abundant love and life allow you to think that the smell of death won’t be there as well.

There is a tendency in our life to think that because of the resurrection of Jesus and the new life in which we are promised and in which we have faith to think that death doesn’t exist anymore. People just go to ‘sleep’ only to wake up later. That the pain, struggle, and the smell of death are foolish to notice and be aware of.

If we believe that death no longer matters, that it isn’t a part of our life, that it no longer pertains to us we end up speaking out against the truth and grace of incarnation.

God doesn’t become flesh and blood in Jesus so that we might be saved from death. The pain, the hurt, the smell of death still comes. Yet, in Jesus’ resurrection and the promise of new life that is extended to each of us is that death is not the final word. That not one thing separates us from God – not even death. That is the grace-filled truth of the incarnation. We will still die, but we will also live. The smell of death and new life are a part of us in this life that we have been given by God.

It is while we smell death that we can smell life. It is while we smell a rotting body in a tomb that we can smell the earth underneath the stone as it is being rolled away. It is while we can barely stand the smell of Lazarus that Mary pours perfume on Jesus’ feet.

Mary’s anointing of Jesus with perfume will not ‘febreeze’ his coming death away. Not even the resurrection changes the pain we feel when Jesus dies. We can’t choose to smell one thing over another. The smell is there – in all its power – and we cannot help, but smell it. As we smell; the emotions and memories that it brings to us we cannot control. It pervades our life with the good and the bad, the powerful and the aching, the elated and the challenging. That is smell’s power.

And as we read this story we see that at work as well. As we look ahead to the last two weeks of Lent before we charge into the celebrations of Easter. We remember that in order for the resurrection to occur there needs to first be death. No matter what we do or think – that isn’t going to change. Resurrection cannot exist without death. Smell so tightly holds Lent and Easter together; you cannot choose to smell the celebrations of Easter without smelling the death that precedes it. You just can’t.

Yet, the celebration that is coming in the Resurrection gives us hope and promise that the smell of death is not final. It is real. It is unavoidable. But, it is not the last. It isn’t that we choose to smell one or the other, but the grace that God has given us in the resurrection is that the smell of death is not the only smell, but we get to smell new life as well. Amen.

 

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March 9, 2016, 7:00 PM

Open My Heart, Lord


From our Mid-Week Lenten Series theme on "Open My Life, Lord."

 

Grace and peace to each of you this evening as we gather for our fourth Lenten Wednesday service.

We’ve called upon God to open our eyes, our hands, and our ears. This evening we begin to look inward to ourselves as we call upon God to open our hearts. To open our hearts to the ways of God, to hear the words of Jesus, and to open our hearts to be present and in relationship with those in need around us.

When I look back on my life I know that I’ve been pretty lucky. Unlike many I have not only been able to travel around the world, but I’ve always been blessed to live around the country and world as well. I’ve been blessed to see, to know, and to be present with so many different types of people.

And yet, I notice as I get older it becomes more and more difficult at times to see others with an open heart. As individuals come into the church office to receive help; there is that in-breaking thought of – how is this person trying to swindle me? Am I going to be taken advantage of? Am I doing the right thing?

The older I get there are times where I become cautious with those around me who are in need because somewhere I’ve either had an experience or been told of an experience where ‘that type of person’ did me/someone wrong so I should be wary – I should be guarded.

And, I think I remember the first time that I thought that. I was living in Italy and I believe we were traveling with my family in the historic area of the Campagna region – the former seat of royal power in Italy, we lived in Naples which is the historic capital of this region. One day my family and I went to visit the historic downtown sections of Naples as it is filled with wonderful art, architecture, history, and culture.

I remember watching a man approach a woman sitting on the street with her hand outstretched while she held on to a baby wrapped in a blanket. As he got closer, he took his wallet out to help this new ‘mother.’ When he got about a foot away and he was pulling some Lira out of his billfold, the woman threw the bundle in her arms at him. Naturally he went to catch the baby and he dropped his wallet. The woman snatched the wallet and she and an older girl ran away as fast as they could. Turns out, the ‘baby’ was just a doll with a cassette player with a tape of baby sounds wrapped in a thick blanket.

I remember thinking – well if that’s what they are going to do. I’m not going to help.

Another story. I was in high school and involved in my church’s youth group. We went to the Oliver Gospel Mission in Downtown Columbia to help serve the homeless food. While I served mashed potatoes and chicken, I remember being yelled at by a few men because I was being ‘stingy’ with the food. Couldn’t I see that they were hungry they would ask me – give me more. Yet, I couldn’t because the leaders of our group had given specific instructions on how much food is to be given so that more could eat.

