” Does Jesus Get Your Goat ? “

“Does Jesus Get Your Goat?”
Jesus starts out today with a bite to his reaction to how people perceive him. The gospel text is divided into two parts as you can see. In the earlier section Jesus is addressing the way in which his message and his ministry has been received – those who are whining and finding fault with this one who has been built up to be the messiah yet seems to fall so short according to what the people’s expectations are. They had seen John the Baptist as a wild man with strange behaviors, who now is imprisoned. And they are upset with Jesus because they thought the one who was coming would not be one hanging out with the outcasts and dregs of life – tax collectors and sinners. With John’s arrest and Jesus’ really stepping into the light of who Jesus truly is, we get an opportunity to hear him talk things over with God, the one who sent him. In his prayer, he appears to be relating to God, his Father as one who sees what it is he is called to be about, and that it’s an inside thing between God and Jesus. There are things he knows that even the other religious leaders seem to have no insight or awareness of. There are things about his Father that, for some reason, only he seemed to know, and only he, Jesus, could tell. This seems to be a deep mystery as that community and now we as readers and listeners and followers are invited into. Who is this Jesus? What does it mean to be Jesus? Who is this that announced that God’s Kingdom is at hand?
How challenging it must have been for him to realize that those he may have hoped would understand seem to be the ones who don’t get it and, worse yet, they seem to challenge everything he says or does. The Pharisees and scribes prided themselves in their long tradition of Torah study and in what they believed was an accomplished wisdom, trained in languages and literature, far beyond the common person of the day. Yet they lorded this over the people, like a burden or a heavy yoke of the Torah, rather than putting it into practical terms and going even further by putting these words into deeds that served the ordinary folks and the under-privileged, practiced mercy and justice. It would seem that Jesus comes to understand that in God sending him to be the Word made flesh, he is the way that others will come to really know God – not just the Law, but to know God’s love and grace. But we don’t like being told to do. We had an expression in my growing up days that went like this: “Doesn’t that just get your goat?” By that, we meant, “Doesn’t that just irritate you to no end … or worse?” Well, doesn’t Jesus sometimes get your goat? Doesn’t Jesus irritate you? Aren’t there times when you feel like Jesus is just asking too much? We were going along, and then in drops Jesus and expects something of us …. Challenges us to go out of our comfort zone for the sake of God’s mission – serving others, loving people we don’t think we want to love. Doesn’t that just get your goat?
Then we come to this wonderful invitation. Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.” Come to me, Jesus says. Are you having a real struggle? Are you carrying a big load on your back? I found a legend, and whether it’s true or not perhaps doesn’t matter; I think it gives some insight into what this yoke means. The legend says that perhaps during the years that we don’t hear about Jesus’ work prior to his coming into his ministry, that Jesus was one of the master yoke-makers in the Nazareth area. People came from miles around for a yoke to be hand carved and crafted by Jesus, son of Joseph. When customers arrived with their team of oxen, Jesus would spend considerable time measuring the team, their height, the width, the space between them, and the size of their shoulders. Within a week, the team would be brought back and he would carefully place the newly carved yoke over their shoulders, watching for rough places, smoothing out the edges and fitting them perfectly to this particular team of oxen.
When I was really little, we still had draft horses on our farm that had been used for field work. They weren’t “pleasure” horses, but working horses. Patsy and Trixie were often paired together, although Patsy would also work with Ted, but Trixie was not an all-around team player. When they heard the harnesses being readied, their ears perked up and they knew that there was work to be done. They donned their collars and the reins were hooked up and drawn across their backs and they were led into place of the riggings that would hold the connecting bars that pulled the plow, wagon, sled, or whatever was to be hitched up. They shared the work, the task to be done while they were hitched – or yoked together – it was what they were born to do. It wasn’t quite the same as the yoke image, but it helps create an image of sharing the load or the work to be done.
The yoke Jesus invites us to take is like that. It’s not about taking on additional baggage and burdens. It’s talking about what Jesus calls us to do is something that we are well fitted for, tailor-made for us – taking into account our special talents, things that we are born with, skilled at, have natural tendencies for. And what Jesus calls us to, he also partners with us in doing. Jesus promises to be present – in it with us, sharing the load. The yoke Jesus invites us to take, the yoke that brings rest to weary souls, is one that is made exactly to our lives and hearts. It fits us well, does not rub us or cause us to develop sore spirits. It is designed for two, and Jesus is our pulling partner. Life isn’t promised to be an easy street existence, but Jesus lives up to his name, Immanuel, God with us. He promises to lovingly be present in everything we are and in everything we do. When we encounter those who think we’re a strange lot for serving others, working for justice for the disenfranchised, feeding the hungry, tending to the sick and bereaved, giving cups of cold water to the “little folks” in life – it is Jesus who is there with us feeding, healing, tending to and listening to those who need what we have been given by the Father. What Jesus is trying to do is move us from where we are to where God wants us to be. We were born to carry out God’s mission in our daily lives.
Jesus Christ is our burden bearer. Jesus Christ is the one who shows us who God the Father is. He shows us in his humble servant way. He shows us in his love for us. “Come … Come to me.” Jesus invites – doesn’t push his way in, doesn’t take over for us, but invites us to partner together, to help us to know that what we are called to be and called to do is well fitted to us and that he will share that calling, that serving because that’s the kind of Savior he is, encouraging welcoming, loving, and compassionate. Thanks be to God! Amen

Texts :
Zechariah 9 : 9 – 12
Psalm 145 : 8 – 14
Romans 7 : 15 – 25a
Matthew 11 : 16 – 19 , 25 – 30

