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Thomas, don't be late!

Second Sunday of Easter - April 19, 2020
- Acts 2:14a, 22-32
- Psalm 16
- 1 Peter 1:3-9
- John 20:19-31
Thomas, don't be late!
 

He Came Back!

Easter Sunrise - April 12
He came back!

Stop Looking for the Dead

Resurrection of the Lord - April 12, 2020
- Acts 10:34-43
- Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
- Colossians 3:1-4 
- John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10
Stop looking for the dead!

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

46 days later, 46 days after we started Lent, we gather in a way that nobody could have ever had imagined back on Ash Wednesday.  We gather in fear of what is outside our doors.  We gather worrying about the future. We gather very much like the disciples gathered on that very first easter.  We gather at home.  Waiting.  Watching.  And praying.  Yet we gather and proclaim with so much hope.  Alleluia.  Christ is risen.  He has risen indeed. Alleluia.  

Last Easter was special.  Rhett, a four year old boy was baptized at St. John’s.  The church was packed, one of the largest Easter morning worships we have seen in a long time.  I handed out noise makers and told everyone to make some noise every time we said the word, Alleluia.  It was an incredible experience.  And I am not going to lie to you all and say that this Easter is going to be another incredible experience.  It just is not the same without all of you here.  Yet, this experience of our Lord’s death and resurrection still moves me.  

As I was preparing for today and making sure all the music loaded, I found myself getting very emotional listening to Jerry play, “This is the feast.”  Because despite this pandemic, our Lord lives.  He lives and nothing can change that. Thought I am not going to say that today feels very much like Easter.  We have become very accustom to Easter feeling a certain way.  Waking up early for Sunrise, breakfast at church, easter egg hunts with friends and family, falling asleep on the couch after eating tons of ham.  Easter this year, feels different and maybe it should.

Typically, at the 10am service, we would hear the Synoptic version of the Easter text.  I usually reserve the text from John’s gospel for Easter Sunrise.  Ideally, I would love to do an Easter Vigil because that is where John’s gospel shines.  In the church, John’s gospel is always used for holy days like Christmas and Easter.  On Christmas Day, we have John 1.  At the Easter vigil, we have Jesus meeting Mary Magdalene at the tomb.  John’s gospel has a way with words that just sets it apart from the others...

John’s recount of the resurrection is very personal.  The other gospels have lots of people seeing Jesus.  Mary is alone at the tomb.  She sees that the stone as been rolled away.  She runs back to get Simon and John, who are locked in their houses because they are afraid.  They go to the tomb and find it to be empty like Mary said.  Simon and John leave their friend, Mary behind. Mary stays in the garden, crying because she does not know where her Lord’s body has been taken.  She saw him die on the cross.  She watched as they laid his body it the tomb.  She saw his lifeless body on the cold, hard stone.  Dead people do not just get up and walk away.  People who have been crucified do not just recover three days later.  Rome might have been a brutal, but they how to execute people.  She is looking at the facts, at the way things have always been.  Dead people do not come back to life.  The only time she has witness a resurrection was when Lazarus was raised from the dead, but Jesus did that.  Now Jesus is dead.  Who is going to raise him? 

A fury of thoughts must have been running through all their minds.  Grave robbing was a troublesome crime at this time. At the time, there was an imperial edict against it. It would have been natural for the disciples to conclude that someone had stolen the body.  John tells us that the two disciples see the cloths lying in the tomb. The beloved disciple sees and believes. But what exactly does he believe?  That Jesus’ body might have been stolen? Peter apparently doesn't believe—perhaps he doesn’t believe that someone would have be so evil to have stolen the Body of Jesus, but where could the body be? Peter is probably also thinking that if indeed Jesus’ body had been stolen, why would the grave robbers take the time to fold the linen wrappings.  They both leave more confused than when they first came.

And they leave Mary behind.  She is left behind to mourn the loss of her teacher’s body.  Not only have they killed him but they have taken his body away to do whatever God knows to it.  She is left outside the tomb weeping when she sees two angels in the tomb (v. 12). The same word, sees in Greek, is used here that was used for the disciples seeing the linen wrappings.  It is very much a physical seeing.  Her eyes are telling her that two men are in the tomb. She still believes that someone has taken the body (v. 13). But the angels do not tell her what is going on.  They only point out her weeping.  “Woman, why are you weeping?”