I was torn. How much do I help – does the church help – without the thought that I’m just going to get swindled or taken advantage of or told off because it ‘wasn’t enough.’

I imagine that there are many of you who have felt the same way. Wanting to help – but, not knowing how to help, but also not wanting to be taken advantage of or to fall in the trap of enabling a person to continue living in the space and way that they are in.

It's tough. Yet, I am convicted by our scriptures this evening to open my heart to God’s call. To open my heart – our hearts – to what Jesus proclaims. To open the heart of the world to the Spirit’s guidance.

And, that’s not easy. It doesn’t help that our hearts close to those in need because of an experience we had or a story we’ve heard. A story we’ve heard from a friend (or friend of a friend) or something we saw on the news.

There is so much around the world that attempts to tell us that it is silly, foolish, dangerous to open our hearts to those in need. Don’t place yourself in that position.

And, yet we hear from Paul’s words to the church in Corinth this evening about how those things that the world sees as ‘bad’ that are lifted up in God’s eyes as righteous and good. And then Paul throws in that line that really tugs at us – he speaks as to children – open wide your hearts.

Children are amazing. Their love and hearts are always open wide to those around them. It ceases to amaze me and fills my heart with joy about how caring my children can be to those they don’t know. They’ve never met. And to those they never will meet.

They want to help and love because they are helped and loved. They know – even at that young age – that when people are hurting you help. You care. You love. You open your heart.

As we call on to God to open wide our hearts we know that it can be difficult and it won’t always be easy. But, we are called to open wide our hearts. To open our hearts so that we can proclaim Christ through our words, our actions, and our thoughts to those around us. Where we are called to err on the side of grace.

Where we pray to God that our hearts might be so opened as Lydia’s was. As she listened to Paul proclaiming the gospel – she and her household were baptized to live into the faith that God has called for all of us. Opening her our hearts and our life to the ones around us. Amen.

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March 7, 2016, 8:00 AM

the one about the prodigal father...


Sermon from March 6, 2016

Text: Luke 15: 1-3, 11b-32

Grace and peace to you from God our Father 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!

How many of y’all have heard a story countless times from a friend or a family member that you know the story and the way the person tells it so well that you could pretty much retell the same tale with the same inflections and passion? How many have heard a story so many times that you just kind of ‘zone out’ when that person starts telling it?

I do that with my dad sometimes. We talk every so often and he’ll sometimes forget about what he told me the last time we talked and I sometimes use this opportunity to think about something else or – usually – I’ll play a game with him. Right before he gets to the ‘highlight’ of the story, I’ll finish it for him with 10x the amount of enthusiasm he puts in. After that he’ll usually get pretty silent and say, “So, I guess I told that one, huh?”

I think everyone has had similar experiences throughout life – hearing about that fish Joe caught 20 years ago for the millionth time (and how it usually gets bigger and bigger with each re-telling), about how Ms. Whitney once met that famous actor, or even hearing about ‘the Big Game’ from grandpa one more time. We hear those stories and we can kind of zone out a bit. We know where the story is going, we feel we’ve received everything from it that we could possibly imagine, so we just bide our time until the story is done and the conversation can move further along once again.

This morning, I think we come to one of those instances in our lives of faith. Here, we read a story from scripture that many of us know quite well – The story of this wayward son. In fact, I’d guess that if you asked anyone to recall one parable, more often than not, this would be the one they would remember. This is a story that we all know. The younger son goes out living the ‘high life,’ squanders it all and comes back and the father welcomes him. The song Amazing Grace comes into our minds as we remember our own trials and tribulations and how we might have wandered off at times and then came back to God.

I’m sure there are other images and feelings that pop into our minds as we hear the title of the “Parable of the Prodigal Son,” but, I think that too might just be a problem. Just like we know the well-worn and told stories of others we have a habit of ‘tuning’ out when we hear this story come along. Not because it isn’t important mind you, no I don’t think we ever think that. But, we tune out because we feel that we know this story so well that the temptation to ‘zone out’ for the next few minutes is strong and instead we’ll just hum Amazing Grace silently to ourselves.

It happens, and I think when we feel we get the ‘gist’ of something in the Bible, God will come a long and try to throw our world for a loop. I don’t know if you’ve been told this before, but I think this parable is titled wrong. I really don’t think it has all that much to do with the son – the younger or the older – at all. In fact, I’d call this story the Parable of the Prodigal Father.