” EVEN A CUP OF COLD WATER “

“EVEN A CUP OF COLD WATER”
Even a cup of cold sounds good. Summer days often leave us parched as the heat increases and the humidity is high. Sounds like a little thing. In another week will be starting the morning of July 10th at Vacation Bible School hosted by Emmanuel for the Midtown Lutheran Parish. We will sing and dance, hear many Bible stories about Jesus and A Mighty Fortress. We will likely memorize key Bible verses, hopefully planting seeds of God’s Word that will sprout and grow. For many children who will be present at our Vacation Bible School, it will be a one-week-out of a year when they get to hear this Good News about the love of God and the love of Jesus Christ who gave up his life so that we might have the forgiveness of our sins and the promise of eternal life in him. The cup of cold water to these children will come in the good news of Jesus Christ in many forms – Community friends coming for the Creation Station with kittens from Noah’s Ark, which will be our mission focus, and Hoo Haven bring an owl and tortoise, and the Water Reclamation District coming to talk about Clean Water, a Pastor from India, Pastor Jane will be coming by; there will be rhythm and dance in the new dance studio, and we’ll plant a garden of milkweed plants for the Monarch butterflies; there will be singing, dancing, stories, skits, memory work, hugs, snacks. Our neighborhood community helpers will come as the Fire Department Police Department, and the Strong Neighbor House worker, Grant will be there. We are inviting all to come; who will you be inviting? The welcome mat will be out. God’s Word will be welcomed into our hearts. Serving will come with a cost – time out of our everyday lives, water bottles have been purchased as Emmanuel is a “green church” and Styrofoam products are not used there. We’ll give water bottles out so children can even have a cup of cold water. There will be trail mix and raisins, fruit, cookies baked, root beer floats, as well as monetary donations. It will come with a cost of sacrifice on many families’ part so that a mom, a dad, a teen can be there to bring this good news to the children, to make such a huge difference in their lives. It will not be a little cup of water that they share, but will seem more like bucket after bucket of “living water” poured down to wash and cleanse us, to refresh and renew us. For some of these children, it is their only time of the year to actually get spiritually fed with this good news of Jesus. For some, it is packed away until next year’s week of VBS. It makes these hours spent even more precious when we get a very limited opportunity to share the love of Jesus Christ with them, with the Teens Growing In Faith, and the volunteers who will serve throughout the week.
Our lessons for today talk about sacrifices and rewards – a prophet’s reward, which often came with a high cost. A righteous person’s reward also came with much sacrifice. But rewards promised that will not be taken away in the end. The sacrifice, the cost of discipleship will be remembered and will be rewarded Jesus says. Sometimes it’s helpful to hear what it cost those first disciples: John died of extreme old age exiled to the island of Patmos. Judas Iscariot, after betraying Jesus, hanged himself. Peter was crucified head downward, during the persecution of Nero. Andrew died on a cross at Patrae, a Grecian Colony. James, the younger, son of Alphaeus, was thrown from a pinnacle of the Temple, and then beaten to death with a club. Bartholomew was flayed alive in Albanapolis, Armenia. James, the elder son of Zebedee, was beheaded in Jerusalem. Thomas, called the Doubter, was run through the body with a lance at Coromandel, in the East Indies. Philip was hanged against a pillar at Heropolis. Thaddeus was shot to death with arrows. Simon died on a cross in Persia, what we now call Iran. Matthew was first stoned and then beheaded. What huge sacrifices! Why would anyone leave their homes to follow someone who might have them lose their lives in such horrific ways? They frequently were humiliated and hungry as they were not welcomed everywhere they went. They frequently were persecuted for the service they did and the message they proclaimed. Paul, who once was Saul, one who also first persecuted believers, converted in his blinding experience and given a new name, Paul says that it was because they were convinced and convicted by the Word of God, that they couldn’t help themselves but to serve and be a follower of Jesus. Their final reward was not the horrible death they experienced, but the reward of eternal life, the free gift God gave through the gift of God’s Son, Jesus, who died to sin, death and the devil, and is victorious over all that is evil. They served faithfully, proclaimed faithfully, and were rewarded for their faithfulness. That is our promise as well. In my own humanness, I want to cry out for those who have made great sacrifices and what seemingly came of that was great loss – loss of life, loss of freedom, loss of home and country. I want to weep because grace is not cheap. Sometimes we want the Lord to provide as if we drove up to an ATM machine, stuck in the card, entered the pin and are rewarded with money in the tray. We want it at any cost but to ourselves. God’s grace has never been cheap, has always come at a great cost.
I attended the Rockford Urban Ministries dinner Thursday with Mayor McNamara urging the faith communities to collaborate and cooperate with community rebuilding and revitalization, helping those most vulnerable, and noting that the city’s greatest growth over the last 17 years has been with the immigrants that have been resettled here, and the ownership many have provided in new businesses. Also at this time is the congregations who are assisting with the resettlement of Fairground residents to New Towne and pairing congregations with a family to build relationships. While there are 23 congregations signed up, 17 more are needed. This is not about providing for any financial need, but the need for connecting and building relationships. Is that an invitation that we might consider? We need 5-8 people who would be willing to connect with a family. Is that our cup of cold water to them? There will be those who think we are fools for Christ in giving up our time to serve, to make sacrifices of time, money, and giving of our talents to serve Jesus Christ. But we are a people of hope and a people of promise. We can have any number of other masters, serve our busy schedules, serve honor and prestige by the positions we hold, but to those who chose Jesus Christ to be their master, their reward for serving, for giving even this cup of water, are made holy. Through God’s grace, we are made children of God and set apart to serve, to offer to others this cup of cold water that will bring them new life in Jesus Christ. That is what we are summoned to do, that is our calling, to share the good news of Jesus Christ, and to serve others and to love them as we are loved by God. Our mission is not packed away like the VBS materials, but our mission is our everyday calling. We are a people called by name and sent to be the presence of Jesus Christ not only here, but to others in our world. Let it be so! Amen!

Jeremiah 28 : 5 – 9
Psalm 89 : 1 – 4 , 15 – 18
Romans 6 : 12 – 13
Matthew 10 : 40 – 42

