In pm's words
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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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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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