Then Jesus comes on the scene quickly after the angels appear.  It is almost too much for Mary to take it all in.  John says uses the same two words again:  that Mary sees Jesus (v. 14), but her eyes deceive here.  She believes she is seeing the gardener (v. 15). Jesus says, “Woman, why are you weeping?” If I would have been Mary, I probably would have given some smart mouth reply the second time I would have been asked this question.  “I can’t find Jesus’ body.  We left it right here.  Peter and John are completely useless. They have left me here in the garden.  Two guys are just hanging out in the tomb and ask my why am I weeping.  And now you show up and ask the same thing.  I am in a cemetery, what do you think I am doing here? Playing bingo?!?!” 

Thankfully, Mary is not like me. Mary, unsure of what is happening, says to Jesus, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’”  She is trying to process things in terms of human experience.  All she wants is her Lord’s body.  She wants to mourn his loss.  She wants one last chance to be alone with him one last time.  Yet, that is not possible...because Jesus is not dead.

Then he calls her by her name.  He says, Mary.  And instantly, she recognizes him.  She beholds the man she has been wanting to see this entire time. He is alive, breathing, and not dead anymore.  She says, “Rabbounni” which means My Rabbi.  It is not just, Rabbi but it means my rabbi.  It is a very personal moment and she wants to hold onto Jesus.  She wants things to back to normal, back to the way things use to be.  But Jesus says, “No.  We can’t go back.  You, Mary, have task to do.” 

Mary must be an evangelist.  She must be the first evangelist. She must go back and tell the others what she has seen in the garden.  She must be the one to tell the good news and create the first church.  The first evangelist was a woman named Mary.  She is the mother of us all.  She is the reason we gather some 2000 years later proclaiming this good news to a new generation of people.  She is the reason that church exists today.  All because she did not hold onto her Lord.  All because she did not let her fear hold her back.  All because she listen to her Lord.  

She goes back to the group and tells them.  She tells them that ‘I have seen the Lord’ She does the work of the church.  She does the work of the pastor.  She started the work of the church with one simple phrase, ‘I have seen the Lord.’ From there, 2000 years of faithful preaching and sacraments have been done by those who follow in her footsteps, in her actions, in her words, “I have seen the Lord.” Our whole reason for existing and gathering on this day every, single year is because Mary went back and said to the others, ‘I have seen the Lord.’

These five words started a whole new mission for the followers of Jesus.  Mary came to the tomb weeping that her Lord had died and she left as an evangelist, a pastor, a believer.  Such a humble beginning. Scared.  Alone.  Weeping.  Just wanting things to be the way they used to be.

Sound familiar? We all feel this way.  We just want to go back to the way things used to be, but that reality is unlikely.  How long will it take before we are willing to shake hands again?  How long will it take for us to be comfortable shopping in a store again?  How long will it take before we feel safe sending our children out into the world?  We can’t go back to the way things use to be and that’s okay.  Because our Lord lives.  That’s all that matters this day.  It doesn’t that corporate worship has been suspended.  It doesn’t matter that family gatherings have been canceled.  It doesn’t matter that Easter hunts, and easter pictures will look very different this year.   It doesn’t matter.  None of it matters.  What matters is that our Lord was raised from the dead FOR YOU.  Our Lord meets you in the garden, sees you crying, and asks, “why are you weeping?  There is no reason to weep any more.” For our Lord is risen.  He lives.  Our God has conquered the grave and we all have a share in his resurrection, you have share this day.  Go back and tell the others that Our Lord is risen.  Be like Mary and create another generation of followers.  

Easter got a whole more personal this year, just like it was 2000 years ago. The mission of the gospel does not change even in a pandemic.  Satan tried his best to stop God from saving the world 2000 years ago and he failed.  2000 years later, Satan is at it again, trying to stop the church from proclaiming the good news that our Lord is risen, that we have indeed seen the Lord.  Satan failed that first Easter and he has failed again.  

Say it with me in your homes.  Alleluia.  Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed, Alleluia.  

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

The truth is worth dying for.