” Have No Fear “

“Have No Fear”
“Have no fear”, Jesus says. When I think of the number of times Jesus or a messenger from God says, “Fear not”, or “Have no fear”, I begin to believe that it must be a command. Isn’t it one of the Ten Commandments, God? Well, I know better than that, although Luther uses the word “fear” in all of his explanations. We live in a chaotic time, a fearful, anxiety-filled time. We fear the rising cost of fuel, the rising cost of food, the numerous products we used with petroleum bases that cause everything to cost more. We fear more rain and more wind before we can recover from the destruction of the tornadoes and floods. We fear not having rain when we need it and no breeze to break the sweltering heat when temperatures and humidity rise. We fear not being able to find college loans or pay for advanced education debt, or mortgage extensions. We fear health crises because we don’t think we can afford the out-of-pocket expense. We fear what the government will or won’t do. We fear that the middle class will disappear and that the richer will become richer and the poor will be trapped forever in poverty. We fear terrorists and immigrants taking over our country. We fear that doing our best will not be good enough, whether that’s in the classroom or in the factory, at the office or in our homes. We live in the midst of division and discord. Every headline confirms it, but much of it is avoidable and unnecessary. We seem to feel like we have no cure for what ails us. “Have no fear.” How can we tame the chaos and division within ourselves? How can we become truth-tellers, ones who speak real facts and truths?
Jeremiah is living out his call to be God’s “mouthpiece”. This young man is finding ministry unfulfilling. It’s not what he thought it would be when God spoke to him and told him that God would tell him what to say. He didn’t know that people wouldn’t want to hear his prophetic words. He’s mocked and made a laughingstock; he’s weary of speaking words of warning and words that call Israel back to being a chosen nation, calling them to keep their promise to obey God and live in a special relationship with God. He’s tired of being the one they lash out at and put down. He wants God to “get ‘em, show them who’s boss.” He’d like to see God put them in their place. However, when Jeremiah can take a deep breath and remember who it was that called him to this ministry, he also remembers that God promised to stand with him, and he gains his confidence back and commitments himself to trust that God will protect him and he places himself in God’s hands.
Jesus is preparing his disciples for the opposition they will meet up with. This “good news” will not be good news to the Romans. The Roman government thought they had rid themselves of this Jesus, and in killing one man, it seems as though 12 more rose up to speak the same message, to teach, to preach, to heal, to cast out demons. They would be hated, martyred, destroyed for who they were and whose they were. Jesus was trying to build their confidence for what was ahead of them. It would be tough, but he wanted them to remember that God would be in the midst of everything that was to come. God knows them so well that the “hairs on your head are all counted.” He assures them that they are “of more value than sparrows.” Jesus knows that their message will not be well received by the power people, that there will be divisiveness and fighting. The power people would not just fall over and play dead. Jesus will remind God that these have put their lives on the line for this good news of God’s power over sin and death, of Jesus’ death, resurrection and how he died for sin, once and for all, and everyone who believes this and lives in Christ will find newness of life in him.
I think Jesus is talking about integrity of life to them and to us. It won’t be easy. We’re being reminded that the world hasn’t changed as much as we think or wish it has. Yes, there have been huge technological changes. Yes, we’re advanced in many ways; in health care – people live longer, dread diseases now have vaccines so that we don’t have polio or small pox. Just like the Romans thought they were secure in who they were and that the Jews were countercultural to the Roman way of life, we too as Christians may have gotten a bit smug about who we have thought we are. As Christianity grew, followers of The Way were considered to be a danger to society. They claimed to have a higher source, met in secret meetings, were said to worship a crucified criminal, and to eat a body and drink blood. They said they were living by a different set of rules. Years ago we were a majority; moral values were thought to be based on Christian principles. Churches were the core of the community. Sunday School rooms overflowed; pews were full, many congregations had to have multiple services to accommodate the number of people coming to church. We thought that the church was a well-respected institution and that everyone wanted to hear what we had to say. Did the world really change? Or did we somehow baptize the reigning culture and call it Christian? Did we get a bit overly comfortable because there seemed to be more of us than who was considered to be on the outside looking in? We got pretty out of joint when our Christmas school programs became Winter programs and we began to sing songs from other cultures and other traditions, when Christmas and Easter breaks became holiday or spring breaks. We say that we’re upset that so many outside activities steal our time and our children but we don’t say no to these or make choices that would put us or our children at a disadvantage in sports or academics. Perhaps that should have begun to be a wake-up call for us. In fact, we are called to be the “outsiders”, the ones who should be different from the world out there. Nowhere did Jesus tell his followers that it would be easy caring for those who are hungry or without a home, healing the sick and caring for those who are lonely and bereaved, speaking out for justice for those who have no voice. However, Jesus reminds them and us that we are valued and God knows everything about us and what we finding ourselves living in the midst of – be that the best of times or the most challenging of times. Jesus says, “Have no fear.” God is with us. Perhaps it’s time to really consider just how skewed things have become. Professional athletes and sports heroes make outlandish salaries and then also get paid to endorse products that we think we can’t live without or be successful in our sport without the shoes or clothing. Much of industry has been sent overseas to save a few dollars, pay those people slave wages, closed thousands of our own foundries and factories only to find thousands out of work and many more working for sub-standard wages. Most of us were raised to believe that if we worked hard, were loyal workers, and even put in the extra time, we’d be secure in our work places or in the businesses or farms we worked so hard to establish. The military budget is out of sight but we can’t seem to find monies for our schools, for health care and enough beds in facilities for those who can’t live on their own, and social system providers. Have we enslaved ourselves to what we thought was to be the “good life”, what would make us successful and happy, only to find that we’ve watered down our lives and our commitment to be what our baptism has called us to be: servants of God, children of God, those who will care for God’s creation and God’s creatures, those who will show mercy and work for justice for all people.
It is not all doom and gloom. Jeremiah gets over his ranting and raving, the disciples get on with the business at hand of going out knowing that God values them and promises to be with them. Jesus is with us. That’s our good news as well. We are valued; we are loved. God knows us, knows what we are called to be about, and promises to not send us out into the everyday world without going with us. There are so many catastrophes – shootings, children being killed, hunger, human trafficking, so many injustices, and I often hear many say that it is their faith that sustains them. That doesn’t come from being absent from God and absent from the faith community. Those are the very things we gather together, to be lifted up and to share what we have with those who have lost so much. We come together to be fed and nourished in Word and Sacrament so that we can be sent out strengthened for what comes next. God calls us in to be truth tellers and sends us out, equipped for the sake of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ that we are not alone and we also live as a people of hope as we live in God’s kingdom, as we live in this world of today. Thanks be to God. Amen

Texts :

Jeremiah 20 : 7 – 13
Psalm 69 : 7 – 10 [ 11 – 15 ] 16 – 18
Romans 6 : 1b – 11
Matthew 10 : 24 – 39

Our God Is a God of Mission : Called … Gathered … Sent

Our God Is a God of Mission: Called…Gathered…Sent

On the Festival of The Holy Trinity, we come face-to-face with the mystery and the awe of God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit. This mystery of Almighty God is almost beyond our comprehension. We might have a lot of questions: Who is God? Where is God? What is God doing? Does God care? We’ve all heard people say, “It’s not so much a matter of what you know, as who you know.” There’s actually quite a bit of theology in that comment. The one we know is Jesus Christ. We know God, the Father through God’s Son, and we know the Holy Spirit because in the giving of the Holy Spirit in our baptism, we are then able to come to faith. The Holy Trinity is more than a doctrine; it is the heart of our faith. We can know God because we can see what God has been about in creation. We especially are aware of creation in the seasons of the year; spring shows us so many signs of God’s creating – new life in newborn animals, new buds on the trees and flowers, green grass replaces what was brown and dormant in the winter, seed being planted that will yield a harvest. We also see the cycles of life turning constantly in birth and death, in watching our children grow from infant to toddler to children in school, curious, playful, stretching and growing in all ways – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. Adolescence, young adulthood, the middle years of life, the process of aging is markers we can see and experience. Constant changes – nothing seems to stay constant except the fact that everything changes.

I wonder if that’s not part of what these disciples are thinking about as they make their way to the mountain that Jesus directs them to. Hadn’t they been on a mountain before? Hadn’t their lives been turned upside down in constant change ever since they met up with this Jesus? What next? What would Jesus expect of them when they meet up with him on the mountain? It didn’t take him very long to get down to business. He doesn’t offer excuses or say that he’s sorry things hadn’t turned out the way they might have hoped. There are no excuses – it has been what he said it would be. He came into the world to be the Word of God in the flesh, to be light in the darkness, to be food for those who are spiritually hungry. He came into the world to redeem the world – a world that had long forgotten their purpose for being. He gives his life so that the price for sin, the debt would be paid, once for all. And his resurrection is his promise that he would overcome sin, death and the devil, so that nothing can ever separate those who believe from the love of God in Christ Jesus. In his coming, God gives Jesus all authority in heaven and on earth. And now there are instructions for how to go on from here. Jesus commands them to GO! Jesus commands them to make disciples, to baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He commands them to teach these new followers that they encounter to obey everything that he has already commanded them, these 11 gathered with him. Jesus doesn’t say, do this if you feel like it, if you wish to, if there isn’t anything better to do on any given day. Jesus says to these followers, and to us, that through our baptisms we have a relationship with him and with God, and we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit which will stir in us. There now is a difference between knowing God and knowing what is expected of us as opposed to the idea that we can do this when we get around to it, if we ever do, or we can do it if we desire to do it, if we feel like it.

