Sunday, June 9, 2019

Day of Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21

In the Broadway production “The Music Man” Professor Harold Hill promises the town of River City the answer to all their problems. He convinces the folks there to let him start a marching band and they give him money to purchase uniforms and instruments and are filled with excitement about the future. But then, neither the instruments nor the uniforms don’t arrive, and someone accuses Professor Harold Hill, saying he’s no professor at all; he is a con man, a thief, who travels from town to town scheming and cheating folks before leaving town with their money. And just when it looks like the professor may get tarred and feathered and run out of town, the band of children appear dressed in second-hand uniforms and playing tarnished instruments badly out of tune. At least that’s what most of us see. But then we hear mothers and fathers shouting, “That tuba is my Barney!” and “That’s Eddie’s clarinet!” and “That ‘s my Davey!” The cacophony that surrounded them fades, and each one hears clearly the music their child is playing.

In the closing scene “76 trombones”, we witness a transformation as the ragtag band of children multiplies and the street is filled by the townspeople and a marching band dressed in sharp red uniforms with shiny brass buttons and playing gleaming instruments, led by none other than Harold Hill.

In the scene we hear Luke describe in Acts Chapter 2, when the Holy Spirit comes upon the apostles, suddenly the crowd gathered around them hears them speak about God’s deeds of power in their own languages. All of the other noises of the crowd –the other languages being spoken and the murmurs of surprise and wonder – that surrounded them faded and they could hear clearly.

The Holy Spirit is the One who brings transformation. We cannot by our own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ. Like the crowds in Jerusalem that day we carry too much judgment, skepticism and doubt –we are turned inward and too full of ourselves – to believe on our own. But the Holy Spirit brings us to faith in Christ. In his explanation of the third article of the apostles’ creed, Martin Luther writes, “the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”[i]

It’s possible we will never witness the physical presence of the Spirit described here – the “divided tongues, as of fire” that appeared among the apostles, or even “the rush of a violent wind” that ushered it in. But the Holy Spirit is known by many different names throughout Scripture.  In our texts and prayers today alone we hear the Holy Spirit called Holy Wisdom, Holy Ghost, Spirit of God, and Advocate. And the Good News of Pentecost is that we encounter the Holy Spirit in our lives in surprising ways and in unexpected places, and Her presence reveals God’s own self to us in ways we can understand.

On this day of Pentecost, when we celebrate confirmation with Ruth Anne and with Caleb, that is especially good news. After three years of exploring the story of God and what Martin Luther teaches and questioning how faith and God are connected to our every day lives, they are affirming for themselves the faith given them in baptism and nurtured in the Church.

Often we stop there in the story, satisfied by the goodness of seeing the Holy Spirit active in the lives of God’s people. But in Acts Peter prompts us to try to answer the question, “What does this mean?” Similarly, Martin Luther asked the question “Was ist das?”, or “What is this?” in his Small Catechism, where he examined the Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed and the Sacraments. 

As people of faith we are invited to wrestle with what it means to believe and to bear witness to God’s activity in our lives and the world.

The Acts account is not the first occurrence of Pentecost. The people following Jesus at the time of this account were called followers of the Way, but they were Jewish, having been raised on reading the Torah and celebrating Jewish holy days.  The Day of Pentecost was a Jewish festival, celebrated fifty days after Passover where God’s people, Israel, celebrated the harvest and remembered how God had given them the law at Mount Sinai.

The Day of Pentecost celebrates that the Spirit creates and continues to create, making all things new.

And on this Pentecost the apostles and the people of Jerusalem experienced God in wholly new ways.

In addition to those who thought the apostles were drunk, I expect there were some who were afraid. But in the midst of their misgivings, their wondering and their awe, Peter addressed them all, finding in the words of the prophet Joel a way to describe something bigger than what their imaginations or experiences could grasp: to name the ways God promises were being fulfilled in them on that day. They were glimpsing God’s own Spirit among them.