First, how many here know the definition of prodigal. Any volunteers to give an answer? Anyone, Bueller? Prodigal itself means extravagantly wasteful. So wasteful that it borders on recklessness.

And let me tell you, the father in this parable is prodigal beyond belief. He is incredibly wasteful – in our eyes at least – with all this grace stuff.

First, as this parable begins the younger sons essentially says, “Hey dad – let’s play a hypothetical game.  Imagine you’re dead – what do I get?  Let’s take it a step further, I’d like to imagine you are dead right now. So I get what’s coming to me.” Now, I know that if one of my kids played that game of ‘what if’ with me I’d be tempted to answer with a lot of anger.  How DARE you have the conversation with me?

But, that isn’t what the father does. The story implies that not only did he not get angry, but he just hands the inheritance right on over. What? How prodigal of this father, how utterly, recklessly wasteful he is with what he’s ‘earned.’ Or even how prodigal the father is with his grace to give to this kid what he has the audacity to ask for. The father gives to the son after he effectively says, “Dad, I wish you were dead…”

Next we get to see the son live it up, and fall down. As they say, the bigger they are the harder they fall, right? The son hits rock bottom, ‘he comes to himself’ – whatever that means can be interpreted in so many ways – and he decides to return home. He realizes that he was better off there than what he is living in now – a Jew not only tending to pigs (which is already pretty bad for a Jewish person since they view pigs as unclean), but a Jew who longs to eat from the same trough as those pigs. As he returns home he comes prepared with a speech ready in hand in hopes to squeeze or manipulate his father into welcoming him back.

But, let’s get back to that prodigal father shall we. He sees his boy far off into the distance. Now, during this time and dare I say during our time too, the ‘dignified’ thing to do would be to wait for the boy to get here. I mean, we don’t even know how long it has been SINCE this man’s son left. Obviously the ‘right’ thing to do would be to wait at the home and prepare our ears for whatever sob story would come out of this son’s mouth that wished his dad to be dead.

But, remember, this is the story about the prodigal father. He isn’t worried or concerned with doing what is ‘right’ or dignified. Instead he bolts and runs to his son. Dignified men don’t run. This is an upstanding businessman. He’s got money, obviously. He isn’t supposed to ‘run’ to anything.  People come to him; he isn’t supposed to go to them. And his running isn’t out of anger at all. If it was, we couldn’t blame him for it. No, he runs out of love. There is his boy! He runs, leaps, and bounds and grapples him into a warm embrace. I’m sure there were tears, exhaustive laughter, kisses of welcome.  The outpouring of love towards this lost son is palpable. This, for me is one of the most tangible examples of God’s love. 

The son begins his rehearsed speech, but the father seems to not care and even interrupts whatever he is going to say, not to chastise him but instead to get the attention of his hired hands to start preparing a celebration. And how utterly prodigal this celebration will be. The fattened and choicest calf is to be prepared, the father calls for his son to be showered with food, rings, robes, and shoes.

This, this isn’t how it’s supposed to be. The kid wished you were dead. He literally left you high and dry.  He had NO RELATIONSHIP with you! He wasted your good intentions! Why? Why? Why?

Those, of course are the words and thoughts of the son who stayed by his father’s side. Those are the thoughts of those who identify with the older son and I’d hazard a guess that as we read this story there are more of us who identify with the elder son than the younger son.

But, the prodigal-ness of the father isn’t done. There is one more he comes to with this reckless grace and love. He finally comes to his older son. The one outside the party and invites him in. But, the son rebuffs and asks why are you doing this? I never got this from you did I?

Everything that I have is yours. You’ve been with me this entire time. Enjoying the riches that I give your brother. But, we’re celebrating because he’s returned. No matter what he did, where he went, or why he came back – we celebrate because he came home. I’m celebrating because my boy, your brother, is home. Come in and join us.

You know, the father could have used this as an opportunity to chastise his older son. You can’t even call him brother! You say you listen to me always, but you told me ‘no’ when I invited you in. 

But, the father doesn’t. The father hears the laments of the older son, listens to him, goes to where he is, and listens. But, he then invites him back to be in relationship not only with the father – but also back into relationship with his own brother. The love of the father is so ‘prodigal’ that it can and does mend relationships that were once very frayed. The father’s love – the reckless love and grace he showers upon both sons - the one who has been with him the entire time and the one who left and now returns - is abundant, merciful, accepting, and forgiving. This love that smooths away the harshness of life, this love that is given freely to all those around – no matter what.