Aren’t we a lot like children even as adults when it comes to tending to our spiritual responsibilities? I remember so well my son and daughter saying, “I don’t feel like it.” “I don’t want to go” “I’ll do it later.” “It’s not my turn.” “Who left you in charge of handing out the orders?” Can you picture the disciples standing there hearing what’s now expected of them? He says “GO”, they’d rather stay. Jesus says, “Make disciples of all nations”, and they thought that was what they were, who said anything about sharing this role with outsiders? Jesus says “Baptize them”, and they wondering how – like John down at the Jordan River? He says, “Baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and they’re likely saying like “what?” “in whose name?”, “do they deserve it?” He says, “Teach them to obey everything that I commanded you”, and they’re not sure they can remember everything. Jesus says, “remember … remember I am with you always.” Perhaps it was then that things clicked for them. “I am with you always.” A promise! Not that he would be in the future, but that “I AM” with you now and always! He had promised from the beginning to be with them for the long haul, whatever that was going to be, and now they were beginning to understand something of what the long haul would be. And then they went. They didn’t build booths on the mountain; they didn’t take a sabbatical and ponder it. They went, and became the first missionaries. God is a God of mission, not maintenance. God is always active, always doing, always creating, always forgiving, always present. What those disciples found out in their brief three years with Jesus was that following him was never predictable and it was never dull. And following certainly came with a wide variety of challenges, disappointments, joys, and everything in between. They likely were stretched in ways they never thought possible, pushed beyond what they had thought possible, and they were certainly pushed and prodded to go beyond their comfort zone. In this gospel lesson, it says that some doubted. Perhaps they doubted what it was they were experiencing; perhaps they doubted their abilities to do what Jesus was commanding them to go and be about. But it didn’t stop Jesus from being directive with them, and it didn’t stop the mission that God had sent Jesus for, and now Jesus was sending them.

It becomes our story; it becomes what we are to be about. We want to stay, and yet we are commanded to Go. We want someone else to do the baptizing and the teaching, but Jesus says that we are called to do this. Perhaps most of you are thinking that you aren’t called to these things, but as these followers become mission-minded and go, they take this commission to the next group of followers, and to the next, and to the next, and then it becomes us who are the next. With the help of the Holy Spirit, the disciples moved on to preach in Jerusalem, and then beyond there. They realized that this message, this Good News, was meant to be shared; in fact, they were commanded to share it. Lives are changed. People like Saul have their lives changed; they are transformed and become the “Paul” who can’t do anything other than hold this message up, confronting and challenging others to change their lives and live lives that have been redeemed, bought with the price of the life of the Son of God. It was the core of who they were; it is the core of who we are. It is the heart of our faith. We are witnesses to this Good News. We are called, commissioned, and we are sent. We are participants in the mission that God has intended for us to be a part of from the moment of creation, from the moment of our own birth. God is calling us to be courageous in our daily lives to be witnesses. God is calling us to set our priorities in order, to put God first and then all other things will be in their proper perspective. God’s calling us to be people on a mission. God has marked you, chosen you, and called you to be a witness. You’ve got your own faith story to tell, your own witness to give. If you don’t tell, who will? And perhaps there is one or two or more among you who is being called by God to serve God’s Church. If we don’t ever ask the question, we may never know. Aren’t we something, God? Are we all you hoped we would be? Help us, God, to be all that you created us to be. Give us the courage to go for you. And thank you, Gracious Father, for your son, Jesus Christ, and for your promise of your presence and your love! Amen

Texts :

Genesis 1 : 1 – 2 : 4a
Psalm 8
2 Corinthians 13 : 11 – 13
Matthew 28 : 16 – 20

 

” POWER SURGE “

“POWER SURGE”

We’re celebrating the festival of Pentecost, the flame of the tongues opening hearts to the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s what Jesus had promised his followers, the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. It was that which was promised by the prophet Joel, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit….Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Power in the name of the Lord…The Holy Spirit is poured out so that we can name our power source and speak of God’s deeds of power. This power, the Holy Spirit, will come alongside of us and be with us as an advocate, a helper – one who doesn’t free us from challenges, but empowers and equips us so that we can work together for the “common good”.

I’ve been thinking about power connectors, things that have to be connected to a power source so that they can function to the best of their capabilities. The power surge protector shuts off when too much power comes at one time, power that will damage pieces of equipment, like a lightning strike hitting a TV, computer, DVD, refrigerator. It shuts off power that will damage, destroy, possibly could even kill. Other kinds of connectors are a power cord and an extension cord. It links the appliance with the direct power source. It makes it possible for the appliance to work, for the computer to turn on, link us with the internet, connects us with network links for consumer business, for educational purposes, for research, for connections with work associates, friends and family through e-mail. The power source provides us with entertainment on television, allows us to use our DVD, I-pad, and other electronic devices; it is used to charge our phones, keeps our perishable food products safe for us to eat, unless we leave them unattended and unused for too long a period of time. The power source provides us with working appliances that enhance our quality of life. I further examined the power surge protector… the information that came with it says to use it only in dry locations. We apparently are not to use it where there is a water source – a precaution against electrocution. I know that’s true also of the other cords, and true of any device that connects itself to a power source of electricity. Now I’d like to make our analogy more human, more us.

It’s been 50 days since Passover for the Jews. In Acts we read that there was a sound from heaven, like the rush of a violent wind, like a tornado, filling the entire house where they are gathered. This wasn’t a gentle breeze blowing. Divided tongues of fire rested on each of them, they are filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Can you even begin to imagine this? Talk about a power surge! Can you imagine what it would be like to be there and have one of these believers now empowered to tell the message of God’s powerful deeds, of God’s powerful love for us? Can you imagine what it was like for these believers to be power-charged from heaven, to know that the power surge came from God’s throne! Can you imagine what it would be like to understand in your own native tongue the message delivered by someone who appeared to be from another nation, but speaking so you can understand their message, so that you could grasp it, you could get it? We hear that they were amazed, astonished, bewildered, perplexed, says they even “sneered” and suggested that the disciples were drunk. If we were there, might we not also feel like they did? Might we think they were hallucinating or on drugs? This is just the opposite of the story of the Tower of Babel, where their language was confused and the message spoken not understandable. Here, the power given brings clarity; the message is understandable to every tribe, every nation, to each person. The message is with the listeners’ grasp. Amazing!

Some of these believers had not shared in the experience of the 12, have not been with Jesus and other followers. They weren’t with Jesus when he promised to send the Advocate. They weren’t present for the final words of encouragement, of direction and explanation. Jesus reminds them that there’s more for them to hear, but at that particular time, as his time leading to the cross nears, they can’t hear all that they need to know. It is the Spirit of truth who will come and guide them, will speak and declare all that is from Jesus and from God. What amazing days these must have been for the close-knit band of followers. The church was just beginning…infants in Christ’s love, in Christ’s message. There were these 50 days since Passover, since the Resurrection, final words, final meals together, words of guidance, words of encouragement. Words of promise! The power surge from heaven comes…the tongues of fire are visible marks of the Spirit’s coming. No surge protector! They are now power charged, as if an extension cord now connects them to the Spirit of Truth. They in turn are empowered to go and tell. The first evangelists are given their mission statement…go and tell. Here we have the first Evangelism Committee, and they’re not supposed to stay secluded in the upper room. They have walking papers and are empowered to be about ministry. They are to proclaim the mystery of Easter and gather the community into the Triune God. They are not asked if they’d like to change and grow – they are changed. The church will grow!