Good Friday - April 10, 2020
John 18:1-19:42
The truth is worth dying for.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

As my wife said on Sunday, since this pandemic has started, we have watched a lot of Frozen in the Day household.  For a while there, we watched Frozen 1 and 2 once a day for about a week or two straight.  I would normally be upset about watching the same movie over and over, but I really enjoy them.  I like their plots, especially the plot in the second movie.  When we watched it on Family Movie night back in February, I kept leaning over to my wife and saying things like, “does that sound familiar?” 

Last year, our theme during Wednesdays in Lent was on how Disney and church share a lot of qualities, especially when it comes to the stories we both tell.  C. S. Lewis does a similar thing in his classical work, “The Chronicles of Narnia.”  The only difference between Lewis and Disney is that Lewis wrote his work based on the Christian story of Jesus.  Disney‘s stories are not meant to be Christian themed, yet I could not watch Frozen 2 and not think about the story of Jesus. A wrong being made right.  Sacrifice to save the kingdom.  A mission and journey focused on finding out the truth.  The importance of said truth.  The truth being worth the sacrifice and the journey.  Being willing to die for the truth.   

I was struck by what Anna said towards the end of the Movie about her sister.  She said, “My sister gave her life for the truth.” This idea of seeking the truth is what drives the whole movie.  Elsa nearly loses her life to expose the truth.  Anna is willing to sacrifice her her home, her lifestyle to right the wrong that her grandfather made.  The truth is worth dying for.  

One of the most haunting lines of John’s version of the passion is when Pilate asks Jesus, “what is the truth?”  He had been questioning Jesus for some time at this point in the gospel. 

  • ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’
  • ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?’ 
  • Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’
  • ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ 
  • Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’

The truth, as we know it, is Jesus Christ.  Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and light” in John 14.  John uses the word Truth 20 times in his gospel.  More than other of the gospels.  More than other book in the New Testament. John has set out on this mission to reveal to his readers the truth.  For the world lies.  The world spreads falsehoods.  Pilate has spent his entire life seeking out his version of the truth.  The guilty get punished and the innocent are set free.  Pilate, though, does not know real truth.  Many of his so-called “Guilty” criminals do not deserve the punishment they have faced and it was in this moment of talking with Jesus, who is the truth, who speaks the truth, that he realizes he has been wrong more than he has been right.  He knows Jesus is innocent yet, he cannot stop this sham of a trial.  He cannot free this innocent man.  How many other times has he been wrong?  Can he ever right the wrongs he has committed?  How many innocent men and women have died on his watch?  Yet, even though he has the power to stop this whole thing, he does not and another innocent man is sent to his death, because Pilate cannot handle the truth.  

Justice has failed.  Nobody saved our Lord from a death he did not deserve. That is the harsh truth we must face this night, but there is more to this harsh truth. The other side of the truth tells us that because of Jesus death on the cross, our Lord has saved us from facing a similar fate.  

2000 years later, we gather like the disciples did on Good Friday.  In our homes.  Scared of what lies outside our doors.  Scared that we might be caught.  Scared that we might die.  And the best thing to do when we are scared for our lives and there is nothing more that we can do is to pray. We pray that our Lord’s death was not in vain.  We pray for God to work a miracle. 

Last year, the world watched in horror as Notre Dam burned and was nearly destroyed. The world cried that such a beautiful place which took nearly 200 years to build, could be nearly destroyed in matter of hours.  Yet, the church still gathered throughout the world and continued to preach the good news of Jesus Christ despite losing a treasured place.  This year, we are faced with an epic pandemic that has affected almost every, single person in the world.  It is not safe to gather, but yet, we still present in worship.  

The cross teaches us that we do not need buildings like this, beautiful worship vessels, beautiful artwork, or holy relics to point to Christ.  All that is needed is our most ardent of prayers, the sacraments, and clear doctrine.  These three things are the most cherished of all our possessions because they point us to the cross.  They point us to Jesus.  

Last year I said, “How fitting that we gather here tonight, in a version of a hollowed-out sanctuary where all our beautiful vessels have been removed, where all the candles on our altar have been extinguished.  Yet, we are still are able gather in prayer without all these things.”  This year, I think it is fitting that we gather as the disciples did.  We gather in homes, with fear and trepidation.  But we gather tonight knowing the end of the story.  We gather tonight in our homes knowing that our Lord did not stay in the tomb.  We gathering knowing tonight is not the end. We gather knowing the truth that Pilate could never comprehend or even accept.  