During Lent, I think this is a much needed way of hearing this parable. All through Lent, we focus on what ‘we’ need to do. What ‘I’ need to give up. How ‘they’ need to repent and turn back. But, in this story – the focus is on the action of the father. The focus is on God’s love in our lives. That no matter what, God runs to us out of an undignified, reckless, wasteful, prodigal love.

We go through Lent and at times we think again and again – I need to turn back; I need to repent so that God will love me. In fact, that is what we hear from many of our brothers and sisters in other traditions of the church around us. But, like I mentioned last week, I don’t think that is how God works. We don’t repent because God will love us, we repent because God already does love us. All that prodigal love and grace.

The father, our Father, isn’t worried about WHY you’ve turned back. God isn’t worried about the ‘words’ you’re going to say to try to turn the heart of God back upon you. God isn’t worried about that. All God cares about, as shown through this wonderful parable, is that you’ve turned back. Because the son turned and came home – God showers that one with so much love, so much celebration. As we look upon that scene we see it as extravagant and reckless, yet God says, “I don’t care. This is how I love.  This is how I love even you. Come and join me and your brother.”

God’s grace is open to all and free to all. God invites each of us in, God pleads for us to come and share with him and the entire family. Your family, my family, our family. The prodigal feast has been prepared.  No matter how we understand, or even misunderstand God’s prodigal grace and love, we are welcomed guests, regardless. We are invited to come to the table. Will you come in and celebrate too? Amen.

 

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March 2, 2016, 7:00 PM

Open My Ears, Lord


From our Mid-Week Lenten Series theme of "Open my life, Lord."

 

Grace and peace to y’all this evening on our third Lenten Wednesday Worship Service.

We have gathered to lift up prayers to our Lord in hope that God might open our eyes and open our hands. We’ve called upon God to open our eyes so that we might see the needs of our fellow sisters and brothers – all of our neighbors – before us. We’ve lifted up to God the desire to open our hands so that God’s work might and will be done through us for the world.

This evening, we again call to God to open us to ministry and it might be the most difficult one so far.

When I was in high school and running cross-country I happened to be good enough to run in the state championships at Fort Jackson in Columbia, SC. My coach and I had a goal – I was going to break 18 minutes in the 5k (3.1 miles) because I hadn’t done it before, but also because that seemed at the time to be the magic number for colleges to at least start taking notice of you.

So, in the midst of the race I could tell that I was pushing myself harder than ever before, but there’s this thing about pushing yourself harder – you get tired more quickly. You become drained. The things that you used to be able to ‘push’ yourself through things become more difficult and ever more out of your grasp. When you feel like you’re pushing yourself to the limit it seems like a lot of your senses start shutting down and you get into that tunnel vision of sorts as you still attempt to propel yourself forward. Anyways, I was in the midst of that coming around the last 600-800 meters in the race. I was drained, I didn’t think I was going to accomplish my goal and I felt like I was just going to fallout right there and embarrass myself.

All I could here was the pounding of my heart and my own feet. Things were becoming a blur. But, then I heard a voice. It was my coach yelling from off in the distance – at the finish line – and I heard her clearly say – Matt, if you want this. You’ve gotta move. Now. You’re doing great.

That’s all I needed. I heard her voice over the sound and roar of the crowds around me and the other runners. I picked it up and was able to finish in 17:37 – even better than I had hoped for.

I share that story, because I think a lot of life is a sort of cross country race. Running through the course on different types of ground, through difference sceneries, among different people and places. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes not so great. When we’re in the midst of that life we can close ourselves off and we cease to hear the voices around us. We become so transfixed on what we are hoping to do that we close off the voices and sound around us.

We close off ourselves to God’s voice, the voices of those encouraging us, and especially the voices of those crying out for help.

We can be really good at not listening.

We can be really good at only listening to the loudest voices around us.

We can be extremely good at only listening to those things that benefit ‘us’ even when those things might hinder or hurt the one next to us.

This evening we ask to God to – Open my ears, Lord.

Open our ears so that we might hear the cries of those in need. To open our ears so that we might hear the Gospel. Open our ears so that we might see where God is leading us. Open our ears so that we might see the wolf among the sheep who leads us away from God’s Word and love.

And having our ears opened isn’t so much about hearing, as it is about listening.

Hearing is easy to do. Listening is what takes practice. Listening requires being attentive and caring and understanding. Listening requires us to open ourselves to the one who is speaking – giving our attention to the one before us.