As we celebrate confirmation with Ruth Anne and Caleb,
may we be alert for the ways that the Holy Spirit shows up in our lives, surprising us, leading us and renewing us.
May we always return to the Word and faith we are given to make sense of what we are seeing and hearing.
May we have confidence in God’s goodness in our lives and be relieved of fear.

Thanks be to God.

[i] Martin Luther. Small Catechism.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Ascension of our Lord

Luke 24: 44-53

A few years ago, as part of the Book of Faith or Engage the Bible initiative, the synod announced a biblical storytelling contest for the youth of our congregations. The kids choose the story they want to tell, decide their props and costumes and create a video to tell the story. In February when the youth are all together for LYO they vote on the videos, and then at the annual synod assembly – which just happened on Friday and Saturday in Greensboro – everyone gets the chance to see the winning videos.

This year, one group was telling the story of Elijah and the worshipers of Baal that we hear in First Kings Chapter 18. If you don’t know the story, the prophet Elijah meets up with the 450 prophets of Baal, a foreign God, different from the God of Israel, and he challenges the people of Israel to pit him against the other prophets in a contest.  Each of them lays a bull on an altar, calls on the name of God and waits for God to answer in fire. They agree that the first prophet whose altar is consumed by fire is the prophet of the true God.

The story sounds strange enough to our ears hearing it in worship on a Sunday morning, but imagine being a neighbor or someone driving by Macedonia Lutheran Church in Burlington and seeing a half-dozen youth out in the church yard, dressed in flowing robes and dancing, or limping, as the Scripture says, around a centerpiece that looks like an altar.  Then another robed person, who is the character of Elijah, comes out and builds a second altar and suddenly it erupts in fire!

It couldn’t have been something they see every day.
I wonder what they thought was happening.

Today we are celebrating the Ascension of our Lord, which is always forty days after the Resurrection on Easter morning. On this feast day, Luke tells us that Jesus bodily leaves the disciples and is carried to heaven. (Luke 24:51) and then in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Luke gives another account of what the disciples experienced when Jesus was lifted up. (Acts 1:10)

There Luke tells us that, as Jesus was going, the apostles were gazing up toward heaven and two men in white robes appeared and questioned them, asking,
“Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” (Acts 1:11)
It couldn’t have been something they saw every day.
I wonder what they thought was happening.

Were they just pausing to catch their breath and puzzle out what God was doing in their midst?
Or perhaps, did they know they had seen God, and now they were waiting expectantly for God’s return?
Or were they afraid to move because they might miss a holy encounter?

Like the disciples who traveled with Jesus, we too are witnesses of all that God is doing. We have heard the stories of what God has done, and what God promises. We have received the bread and wine given for us and we remember God’s gifts of new life and forgiveness.

And yet, how often do we also stand still in our lives?

Unsure of God’s grace. Uncertain of what’s next. Unconvinced that God will fulfill God’s promises for us.

Gazing wistfully to the heavens for help to arrive, or back at the comfort of the past.

The stories of the Ascension call us to bring our gaze back to the present, to the people in our neighborhood and community who need our help and care here and now![i] We must remember that as the body of Christ on earth, we are the living witnesses, kept in faith by the Holy Spirit and sent out to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

But we don’t have to know all of the answers to all of the questions to be faithful witnesses. It is ok that sometimes our experiences of God are overwhelming or hard to explain. It is ok when our faith practices – whether it’s praying at meals in public places, crossing ourselves in the name of the Father, ☩ Son and Holy Spirit or video-recording a Bible story – make people stare and wonder. Perhaps their curiosity will be stirred and they will ask about this Jesus whom we know.

And, it’s ok when we make mistakes. One of my favorite quotes from this year’s assembly came from the ELCA’s Director for Congregational Vitality, the Reverend RubĂ©n Duran, who said, “Don’t just make the same old mistakes. Let’s make new mistakes together. Let’s risk a little!”

God guides us and provides abundant grace for each one of us and there is nothing we can do to separate ourselves from that love.