Today we began worship with music and the Confession and Forgiveness, linking our baptism to the power source we have as we have been made children of God. If I were to bring out a power cord, plug it in to a power source and then headed for the baptismal font, I would hope you’d be a bit nervous about that, as I would be getting quite a jolt from the electricity connecting with the water. That power connection would threaten to destroy me. But I tell you that as you and I stand at the baptismal font, remembering that we are wet people, baptized and wet with Christ’s promise to send the Spirit of Truth into us, we are empowered by the Power Source, Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God; it is a power surge that is life-giving, life-sustaining, life-changing, transforming us. We empowered to serve. We have a mission statement to tell the mighty deeds of God handed down through the generations.

Our own mission is to understand that we are a worshipping, learning, witnessing, and serving community of forgiven followers of Jesus Christ. We have a powerful message to share where we strive to foster spiritual growth in ourselves and others through all our actions and decisions. We welcome and value the talents of all who are brought to us by God’s will. Have you, who are empowered through your baptism, told the mission statement given by God that you are chosen, loved, forgiveness, reconciled, and that there is a feast here for you? Have you told others that we celebrate who we have been? Have you told others that we are excited about who we are today and about the possibilities for who we will be in the future? Have you told others that there is a place here for everyone? We likely have “dropped the ball” on telling others that we really do have something special that we are about – that we want them to come WITH us, sit WITH us, and work WITH us as we carry out the mission we’ve been given. We often bemoan the fact that we are declining, but it also is a fact that we have declined in inviting others to come and be with us, partner with us for the “common good” of our community as well as our church. We need to sense the breath of God blowing on us!

Today we are welcomed to the banquet feast. We share the body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; we are recharged with spiritual food that fills us with Jesus so that we can go out and share this good news. I urge you to take seriously that God is calling you and listening for your response –send me, Lord! Send me to feed children, clothe and help the needy, be a witness in all that I say and do. Make the message clear so that all who hear can understand it, can get it. No need for a power surge protector. God is with you! God IS your POWER SOURCE! Thanks be to God!

Texts :
Acts 2 : 1 – 21
Psalm 104 : 25 – 35 , 37
I Corinthians 12 : 3b -13
John 20 : 19 -23

BE MY WITNESSES

BE MY WITNESSES

Ascension Day was Thursday, and those who gathered in worship services heard scripture that spoke of Jesus being lifted up. It is the same words used as he is lifted up on the cross to be crucified. The image and the actual meaning of the verb used for ‘lifted up’ put Jesus’ resurrection in proper perspective. He is lifted up not in a direction, but in a place beyond the political scene, lifted up beyond the Roman Empire. He is lifted up to have power over sin, death, and the Devil. He is lifted up to have a place in people’s hearts. He was lifted up not to be captured in fine paintings; he was lifted up to become the head, the name above every name.

John’s gospel has painted us many pictures of who Jesus is. He is the Word made Flesh, who came to dwell among us, the Bread of Life, the Light of the World. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the Resurrection and the Life. He is the Good Shepherd. He is the crucified one, the resurrected one. He is the one who sits at the head of the table, our great high priest. He is the one who makes God known to us. In this High Priestly Prayer, Jesus speaks in terms of endearment of “those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.” He then asks for God to protect them … he knows what lies ahead for them – they would be hated, persecuted, killed for their witness, for their testimony. They would be hated for the kind of love they wanted to bring to the world. Jesus knew the struggles, the challenges that would come to those who loved and served him – not just in the days ahead for the disciples and followers present with him even to the day of his ascension, but for those followers who were yet to come, followers in 2017 as well. There would be all kinds of worldly powers which would seek to pull them away, divide them, scatter them, makes them less bold in their witness. There would need to be faithful followers who would devote themselves to prayer and coming together to be nourished in scripture and in the Supper he established. As the Acts text closes today, it says, “All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.”

There is so much more to our human experience than often meets the eye. There is so much more to our life journeys than ever is recognized, ever is told. Some years ago, I attended the production of “The Laramie Project” at Augustana College. This theatrical event speaks about the importance of acceptance, compassion, and forgiveness in our diverse and changing world. This play is more than just a story about Mathew Shepard who was brutally beaten, tied to a fence and left to die on October 6, 1998. It’s not a play about homosexuality, gay bashing, or hate crimes, but is a play about the impact this horrendous crime had on the townspeople of Laramie, and whether we are consciously aware of it, it’s about the impact it has on us. The characters share what they witnessed and how it has impacted their lives. The play’s author, Moises Kaufman, tells how he and members of the Tectonic Theater Project traveled to Laramie six times to conduct interviews with the people of the town. They transcribed and edited the interviews, and it is presented in a unique format of townspeople and the experiences also of those doing the interviews.

What was striking to me during this drama was the way living in, through, and telling of this story teaches us something about ourselves and about our human natures. There are the religious leaders of the community with varied doctrines, and yet one boldly steps forward to beg of the interviewers to “tell the truth, not to make it more or less than what happened.” There were interviews with his college professors and his advisor; the emergency room physician who was the person who found him, who came to believe that God directed his bike ride so that Mathew would not die tied to that stark fence. There was the gay-bashing preacher, infamous Fred Phelps, who proclaimed the perfect hate of God, and yet beyond that is the witness of those who experienced God’s amazing grace and God’s perfect love beyond this hateful crime. There was the testimony of his parents, particularly his father, who asks that Aaron Winkleman not be given the death penalty but a life sentence so that every day he would remember that Mathew did not have that day because of Aaron’s hatred. There was the message that something good did come out of such evil, such hatred. There was the message that it matters what we teach. There was the message that we need to think about what we do with what we learn when we encounter hate in our world.

When I think back to the experience of being there at the play – immersing myself in the witness of the characters portraying those who actually were interview, I think of the importance of nurturing and nourishing one another. We are called to love not hate. We live in the midst of tremendous atrocities even in just this week: children killed in their own alleys, people shot because they were bystanders not even involved in the conflict of others; children and youth killed at a concert in Manchester and Coptic Christians killed for the sake of control and power. We are lifted up to be witnesses to the one who prays that we will all be one, not divided by color, race, social status, gender; witnesses to God’s unconditional love, who bathes us in baptismal waters, claims us and names us, loves us to death in Jesus Christ, who is raised up above victorious over hate, over sin, over death. It matters what we teach – that we teach respect for God, that we teach that we gather to worship out of love rather than duty. It matters that we teach each generation to be stewards, teach the importance of generous hearts and giving because we are loved and we give back out of love. It matters that we teach responsibility, accountability, and discipleship as core to who we are as children of God. It matters that we teach the love of Jesus Christ and the grace and love of God. Every day of our lives should be a day that reflects the love of God as we interact with others and with all of creation in our actions and in the words we speak. It matters that we continue to proclaim beyond this last Sunday in Easter:

Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Texts:

Acts 1 : 6 – 14
Psalm 68 : 1 – 10 , 33-36
I Peter 4 : 12 – 14 ,  5 : 6 – 11
John 17 : 1 – 11

 

” My Rock, My Living Stone “

“My Rock, My Living Stone”

The familiar gospel text we so often hear at funerals, the words spoken to Christ’s closest friends and followers after he’s washed their feet, told them of the coming betrayal, that Peter will deny that he knows him, and eats with them the Passover meal, but now tells them that they will eat this in a different way from this night on. Body, blood, given and shed for you. New Covenant, eat, drink, remember. He speaks words to them that they can’t begin to wrap themselves around, and yet in just hours they would be more vulnerable, more heart-broken, more frightened than they might ever have imagined. They will wonder if things will ever be the same, if they will ever be able to find their place in the world, in their families and their communities. They can’t begin to imagine what these words will come to mean to them. And they have many questions… don’t we? Their hearts were troubled, not knowing what was really taking place, what the future would look like, how it would all turn out. Aren’t those some of our questions as well?