When I am able to have premarital conversations with couples who are moving towards marriage one of the first things we do is to practice listening. Listening to the one before us so that we understand what they are saying.

It’s always an awkward exercise because we are accustomed to adding our own interpretation to what others say. We hear them up until they say something we want to respond to, and then we cease listening as we form in our minds how we are going to respond.

Just look at all the political debates and stumps speeches this year. Nobody is listening to one another – or even listening to those who are voting – instead they are most concerned with getting a soundbite in, a zinger there, some press here. No one is listening to the words and thoughts and beliefs that are forming the basis of those words.

They just hear something that sounds good or bad without listening to why this might not be a bad or good thing to implement.

So, we come this evening asking God to open our ears. To open our ears so that we not only hear those around us, but that we also listen. That we listen to God. We listen to our neighbors. We listen to those in need.

Listen – God is calling. Open our ears, O Lord. Amen!

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March 1, 2016, 10:03 AM

March 2016 Newsletter


Grace and peace y’all! It’s March and we are in the thick of Lent as we journey together towards the cross and resurrection.

Many of us have given things up and have taken devotional practices on. Some of us have held to those promises very well, some of us have fallen to temptation, and some might have bitten off more than we could chew when it comes to our Lenten fasts. No matter where you fall within that range – know this – God loves you, Christ is with you, and the Spirit is guiding you. No matter what – it all ends at the cross and the empty tomb. And that my friends – my sisters and brothers – is the grace and love of God!

One of my favorite ways to see God at work in our lives is in the midst of those places that we wouldn’t expect. Whether it be a book, a song, a painting, a movie, or more. The gospel can be ‘gleaned’ from so many different places. It doesn’t have to be strictly limited to things that happen within the church or with only those places that are ‘religious’ in nature. God is present in them all.

In fact, sometimes, it is easier for those to see and experience God first in those places. Where they can see that God is present in the things that they enjoy and love. It isn’t that we throw away a lot of the things that we enjoy in order to be loved by God, but that God comes to be with us in so many things and ways.

One of my favorite movies that covers this (if only briefly) is the movie Bruce Almighty with Jim Carrey and Morgan Freeman (not to mention the early film appearance of Steve Carrell). There is one particular moment where Jim Carrey’s character Bruce is pleading to God to show him a sign – any sign – that God is present. Naturally Bruce drives past a truck full of ‘signs’ – stop signs, yield, turn around, etc… The signs were there, Bruce didn’t notice because he didn’t expect God to show up in the ‘ordinary’ or the things and places we take for granted.

I think that is one of the most important and yet, most difficult things to practice during Lent – seeing and knowing that God is present within the ‘ordinary’ of our lives. That we take for granted the things we see and we don’t expect God to show up there. We don’t expect God to show up in our lives in places that aren’t worship because we don’t think we’re worthy enough, good enough, smart enough, pious enough, or ‘anything enough’ for God to be present in our lives.

Yet, during Lent we are in the midst of the wilderness and the presence of God. Lent isn’t an avenue for us to somehow ‘call’ or ‘invoke’ God into our life. Instead, Lent is that time where we remember that God is indeed present here. That God is so present in our life – in the ‘ordinary’ – that we are able to be closer to God within our fasting, giving, and prayer because God is right here! We are able to do this because God is here – not that we do this so that God will come.

We remember during Lent and throughout each day of our lives that God is indeed present here among us. That gospel is and can be told through ways that we wouldn’t expect – a movie, a song, a book that might not have anything religious or sacred at first glance. But, we remember that Christ is there. That God is among us. That the Spirit is indeed guiding us.

We remember this throughout these last few weeks of Lent as we journey together towards the cross and the empty tomb! Thanks be to God!




February 29, 2016, 9:00 AM

the one where we forget...yet God is here...


Sermon from February 28, 2016

Sermon Text: Luke 13: 1-9

Grace and peace to you from God our father 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, we are in the midst of Lent – in fact we are in the middle of it now. Whenever I think of Lent, I always circle back at some point to the length of this season and wonder why 40 days is so important.

Granted, I know that the 40 days we journey through this season is designed to remind us of the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness in the midst of his own temptations, tests, and trials. A reminder that what Jesus went through we attempt to journey through as well.

But, that number still resonates with me – why 40? What is it about that specific number that is so important for us? Recently this question was brought up in my weekly sermon writing group that I attend with many local pastors – see, pastors ask these sort of questions too.