And last but not least, we are not alone. Our witness is stronger together. When we build relationships with each other and listen to each other’s stories we discover new ways that God is working all around us. One of the joys of synod assembly is hearing from different ministries and leaders about the work that is happening in congregations all across North Carolina. This year that included the story of a child whose family is homeless who went to summer camp for the first time, two congregations who have yoked and are sharing ministry, a Sudanese teenager who serves on the LYO board and stories of rebuilding and hope from the congregations in the eastern counties that were affected by Hurricane Florence last year.

We cannot always see where God is or what is happening, or make sense of it, but we can have confidence in God’s promises and refuse to be afraid of what we don’t know or whether we can follow well.

Saint Teresa of Avila was a Spanish noblewoman with Jewish roots who lived in the 16th century.[ii] A Carmelite nun and a mystic, she wrote the following words that I believe are an Ascension Day commission for us and for all who follow Jesus:
Christ has no body now, but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth, but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks
With compassion on this world.
Let us pray…
Holy God,
We give you thanks for Your Son Jesus who lived and died here on earth, showing us what it means to love you and the world.
In his absence, keep us in faith and forgive us when we stand still, when we are disoriented or confused, or we are afraid. Give us courage and confidence in Your promises that we would be lively witnesses to Your grace and the world would know your abundant love.
We pray in the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior.

[i] “Overview.” Sundays and Seasons Day Resources.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Psalm 67

Before he left for a camping trip this weekend, Jamie showed me the new t-shirt design for this year’s High Country Bus Festival. That’s the Volkswagen campout he organizes every year that happens on the last weekend of July on the New River. 2016 was its 20th year, and I think Jamie’s been involved for the last twelve.

We started bus camping when Emma was not quite six months old, packing up the sleeping bags, coffee pot and cookware and joining VW friends in their buses at VW campouts that happen all up and down the East Coast and in Canada. Jamie always goes to a few more campouts than I do, but High Country is the one that both girls and I will make sure we make. This year, when we get there, we’ll reunite with friends, and say a final goodbye to our chocolate lab Heidi who loved nothing more than chasing a stick or a ball into the river.

One of my favorite times at these campouts happens after the sun sets and people set up their camping chairs around the fire pit, and the ones who are musical bring their instruments, and someone brings a bag of marshmallows and chocolate bars and graham crackers and we sit, circled around the firepit remembering the day’s adventures and telling stories. I think I could sit there all night with the lulling hum of conversations all around me.

If you see photographs from High Country, you see people on bicycles, in golf carts, on river rafts and in kayaks; teenagers and twenty-something’s, young families with newborns and toddlers, and grandparents and grandchildren; American flags mixed in with Grateful Dead stickers and tie dye. We bring different backgrounds, educations, work lives and experiences with us and we have different ways of looking at the world, but under a wide blue sky on the riverbank, we are a gathered community. And if someone is in need, the whole community steps up and responds.

In those moments, it’s a whole lot like church, a gathered community united by a common faith.

Our shared lives are the marks of a community, and in Psalm 67, the Psalmist is reminding us that we are drawn together as a community because we share in God’s blessing.

The Psalms are songs that are written down as in a prayer book, and this one, which is only seven verses, begins and ends with words of blessing that we hear in our own worship:

In verse 1,

1 May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us…

And in verse 7,
7 May God continue to bless us; let all the ends of the earth revere him.

In Scripture, God’s face is a metaphor for the presence of God. The Psalmist witnesses to us that God is not abstract and distant, but present with us. “God is blessing us with God’s own self.”[i]

In today’s gospel, Jesus delivers this same message to his disciples when he tells them about the resurrection. We are not abandoned or alone; God is with us and the Holy Spirit is speaking into our lives, leading and directing us.

But if we only hear the praise and confidence in God’s blessing, and bask in the radiance of God’s face shining on us, we aren’t paying attention.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his book Life Together:[ii]
It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God's Word and sacrament.
Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian who helped found the Confessing Church, a resistance movement that defied Hitler during World War II. He was executed in April 1945 as the Nazi regime was collapsing. Bonhoeffer was insistent that our faith calls us to engage in the world and act in it.