It’s so important that we know that we have a place for us. We all long to find our place in life – a place in our family, a place with friends, a place in our work-a-day world, with our colleagues and co-workers, with our neighbors. Most of us go to great lengths to carve out our place, although some of us may do it less consciously. We begin in our childhood seeking love and a niche to fit into. As adolescents we are especially aware of what others’ are wearing and we want to dress like that, too. That seems to follow many of us for the rest of our lives. Just catching a few minutes of television here and there this past week, I realize just how fashion cycles, and we’re back to wearing things we wore twenty years ago. Bermuda shorts and seersucker are back big time for summer fashion. Flip-flops continue to be foot fashion. Even nail polish colors cycle…we wore some of the funky colors that we watch everyone now wear. There are those of us who are non-conformists and want to say that it doesn’t matter – we’re our own person and we don’t need time-specific fashion, hair styles, or the latest slang or text-messaging to speak for us. We are who we are. Yet, I believe that internally we all long to know that we belong, that there’s a place for us.

We feel more secure when we know our place in life and our place in relationships. We can find security in knowing that there is a place for us in God’s kingdom. Jesus reassures us that he has gone to prepare a place for us and that he will come again to take us to that place to be with him. He makes it very clear: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Not only do we hear these words of reassurance in John’s gospel, but Stephen’s witness to us as he is stoned for his convictions and testimony shows us that he knew that he belonged to God’s kingdom, and that Jesus would receive him even as he dies confessing his faith. Jesus is Stephen’s living stone, his strong rock, his tower of strength, the one who redeems and receives him, rescues him from his enemies. Jesus is the cornerstone of Stephen’s faith.

Our world may try to show us other cornerstones: build your life on athletics, build your life on academics, build your life on how many acres you farm, build your life on how much you earn in the work force, build your life on so many competitive cornerstones calling you, promising you success, wealth, popularity, happiness. But like the old Sunday School song of the foolish man and the wise man and where they build their houses, sand or rock, if we’re not rooted, grounded in our faith, our houses, our lives will go “plop” or “crash” like the house built on the sand. We hear strength in the Lord being called “my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe, my tower of strength.”

In 1 Peter we hear that we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. We hear that we have a place with the one who has become our cornerstone, Jesus Christ our Risen Savior. We bring ourselves and our children to our baptismal fonts to claim a place in God’s kingdom as a child of God. We are washed and made new. We are marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit. We are chosen. The cornerstone of our life is Jesus Christ. As we have grown in our faith, we have continued to build our lives on that cornerstone, a foundation of faith for each of us. Our faith communities, our parents, our sponsors, were called to witness the promises that Christ has proclaimed to us in his life, the mission of his serving, healing, teaching ministry among us, his death and victory over sin and the devil, and his resurrection that gives us lives of hope and a promise that there is a place prepared for us in eternity. We then become the witnesses and the ones to proclaim what Christ is doing in our lives and in the world; we share the good news that Jesus Christ is our rock, our living stone, and a place is carved out for us in his earthly and heavenly kingdoms. We have the calling and the opportunities to be Christ’s hands and feet, to serve and go; his mouth to share God’s Word, his heart to love God and love one another. We have the promise that he will take us to himself. I picture that to mean even in this day and in this earthly kingdom that where Christ is, we are called to be. And we live in the hope and promise of being with him for all of eternity. So even with the questions Thomas and Peter and the others had, and even with the questions we ask and hope for answers that will reassure us, we can still trust that Jesus is the way; that Jesus always tells the truth; and Jesus promises us life – abundant life, life eternal. We are children of God, and nothing can separate us from our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior, the Risen Christ. He is our way, our truth, and our life. That’s good news! Let not your heart be troubled! Alleluia, Amen.

Texts :
Acts 7 : 55 – 60
Psalm 31 : 1 – 5 , 15 – 16
I Peter 2 : 2 – 10
John 14 : 1 – 14

” Shepherd Me, O God “

“Shepherd Me, O God”

Our text starts out by Jesus saying – very truly – or better yet, “I tell you the truth”. Jesus always tells us the truth. At first it sounds a bit like an Abbott and Costello routine with who’s on first – “who’s the gate, who’s the gatekeeper, whose voice, who is the Shepherd?” Even as Jesus makes the “I am” statements, it sounds like he has multiple identities. And there are other players in this scenario as well, bandits and thieves, those looking for what they can get by snatching it away. He also notes that there are thieves and bandits out there, those who will try to steal you away from the fold. Sometimes we are our own thieves and bandits. We steal from ourselves when we wander off and forget to come back to be fed and nourished with others in the flock. I wonder what you know about thieves and bandits… what steals you away from being who you want to be? Who or what steals you from Jesus? And what about this abundant life? It seems like there’s at times a very fine line between what offers us abundant life and what steals life from us.

We had sheep on the farm I was raised on. There were at least three sheep that I can say knew my voice … Ike, Skeeziks, and Emma. I was about six when Ike was born on a wintry night in the era when Ike Eisenhower was President. He came to the house to be warmed up and his mother refused to feed him when taken back to the lambing pen. So he became a bottle baby and it was my job to give him the early evening bottle. As he grew he would follow me around the barnyard from chore to chore, knowing that I usually would stop at the grain bin for a pocketful of oats. At six, I believed he loved me because I loved him and took care of him. Growing older, I began to realize that he probably loved me more because I fed him. We had a relationship – they trusted me and linked me to sustaining life in those morsels of oats and pasture they grazed in. Skeeziks and Emma were ewes in the flock, and they too sought the pocket-filled treats of oats, but did allow us to have a brief ride clutching their wool-laden backs. They also tend to have weak hearts, and too much exertion or running can drop a sheep in their tracks. They were easily spooked and would run themselves into corners in an effort to get away from their perceived enemy. They were fragile creatures in many ways, and needed watching. Because of their boxy structure, if they ended up on their side on a hillside, they could not right themselves and would suffocate. It was the shepherd, the one tending them, who needed to come and help them get back in balance, to right them. They also preferred to be lead than pushed or driven from behind. They wanted the shepherd to be the one out front, making sure things were safe for them.