We bat around ideas here and there, nothing seeming to really fit quite right. It takes about 40 days to set a new habit, or break an old vice. Someone figured what was the longest time someone could suffer without chocolate – then added 10 days. Of course, none of those answers seemed really ‘good.’ We were about to just move on and give the tried and true answer of, “well, it’s just one of those things we weren’t meant to understand…” Which is really just the equivalent to your mom’s answer of, “because I said so, that’s why.” And sometimes, that answer is good enough and all we – as humanity – can muster.

But then, one of us had a thought – what if 40 days is around the time that we forget that God is with us. That leading up to 40 days there is that thought that creeps into your head of why on the earth are you doing this – I can’t do it any longer – God’s not really here with me…

Think about where we started this season of Lent. That Sunday before Ash Wednesday was Transfiguration Sunday. The story of Jesus being changed dramatically before his disciples in a mountaintop experience. That service every year speaks so strongly to each of us – through the word, the music, the remembrance of those mountaintop experiences in our lives.

In those early moments – in those first few days – it is easy to remember that God is present with us. The excitement, and awe, and fear of that moment still resonates with us deeply. It’s as if we can still tangibly touch the spirit around us immediately after that time. The same is true when we venture into Lent full of zest for our Lenten fast. Those first few days are great and we are buoyed by our resolve to abstain from the temptations of the world.

But, as with everything those first few days pass. A week or so rolls by and what was once so easy begins to pull and draw and call to us ever more seductively than it did before. Or perhaps the discipline we’ve taken on begins to feel like a weight upon us, where at first we were excited to partake in it, but now? Now, we try to see where it can fit within the busyness of our days – and if we skip today – we’ll just double up tomorrow.

Any of that sound familiar to y’all?

In the midst of this point in Lent, sometimes it is hard to see where God is present. It seemed so easy when this journey began to know that the Spirit was right there, seemingly guiding my hand and my thoughts throughout the day – but, now? Now that feeling seems so far away…

40 days. 40 days is long enough for the presence of God to seemingly fade into the background. What once seemed so close, now feels no closer than the sun. That presence that we take for granted so much that it’s as if it is not there at all.

I imagine that is what Jesus felt like during those 40 days, or perhaps the nation of Israel felt like in the midst of their 40 years as they traveled the desert in search of their homeland. A time just long enough for that feeling and presence to fade into the background that makes us think that perhaps God wasn’t there all along.

And yet, we read our texts this morning and we are reminded again and again of God’s presence. The promises that have been made in us and for us through the one who has loved and created us. In our first reading, God is crying out to the people – I’m here! Be fed! Be filled! Come to me and suffer hunger and thirst no more!

Our gospel text tells the story of a fig tree that doesn’t seem to bear any fruit. Yet, the gardener – the one to care for it asks to pay more attention to it. To dig around it, to fertilize it, to prune it, to help it grow. The gardener promises to continually be present with it so that it will bear fruit.

In the midst of these 40 days of Lent and in the life of faith that we live into, sometimes we can feel like that fig tree. Planted, but not growing. Rooted, but not flourishing. There, but not worth being around. We all can feel like that – we’ve all experienced that at some point in our lives.

But, we remember that there is one who looks over us. Where God speaks to us through Christ our Lord and says – let me dig around you, fertilize and fill you with good things, let me tend to you so that you once again bear fruit.

In the midst of these 40 days, as we fast as we look towards the end that doesn’t seem to get any closer, we can forget that God is present. That the presence of the Spirit seems to fade away into the background of our lives. That God’s presence seems no closer than that of the sun…

Yet, that warmth that we take for granted is still there. That light is still shining before us. The Spirit is still guiding us along our Lenten journey and our life of faith.

The gardener is indeed present with us. Tending to us, digging around, caring for us so that fruit might burst from within us.

And that’s they scary part isn’t it? That’s when we remember the first part of our Gospel reading and think that we’re going to end up just as the rest of those who fell victim to tragedy during Jesus’ time. Just another statistic lost to eternity.

Yet, we remember that we are able to repent because of God’s great grace for each of us. We are able to turn from that which draws us away from our Lord because our Lord is there to forgive. We repent not so that God forgives us, we repent because we know God already has.

The gardener is already working on you. The cup that Christ offers is already offered to us. Repent and be filled. Thirst no more.

Yes, 40 days is a long time. Just long enough to take for granted and forget the presence of God. Remember this day – God is present with you. Caring for us so that we might know that we are not alone. Amen.

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