As a community of God’s people, we are not simply given God’s blessing for our own benefit. God’s blessing to us and our community is inseparable from God’s blessing for the world.

Receiving God’s blessing and promises,
as the gathered community of God’s people,
we are given a responsibility to live among all the nations and all peoples as representatives of God’s kingdom,
as reconcilers in the world.

When conflict and disagreement happens, we are called to make God’s ways “known upon the earth”.

As one preacher wrote, as Christians we are, “people who can hold on to hope in the midst of despair and trust through times of loss and desolation.”[iii] 

Telling the story of Jesus who himself was unjustly executed and made a scapegoat, we offer God’s healing to a neighborhood torn apart by hate or violence.

Meeting basic human needs for shelter, food and hygiene, we offer God’s healing to people who have only known neglect and scarcity.

Remembering how Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus, we offer God’s healing to those who are grieving, confident that God is with us even when the world feels broken.

Each of us who has experienced God’s increase in our lives is called to share that blessing with others. Sharing our blessing also means sharing our lives because it is through God’s people that the world comes to know God.

We are called to share our lives
with the person who is suffering,
who is out of sync with the world around them,
who is disconnected by shame, anxiety or sorrow;
with the person who cannot hear or see the face of God shining on them, or recognize the promise of hope that we all have through Christ;
with the person experiencing “the dark night of the soul”,
who cannot imagine the unconditional love of God;

For the sake of these people – our family and neighbors and strangers – we are called to bring healing to our community.

We offer refuge and safe spaces where people can be restored, regain hope.
We offer forgiveness and mercy, remembering the mercy we are shown every day.
We offer the comfort of an embrace, knowing God’s love is boundless.
Sharing our lives, we can awaken a joy for living that soothes aching hearts and shadowed souls.

Wherever we share our lives - whether it’s around a campfire, or a dinner table; in the dining room or the library, or in a phone call or a handwritten card, when we share our lives, we share God’s blessing in our lives.

Living out of gratitude for the abundance in our lives,
and remembering the great stretch of God’s saving love,
we can help others meet Jesus and fulfill “the deepest longing of the human heart, to know with assurance the loving, living abiding presence of God.”[iv]

Let us pray…
Lord God,
We give you thanks for Your Son who shows us Your love and teaches us to love others;
Forgive us when we are self-centered or turn inward on ourselves,
forgetting that your blessing is meant to be shared;
Confident in your promises and Your presence with us,
make us bold witnesses to Your abundant and merciful love.
We pray in the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.

[i] Bartlett, David L.. Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide . Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition. Location 17094.
[ii] Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Life Together.
[iii] Bartlett, Location 17088.
[iv] Bartlett. Location 17102.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Fifth Sunday of Easter

John 13:31-35

Today’s gospel passage takes place before the crucifixion; in fact it is the same text we heard on Maundy Thursday when Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment.

Reading the text again, I noticed how Jesus calls his disciples, “Little children.” In our text a couple of weeks ago, after the resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples on the seashore and there he called them, “Children” too. Hearing him, I wondered why Jesus addresses them that way. His followers aren’t “children” by any traditional definition. They are fully grown adults with families and responsibilities, homes and jobs when they are called as his disciples. And yet, he calls them, “Children.”

Some people think it is diminutive, that Jesus calls them children because their faith is not yet “mature.” But isn’t our faith always forming and re-forming as we learn more about who God is and who we are as God’s children? Faith grows and expands as we experience God in our lives.

Besides, I don’t think the Jesus we meet in Scripture belittles or talks down to the people around him, even when they make mistakes and he corrects them.

Others suggest Jesus called the disciples “Children” to express his affection for them, the same way my granddaddy called me “Honeychild.”

For me, Jesus’ use of the word “children” brings to mind the time that Jesus told the disciples, “Let the little children come to me.”[i] At that time, the disciples had rebuked the crowds for bringing the children to Jesus but Jesus welcomed them saying the Kingdom of God belonged to them. Perhaps the disciples finally had understood his teaching and were following Jesus with childlike faith, open to what God was doing in their midst.