We may not want to see ourselves as these fragile creatures, but we get ourselves boxed in corners, too. We sometimes have trouble getting in balance unless we have assistance to get back on our feet. Jesus, our gate, is here to guide us, to right us and help us find our balance, to offer us food that will nourish us spiritually – more than a snack at his table, but real body and blood that fills us and strengthens us. This gate, this shepherd knows us, calls us by name, and is with us to do battle with that which is evil and steals us from being about God’s mission and steals our very lives in ways that we sometimes can’t describe. Jesus acts as our passage way to the abundant life that we have been promised. Jesus says, “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” Jesus is the door, the gate, and Jesus knows us, calls us by name, leads us – tells us the truth. We enter the gate to God’s Kingdom through baptism, being named and claimed, made a child of God, and the Holy Spirit comes and dwells in us. Jesus Christ indeed is our Good Shepherd, and models for us how to care for God’s sheep, and how to lead. As he is our gate – our door, so we can lead others through this gate so that we might grow in faith and grow in our own faithful serving. There are many thieves and bandits – those things that steal us away from an abundant life… it might be the latest fad, such as those new “mud-stained” jeans that cost over $400, or food, beverages, vehicles, or electronics that promise us a better life if we only add them to our lives.

The text from Peter today speaks to us about being disciples, followers who can be about God’s work with conviction because Christ has already cleared the path, destroyed sin, death, and the devil by his sacrifice on the cross for us. Sometimes we can use the excuse, “I don’t get all this Bible language – I don’t understand what God’s trying to say to me.” It’s baseball season, and perhaps some of us are more into baseball than others, have a team we especially root for. One of my favorite players from years ago was Ernie Banks who played for the Cubs. He used to say, “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame … let’s play two!” Ernie loved the game and he loved being on the field, playing through some rather dismal losing seasons and some very near challenges for the pennant. He was always eager for the new season of spring training and those summer days of game after game, giving it his all. We are in a variety of seasons of our lives. Some of us are just beginning spring training; others have been playing for many innings and have had a variety of kinds of seasons – losing, struggling, elated with great hits and moving up the ladder of success. Some have retired but still love the game and keep coming to the ball park because “it’s a beautiful day for a ballgame.” God is our manager, Jesus our coach, and regardless of what part of the season you’re in, it’s a beautiful day, week, year, lifetime for God’s game. Let’s hustle out through the gate of Jesus Christ and play our best ball for the mission of God is in front of us, and we’re being called to give it our best effort. There will come that day when we will be called to God’s Hall of Fame, and that’s a promise worth hustling for. That’s an Easter Promise the Shepherd keeps for us. AMEN

Texts :
Acts 2 : 42 – 47
Psalm 23
I Peter 2 : 19 – 25
John 10 : 1 – 10

On The Road Again – Our Road To Emmaus

On the Road Again – Our Road to Emmaus

It is the same day as the women and Peter and John visiting the tomb and finding it empty, the first day of the week and these are other disciples, Peter and possibly James, Jesus’ brother. It was not what they had hoped for. What has taken place is far from what they had hoped for, that after all the sacrifices they had made that things would have turned out differently. Can you imagine walking along and encountering someone on your walk who joins you and asks you what you’re talking about with your companion, or perhaps you’re alone and talking to yourself, and they ask you what’s on your mind? For some reason you just don’t recognize the person for who they are and begin to fill them in on something they’re already aware of – in fact, they are a key player in your thoughts and what’s going on. It’s a peculiar kind of irony that they are a core piece of what’s on your mind, on your heart. Emmaus was like that: people trying to tell the only one who knows what is going on about what has happened. The first irony of everyone’s Emmaus is the “the irony of trying to tell the only one who really knows what is going on.” Cleopas (Peter) and James are neither going to Galilee to meet the risen Christ nor staying in Jerusalem to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit as he told them. They had been told where to go and wait for Jesus; that he would come to them following his resurrection. And now they encounter this talkative stranger and describe to him the brokenness of their dreams and hopes. They had been convinced that Jesus was a great prophet, a prophet of marvelous deeds, a prophet who gave great promise of delivering Israel to the golden age that would surpass Solomon’s. With sadness they spoke of the travesty perpetrated by the Jewish synagogue and state officials, the torture and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. Now the rumor out and about was that he had risen. They question this stranger – hasn’t he heard – is he the only one in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days? What irony – Peter and James were talking to the only one who knew what really happened on those three days. They were talking to the prisoner interrogated, to the king mocked, to the Son of God who knew all too well what it felt like to be scourged. They were talking to the only one who had seen the possibilities in Pilate, the fear in Peter, and the desire to do in Joseph and Nicodemus. They were talking to the only one who could describe death, death by crucifixion, death from the victim’s point of view. The irony was that they thought they were informing him, telling him what he needed to know.

This is everyone’s Emmaus! Don’t we always want to believe that we are the only ones who know what really is going on, what the “real” truth is? Don’t we know all too well what it’s like to have those hopes and dreams that are crushed or things don’t turn out as we had hoped? It is evident in the calling of the disciples that Jesus knew all that was to be known. It was evident in his announcing the future that Jesus knew all that was to be known about going up to Jerusalem and suffering many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and scribes, dying and rising again. It was evident in his teaching the disciples how to pray that Jesus knew all about the needs of others before they formulated a statement of their needs. He knows! Jesus knows! He knows the most secret and explosive needs, those most carefully guarded and seldom admitted, those absolutely protected needs that bring tears to our eyes when we think we are alone and unnoticed.

Jesus also knows that we need to be appreciated, affirmed, not criticized; understood, not ignored; forgiven, not judged; lifted up and loved, not put down because we forgot to pick up something at the grocery story. He knows what burdens us and makes us sad and worn with worry. He knows how hard it is at times for us to share what is on our hearts with others. And yet, we seem to have a need to fill him in on every detail. I can really identify with this as I’m a verbal person; it’s how I process things, I talk them out loud so that I can “SEE and HEAR” my words outside myself. Others are quite the opposite; they process internally, they see and hear their words inside themselves. The irony of all of this is that we think we understand what is going on more than the only one who really knows.

The second irony of everyone’s road to Emmaus is the “irony of not listening to the only one who knows what is going on.” Luke is not telling us something new when he says in our text, “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” Jesus has been doing that, precisely that, for three long years. In his first sermon in the synagogue of his hometown, Nazareth, he quoted a passage from Isaiah that described the work of the messiah and then declared that that passage was fulfilled by Jesus himself. In his farewell discourse in the upper room he again made it perfectly clear that the events of the day were his fulfillment of the Scripture. At his Ascension Christ again explained what was happening in terms of that which had been proclaimed in Scripture. He knew! He knew what was happening. He had told them and was telling them again. But they couldn’t perceive it; they couldn’t hear the truth and recognize it for what it was, what it is. They almost went through that day without recognizing the risen Christ. There is everyone’s road to Emmaus. It is the irony of not really hearing the only one who knows what is going on. Jesus says where two or three are gathered in his name “I am there among them.” He says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses.” Clearly Jesus is telling us what is going on. The only one who really knows says that he is coming among us; to call us, to prepare us, to empower us, and to equip and to send us out as witnesses. This is not one of those take-it-or-leave-it occasions placed low on the priority list. This is the Risen Christ saying that he is coming among us to complete the call to us and to set a fire in our bones that won’t be quenched until we are covering the earth with the good news.