The truth is staring us right in the face this night.  We don’t need these building to do ministry.  We don’t need all these things that we traditionally associate with being the church, with doing church.  What we need is the word of God, the sacraments, clear doctrine, and the blessed saints.  We can do church even when the world takes away our things.  That is the truth and it hurts because the way things use to be will never be that way again.  I do know what our future holds, but I cannot imagine that we will ever go back to the way things use to be.  People will be scared for some time.  People will be worried about leaving their homes in fear of what lies outside.  But we know the truth and nothing in this world can keep us silent.  Not even a pandemic.  Not even social distancing.  Nothing can stop the truth from being told and we will use every means at our disposal to tell this truth.  The truth stared Pilate right in the face and he missed it.  The truth is staring us right in the face this night.  Are we going to miss it like Pilate?

Can you see it?  It’s a little dark, isn’t it?  It's a little hard to see right now, isn’t it?  Yet John’s gospel, in the very beginning says, “the light shines in the darkness.”  It’s a little hard to see right now.  Its very hard to see right now, but in a few moments, the truth will be made clear and we will see all that really matters.  It is a truth that Pilate could never see—the truth that is worth it.  

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Maundy Thursday - Meeting Jesus

Maundy Thursday - April 9, 2020
- Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14
- Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19
- 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
- John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Meeting Jesus

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Palm Sunday - April 5, 2020
- Isaiah 50:4-9a
- Psalm 31:9-16
- Philippians 2:5-11
- Matthew 27:11-54
The good, the bad, and the ugly.

A Second Chance

Fifth Sunday in Lent - March 29, 2020
- Ezekiel 37:1-14
- Psalm 130
- Romans 8:6-11
- John 11:1-45
A Second Chance

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

He was late.  On the day when it really mattered for Jesus to be on time, he was late and a man died.  And not just any man, he was a friend.  The man’s sisters are devastated.  A community is filled with grief all because he was late.  

*****

******

Does that sound like today? As of last night, over 33,000 people in the world have died from the Corona Virus.  729,568 have contracted the virus.  142,730 in the US alone.  It seems like Jesus a little late to the party.  It seems anyways...

Back in January when I was thinking about catchy sermon titles, I came up with, “A Rare, Second Chance” for today.  See, I have been approaching this text from a certain point of view for a very long time.  I usually always gravitate towards the resurrection and that is not a bad place to go.  The lectionary committee choose this reading for this very reason.  We are three weeks out from Easter. Even in Lent, we remember the resurrection.  You have probably heard it said that Sundays are a mini-Easter.  That is mostly true.  It is probably better to say  that each Sunday is a mini-Pascha but most people will look at you like you have 10 heads.  In the preface for Sundays, we say, “who on this day overcame death and grace” because we remember each week on Sunday Christ death and resurrection.  Hence why it is better to say mini-pascha because mini-Easter does not always mean the cross.  So, on this day, just three weeks out from Good Friday and Easter, it is good for us to hear a story of resurrection.  It is suppose to get your juices moving and thinking in that direction.

But, I have never been stuck at home like this.  I have never experience a pandemic like this.  And so, sitting in my house, on my couch, with nothing but a toddler, a baby, a wife, and two dogs to talk to, I heard something different in this text.  I started to think about Jesus being late and wondering if this time we are experience is just another one of those moments when Jesus is late.  I started wondering if this pandemic was intentional on the part of God, but I know that God doesn’t operate like that. So I started to really think about Jesus being late and his decision to stay back an extra few days. 

Jesus could have easily showed up and healed Lazarus.  It would have been recorded and would have held power for us today.  But he stayed back so that the situation would worsen and Lazarus would die.  He stayed back so that Lazarus would die and Jesus would be put into an impossible situation.  Because up this point in the gospel of John, Jesus has not been in a situation like this one.  He has does many miraculous things such as turn water into wine and as we heard last week, restored the sight to a blind man.  But bringing someone back to life was impossible in this day and age.  It still remains almost impossible in many situations in this day and age.  There is only so much that doctors and nurses can do to save a life.  They might bring someone back, but never like this.  NEver four days later.  