But, perhaps the simplest explanation is that Jesus calls the disciples “children” because Jesus is God and they are “God’s children.”

In baptism, we are named God’s own sons and daughters. We experience a “sweet swap” when we receive faith in Jesus Christ —we are made co-heirs to the Kingdom and we receive all that belongs to the Son of God, and Christ takes on all that is ours. With this address, Jesus reminding the disciples of their identity.

In Jesus’ words I also hear an echo of the prayer and instruction in Deuteronomy 6 that the Jewish disciples would have known; it says:
4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.  5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.  6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.  7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. [ii]
From the time of our ancestors in faith to this present time, our identity as God’s children calls us to obedience to God’s Word and commandments.

When Jesus continues speaking to the disciples, he gives them the new commandment to love one another, just as they have been loved by God. [iii] And then he says, “By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

We don’t follow God’s commands to earn our salvation, and we aren’t obedient so that we can be better people. We can’t. We can only live as God’s children through the grace that God first gives us.  Jesus’ words remind us that our lives and actions bear witness to who Jesus is. When we speak with bitterness and anger and refuse forgiveness or reconciliation, we reflect a God of judgment and wrath. When we love one another, we reflect a God whose grace and love changes lives.

Peter was there in that room and heard Jesus speaking that night. And later after the resurrection and the ascension, when the disciples were traveling and witnessing to the Good News, Peter stayed at the house of Simon the Tanner, whose work would have made him unclean by ritual law. Peter ate at the same table as people who were outsiders and not Jewish. And the religious authorities called him on it. They questioned him, asking why he was disregarding the ritual laws and traditions of Judaism. And he recounted for them the vision he had seen where he had been told, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”[iv]

Peter made a lot of mistakes as a disciple, as we all do, but clearly Peter had learned what it meant to love one another. As he told the people questioning him:
 17 If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?[v]
Like Peter, each of us has been raised with biases against others – whether it’s a person’s appearance, education level, accent or nationality, religion or sexual orientation. We have been taught that some people are “other” or “less than.” We have been taught that some people “belong” and others “don’t.” And we have been taught wrongly.

Believing we are all God’s children, we must love one another. God created each one of us precious in God’s sight and loves each one of us.

Loving one another we are called to live in ways that people can see how our lives are changed by God’s presence and activity. And, by this, everyone will know that we are following Jesus.

Let us pray…
Loving God,
We give you thanks for Your Son Jesus who teaches us to love each other as we are first loved by You.
Help us live as disciples, with confidence in our identity as Your children and with obedience to Your Word.
Send us out as witnesses to Your transforming grace and mercy.
We pray in the name of Jesus.

[i] Mt. 19:14, Mk. 10:14, Lk. 18:16
[ii] Deuteronomy 6:4-7
[iii] John 13:34
[iv] Acts 11:9
[v] Acts 11:16-17

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 9:36-43

When a woman named Ann Reeves Jarvis died in 1905, her daughter Anna, who wanted to honor her work caring for soldiers on both sides of the Civil War and addressing public health concerns, began a campaign to establish a national “Mother’s Day.”  Six years later, then-president Wilson officially recognized the holiday that has been celebrated here in the States on the second Sunday in May for more than a century now. [i]

One of my preaching professors encouraged us to name the secular, or non-religious, events in our lives in our preaching because, regardless of your piety, if there is something significant happening in culture and society, it is going to shape how you hear the Good News. For some, you will celebrate today with gifts or flowers or special time shared together. But I think it’s important also to name that for some of you, today is painful because of infertility, miscarriage or the estrangement or death of a child. Others still will find joy elusive because your own relationship with your mother is difficult, or because your mother has died. Through our prayers and recognition, we hope to name the different ways that mothering happens in our lives.