The good news for us is that the risen Christ does come among, comes in a familiar pattern, promises to meet us in the breaking of the bread and the pouring of the wine. It’s the very time that Peter and James recognize him, in the place where he promises to meet them, meet us. Perhaps in the horrors of those three days, they now have a flash-back to a meal in an upper room, blessing, breaking, giving, sharing himself. Now they knew, now they could believe their eyes. What a wondrous moment for them. And it is our moment as well. We are all on journeys, roads we walk when we are filled with pain, confusion, sometimes stumbling. At other times, joy-filled, with steps of certainty. It is on these roads where we encounter Jesus, the one who calls us in our baptism to vocation, to be servant of others, to repay out of love what we have already been given out of love. It is on these roads where we come to grips with who we are, what motivates us, which fork in the road to take. It is on these roads where we discover who is core to our joy and fulfillment, our grief and burdens carried. On these roads where we have Jesus with us, are our own hearts not burning within us while he talks to us on our own road? To really think about our own hearts burning with Jesus in the core?

In the sacrament, Jesus comes to us and our eyes are opened – when the bread is broken and placed in our hands. He knows our fatigue, our sorrow, and our tears and heavy hearts. When the bread is broken and placed in our hands, our spirit puts together prayers that are otherwise too complicated to be expressed in words. We say, “Amen, let it be so” as a way of acknowledging the awe and wonder in this gift, this presence of Christ for us, in us. Perhaps faintly at first and then more firmly we are actually able to hear Christ, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, poured out for YOU for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” Everyone’s road to Emmaus is that rare moment when our despair is sacramentally shattered in this awesome gift of Christ’s presence for US – YOU AND ME. We know that we have experienced the risen Lord and can leave the table, fed and nourished, our hungry hearts are satisfied because he comes to fill us. We celebrate that Christ walks with us on our roads, meets us and feeds us so that we may be all that we are created to be – because he knows – he’s the only one who really knows who we are and who we are called to be. Listen! Our Risen Lord is calling! Let us proclaim to the world,

“Alleluia! Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!”

Texts :

Acts 2 : 14a , 36 – 41
Psalm 116 : 1 – 4 , 12 – 19
I Peter 1 : 17 – 23
Luke 24 : 13 – 35

 

EYE WITNESSES

EYE WITNESSES

Easter Sunday was just a week ago. Some of you came and saw the sun shine through the windows of the church, casting sunbeams into the sanctuary. It didn’t matter whether it was at 9:00 AM at Tabor or 10:30 AM at First – God’s Son was shining in our worship. The time you came didn’t matter, but that you came to worship the Risen Christ was the importance of the day and the importance of your presence. Today the faithful return…the hidden Easter eggs have been found, the candy eaten. The color-dyed eggs have now made their way into potato salad or egg-salad sandwiches. It isn’t that today isn’t just as important as last Sunday because we again gather together to worship and praise the Risen Christ. Yes, Easter Sunday is indeed the most holy day of our Church year. As Easter people, those who are witnesses to the Risen Christ, we continue to gather in churches throughout the world to express our Resurrection faith that Jesus is “my Lord and my God”, just as Thomas declares in today’s gospel.

This Sunday Thomas gets a rather bad rap on this Sunday that follows the Festival of the Resurrection. He is remembered for his doubts… his desire to see what the other disciples got to see for themselves, Jesus standing among them. How soon we forget that Thomas courageously stated at Bethany as Jesus prepares to go to Jerusalem, stating that he will be arrested and crucified there, “Then let us go so that we may die with him.” What about the time when Jesus is speaking to the disciples about his going away, and he says, “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.” (John 14:1-4) Thomas interrupts, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Then Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” It was Thomas who was paying attention and asked the important question.

Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus breathed on the disciples giving them the gift of the one he had promised, the Holy Spirit. Thomas was seeking the truth that had already been shared with the others, who are quick to tell him, “We have seen the Lord.” Can you imagine how that would sound coming from Simon Peter, the one who wanted to build three booths and keep the transfiguration all to himself; Simon Peter who wasn’t so sure he wanted Jesus to wash his feet, but then asked that not only his feet, but his hands and his head. The Simon Peter who said I’ll never deny you, who denied his Lord three times. Why do we label Thomas the doubter when Peter and the others had their own moments of doubt and denial? As Thomas gets this opportunity to stand in Jesus’ presence post-resurrection, touching, feeling, seeing for himself, he makes his faith confession, “My Lord and my God!” Why do we tend to remember the worst about him rather than his eye-opening experience where his doubts are dissolved as he has his faith confirmed?

Thomas is also called ‘the Twin’… might we be the other twin? What about us? In what ways are we like these disciples, hiding behind locked doors? Jesus had told Mary to tell the disciples to meet him in Galilee; what are they doing hiding in the house? Are we hiding behind our own doors of doubts? Are we somehow hoping that we won’t run into the Risen Christ and have Jesus reveal himself to us? And if we discover that we are indeed standing in his presence, what are we afraid he will ask of us as he reminds us that in our baptism we too have received the gift of the Holy Spirit? Are we afraid he’ll ask us to keep our words of promise? Are we afraid he’ll ask us to go and be witnesses to this peace, this shalom he offers to us, to the whole world? What would it mean for us, for the world, if we truly lived out this shalom, this wholeness in relationships with God and with one another that would lead to well-being and harmony for every person? I’m sure we think it would be wonderful, but how in the world do we live it, live into it, give it, share it, experience it ourselves? Our children may turn to you to have their doubts put to rest. As grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, baptismal sponsors, Sunday School teachers, mentors, choir members, and brothers and sisters in Christ, your faith, your witness to the Risen Christ, his life, death and

resurrection, the love of God come down for us, for forgiveness of sin, and for the promise of life eternal; these will be the truths that they will need to hear over and over as they explore and learn them for their selves.

Our baptism is our entrance into a life-long journey, a life-long learning just who this Jesus is, and who this God is who calls us by name, gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit and marks and claims us with the cross of Christ forever. We have just scratched the surface by the time we do our confirmation preparation and studies. There is so much more to experience, to study, to learn. We often short-change ourselves when we “hang it up” on Confirmation Sunday, when we see it as a graduation rather than a truly new beginning of exploring our maturing faith. We are all gifted in different ways and God wants to use us and those gifts for the mission given to us to be about. It takes prayer – at home and in our sanctuary, it takes time and being present with one another. There are a multitude of tasks to be done in order that ministry can take place and can continue, and no one person can do them all.

We all have our doubts, our fears, or questions. God, in Christ Jesus, the Risen Lord, does not leave us alone behind locked doors, but sheds light in our darkness and welcomes us to “come and see”, to take this good news that Jesus comes into our lives out of love, makes us children of God, and promises to never leave us. Let us be as bold as Thomas to profess our faith, “My Lord and my God!”

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Texts :
Acts 2 : 14a , 22 – 32
Psalm 16
I Peter 1 : 3 – 9
John 20 : 19 – 31