On this Mother’s Day, especially, I am thinking about two very young children and their father whose mother and wife died last Saturday, May 4th after a four-week illness. Rachel Held Evans was a 37-year-old woman from Tennessee who was a popular Christian blogger and writer. She had grown up in a conservative evangelical Christian church. Her father was a religion professor who always encouraged her questions about theology, religion and faith. As an adult, her questions led her into other Christian communities and her faith expanded to make room for her doubts and her questions. Throughout this week on social media, people have quoted her writing and shared memories of encountering her and how her encouragement and affirmation made a difference in their lives. It has been said that her children, who are 3 and not yet 1, will get to know her through these stories and memories.

In the Acts of the Apostles Luke tells us about another woman, who is remembered for “her good works and acts of charity.” (v.36) According to Luke, Tabitha, whose Greek name was Dorcas, was a garment-maker, who created clothing for the widows, the ones who lived on the margins of society. [ii] Those same widow women are the ones preparing her body for burial when Peter is called to the house. From that, we can guess that she was unmarried. However, her importance to the community is signaled by Peter’s quick response and arrival in Joppa. When he arrives, the women show him all the tunics and other clothing that Tabitha had made “while she was with them.” (v. 39)

What happens next leaves us with questions of our own. It’s very likely that Luke wants us to remember the story of the little girl, the ones whose name we don’t know, who is raised by Jesus in chapter 8. She was the daughter of an important man and her house was surrounded by professional mourners when Jesus arrived, told them to leave and called out to her. Tabitha, who is named, twice, is surrounded by friends when Peter arrived, told them to leave and then told Tabitha to “get up.” (v 40) Luke-Acts doesn’t include the story of Lazarus being raised, but like Lazarus, Tabitha is never made immortal; she will die again.

So what meaning are we supposed to take from her revival?

Sometimes, stories from Scripture that tell about miracles of healing leave us confused and even angry when the people we know and love, ones who have lived with compassion and good works, still die.  There are not ready-made answers to questions about why bad things happen to good people. But watching her community grieve together, telling stories of the person they love and sharing their memories of her with others so that she could be remembered shows us one way of being church together: holding each other in love when we are vulnerable and hurting.

We could focus on what it means that Peter is now performing public acts of healing, and how others were believed when “he showed [Tabitha] to be alive.” (v. 41) But I think jumping to focus on Peter would make us miss the significance of Tabitha herself. She is not a mere prop in someone else’s story.

Tabitha is the only woman in Scripture who is called a disciple, a mathetai. As scholar Mitzi Smith writes, perhaps she was one of the disciples gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem when God’s Spirit rested on them. What we know from reading Luke’s text is that she cared for others selflessly.[iii] One of the ways I talk about discipleship or following Jesus is to say that, as disciples, our lives following Jesus bear witness to the grace we have first received; that we love because we are first loved by God.  Discipleship is loving God, loving God’s people and loving the world.

Each of these women - Ann Jarvis, Rachel Held Evans and Tabitha or Dorcas - lived lives that were testimonies to God’s love active in their lives and God’s Spirit empowering them to share that love with others. As we remember women in our lives today, may we be inspired to live with the Spirit of God that inhabited each of them – an immortal spirit of generosity, love and compassion.

In closing, I invite you to pray the prayer on your bulletin insert. It is adapted from Alcuin of York and was included in Rachel Held Evans’ book Searching for Sunday:[iv]

God, go with us.
Help us to be an honor to the church.
Give us the grace to follow Christ’s word, to be clear in our task and careful in our speech.
Give us open hands and joyful hearts.
Let Christ be on our lips.

May our lives reflect a love of truth and compassion.
Let no one come to us and go away sad.
May we offer hope to the poor, and solace to the disheartened.
Let us so walk before God’s people, that those who follow us might come into God’s kingdom.
Let Christ be on our lips.

Let us sow living seeds, words that are quick with life, that faith may be the harvest in people’s hearts.
In word and in example let Your light shine in the dark like the morning star.
Do not allow the wealth of the world or its enchantment flatter us into silence as to Your truth.
Do not permit the powerful, or judges, or our dearest friends to keep us from professing what is right.
Let Christ be on our lips.

[i] Wikipedia contributors, "Mother's Day," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed May 10, 2019).[ii] Bartlett, David L.. Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide. Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
[iii] Mitzi J. Smith. “Commentary of Acts 9:36-43.” Luther Seminary..
[iv] Evans, Rachel Held. Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church (p. 109). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Third Sunday of Easter

John 21:1-19

When we hear today’s gospel from the 21st chapter of John, we don’t know how much time has passed since the crucifixion and the discovery of the empty tomb and the times that Jesus appeared to his disciples in the upper room and again to Thomas. The Fourth Gospel doesn’t include the account of how Jesus physically leaves the disciples and ascends to heaven that we will have just before Pentecost, so we lose that marker of time.

Whether it was the next day or later the same week, John tells us that Peter decided to go fishing and the others followed him, and when Jesus again appeared to them, no one recognized him.  It didn’t matter how many stories about Jesus they had heard or how many miracles they had witnessed. They didn’t recognize the teacher and Lord who they had been with for three years, the One who had overcome death on the cross.

But, isn’t it often the same for all of us? After the glorious celebration of the resurrection on Easter morning, how long is it before we no longer recognize when Jesus is with us? We are quick to judge Simon Peter and the others but we should not be too smug, thinking, surely we would know Jesus when we see Him.

But then, whether it was hearing his Word and the way he called them “Children”,
or seeing the miraculous abundance He provided in the nets now full of fish,
the beloved disciple did recognize Jesus.

And the Evangelist says,
“When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.” (John 21:7 NRS)

This is the same Simon Peter who asked Jesus to wash not only his feet but his head and his hands, also (13:9);
who promised he would lay down his life for Jesus (13:37);
who cut off the ear of the high priest’s slave on the night of Jesus’ arrest (18:10);
who denied Jesus three times in the courtyard of the high priest (18:15-27); and,
who ran to the tomb when Mary reported what she had seen there on Easter morning. (20:3-4)

While Simon Peter can be described as imperfect, reckless and fearful, he is also ardent, eager and faithful. Time and again, he is the first one whose faith moves him to action.

The way Simon Peter is described here evokes the memory of the story of Adam who hid his nakedness from God in Eden in Genesis 3. But Simon Peter doesn’t hide from Jesus; instead, he jumps into the sea so he can go to Him.

I believe the story of Simon Peter “walking wet” to be with Jesus is a story of baptismal faith being lived out.
In baptism, by water and by Word, we are washed clean – by grace, our sins are forgiven – and we are given new life, clothed in Christ and commanded to go and make disciples, to love and follow Jesus.

Simon Peter reminds us that faith is not merely informational; it is transformational.

Faith does something to us; it compels us to action, not for ourselves but that the world might know God’s forgiveness, grace, and love through us.

Simon Peter’s story lets us ask, “What does an active faith look like in the midst of our everyday lives?”

“Martin Luther taught that each morning we are to rise and say, “I am baptized into Christ” and then go about our daily affairs living in the covenant God made with us in our Baptism.”[i] Every day, wherever you are – at the sink brushing your teeth, in the shower or in the kitchen washing up from lunch –  you are invited to touch the water and remember your baptism.

Our baptismal covenant begins with promises to “live among God’s faithful people” and “hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper”.[ii] So, whenever we gather for worship and fellowship, read the Bible, and receive Holy Communion together we are living out our baptismal promises.

But the promises don’t stop here, with our activity within these four walls.

Our baptismal covenant also includes promises to “proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, serve all people following the example of Jesus, and strive for justice and peace in all the earth.”[iii]

It’s not as obvious how we live out these promises. But, let’s take a look around our own community here in Shelby.

Proclaiming the good news, let’s ask:
Who are the people who need to hear “God loves you”?
Who needs to know you remember them in your prayers?

Serving all people, let’s ask:
Who are our congregation’s neighbors, and how can we be praying for them?
Look around and see who’s missing. Not just individual members but whole groups of people? How can we support people who may not worship with us?

And striving for justice and peace, let’s ask:
How do we share the peace of Christ beyond our congregation? What does it mean to be a person of peace in a world filled with noise and violence?
What injustices exist in our own community and who is suffering?

Simon Peter’s witness invites us all to an active, reckless and imperfect faith, where we jump at the chance to follow Jesus in the world. We won’t always know the answers to these questions but we have confidence God is with us as we wrestle with them and alive into our baptismal covenant.

Let us pray….
Holy and life-giving God,
We give thanks for Your Son Jesus who calls us to Him even when we are reckless and imperfect.
Shower us with your Spirit, and renew our lives with your forgiveness, grace, and love.
Help us respond to the world with an active faith that bears witness to your mercy.
We pray in Jesus’ name.

[i]“Faith practices have changed!”, Living Lutheran, ELCA., accessed 5/4/2019.
[ii] Evangelical Lutheran Worship, ELCA. 236.
[iii] ibid

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Easter Sunday

Luke 24:1-12

“Jesus Is Risen!”

That is the Easter message we hear spoken in the empty tomb when the women arrive there with their burial spices.

When they find the tomb open and empty, the confusion and doubt they had carried with them through the sabbath only deepened. After all they had seen Jesus die and, after the crucifixion, they had followed Joseph and watched when he opened the tomb and set Jesus’ body in it. Their teacher and Lord was dead but they knew what was expected when death came. They understood the ritual, the steps to follow and the tasks to complete to honor the dead.

But now two men are standing beside them and asking them,

Why are you looking for the Living One in a cemetery? He is not here, but raised up. Remember [what] he told you when you were still back in Galilee…?[i]

Luke says the women remembered and returned to tell the other disciples what they had seen and heard, but the others dismissed their report as nonsense, an “idle tale,” or delirious babbling.

We share their disbelief, don’t we? After all, that isn’t how death works in our experience. A person dies, their body is buried and the grave is sealed. The end. Anything else is a storyline out of “The Walking Dead” or a zombie apocalypse.

But resurrection is not a miracle to be proven with historical evidence or scientific proof. It is our reminder that God’s ways are not our ways.

Whenever we hear about the suffering that is happening in our world and hear news of fresh terror and violence it is difficult for us to believe the promise of the Resurrection, that evil does not win and death is not the end.

So, on Easter morning, we gather to hear the story again and remember that the Easter message is not nonsense or an idle tale. Like the women at the empty tomb, we remember the Word that God has spoken to us:

the Living One is not found among the dead, the relics and detritus of the past, the ashes and rubble of our lives or in the depths of our despair.

Jesus is risen and leads us out of those places.

With the Easter proclamation that “Jesus is Risen” we are invited into new life with the One who is our Living Savior, our Redeemer and Hope and we are offered a new beginning.[ii]

We are invited into the resurrection life, finding our way through the world’s “No’s” to God’s “Yes” [iii] where we experience healing, forgiveness, wholeness and restoration:[iv]
  • Healing is found in accepting the gracious service of those around us and being comforted that we are not alone in our suffering;
  • Forgiveness is found in the reconciliation of broken relationships that dispels hate and ends the divisions that separate us;
  • Wholeness is found in the recognition that God sees every one of us as we are — nothing is hidden — and calls us beloved children, even in our disbelief and doubt;
  • And restoration is found in knowing that our sin, known and unknown, is forgiven and nothing separates us from the love of God.
Practicing resurrection means recognizing the places in our lives where we need to experience a new beginning and where we are empowered to offer new beginnings to those around us.

Practicing resurrection means opening our eyes to see, our ears to listen and our hearts to love.

Practicing resurrection frees us to participate in the new beginning God is creating and witness to the world the Truth that, indeed, “Jesus is Risen! Alleluia! Alleluia!”

Thanks be to God!

[i] Luke 24:5-6, The Message
[ii] The Rev. Michael Marsh. “Resurrection, The First Day Stories of our Life – An Easter Sermon on Luke 24:1-12., accessed 4/19/2019.
[iii] Sundays and Seasons Day Resources.
[iv] “Luke”, Enter the Bible. Luther Seminary., accessed 4/20/2019.