Jesus stayed back and was late so that he could confront an impossible situation and show people what God is capable of doing.  “Jesus does not do the easy thing (keep bad things from happening), Jesus does the hard thing...” But before he does the hard thing, Jesus first ministers to those who are grieving the loss of Lazarus.  These moments with Mary and Martha are so very touching and really show us the depth of love that Jesus has for these two women.  He says things like:

    • Your brother will rise again."
    • I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die
    • Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?

These are powerful, hopeful words given by Jesus not just to Mary and Martha, but to all of us.  I have used this passage so many times for funerals because of the pastoral these words are for Jesus.  Notice, Jesus did not go immediately to the tomb, first he found Mary and Martha.  He talked to them.  He listen to them. Jesus could have gone directly to the tomb and raised up Lazarus, but he chose to first find the people who needed God the most at that moment. The more and more I think about this passage, the more I realize that Jesus does everything that we expect him not to do because that is how God works.  

God’s work is not what we expect and this narrative from John 11 emphasizes this point very clearly. Notice how the the raising of Lazarus occurs:

    • Jesus orders the stone to be removed,
    • gives thanks to the Father for hearing his prayer, and
    • commands Lazarus to emerge.

Neither Lazarus nor anyone else present is said to believe in Jesus’ power. Just the opposite is the case. The crowd does not expect the dead man to emerge when the stone is rolled away. The people assume that death is final, irrevocable, and there is no remedy for it. Yet, this story shows us that the crowd did not have to believe in order to make Lazarus’ appearance possible. Human belief is not the source of the rising. Jesus’ oneness with the Father is the source of the rising. Jesus sees beyond death to God’s infinitely greater power. He demonstrates with thanksgiving and authority that his vision is true. Through just such powerful events, the veracity of Jesus’ vision is given to us. We cannot come to them with ready-made belief. Instead, Jesus creates the ability to believe by causing death ... to turn to life. Those who watch and help to unbind Lazarus are given the vision they need.  

For us, sitting in our homes, unable to leave because of this virus, may we not forget that Jesus shows up in impossible situations and brings about life.  Our Lord was not late to this virus.  Our absence from corporate worship will not bring about God’s wrath.  In fact, I think this time could have been a whole lot more unbearable if we did not have technology that allows us to broadcast with just a click of a button.  May we not forget this day or any day for that matter, that our Lord shows up in impossible situations and does the impossible.  And we are in an impossible situation.  I know it sounds a very cliche thing to say, but Jesus wasn’t late, he was right on time because we need to understand that God doesn’t just show up in the easy times, God shows up in the impossible times as well—and when God shows up in these impossible times, things we never were possible become possible. So, be on the look out for Jesus because he is going to show up and quiet frankly, he is already here.  He is ministering to the sick and the caregivers, to the people who are going insane in their homes and brings them the good news that Jesus is source of resurrection and life.  So, when the time comes, may we be ready to move the stone.  

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

And who is he, sir?

Fourth Sunday in Lent - March 22, 2020
- 1 Samuel 16:1-13
- Psalm 23
- Ephesians 5:8-14
- John 9:1-41
"And who is he, sir?"

Well Water

Third Sunday in Lent - March 15, 2020
- Exodus 17:1-7
- Psalm 95
- Romans 5:1-11
- John 4:5-42
This was the first Sunday that we were not able to meet due to the Covid19 Virus.  

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

I honestly did not expect to be here this morning.  My hope was to be attending church with my son at a place that was not Lutheran.  I wanted to see how other churches do worship.  I wanted to learn and then bring those experiences back to you.  Yet, here I am.  It appears the best laid plans are still just plans.  As of Friday, it seemed as though all necessary precautions had been put in place to gather this morning, safely, in this place.  Yet, here I am and here you are not.  

When the council met via email yesterday to discuss, the decision was ultimately made out of a hope that if we could do anything to stop the spreading the virus, we should do so.  In my letter, I quoted a letter Luther wrote in 1527 when he was faced with either fleeing the Black Plague or staying to help.  He choose to stay.  I remember reading that letter during my chaplaincy training at Reading Hospital.  It was a powerful letter then as I worked trauma calls in the middle of the night.  It is a powerful letter now as I stand in an empty church recording this message.  Do we stay or do we flee?

At this point, we cannot flee.  The virus seems to be everywhere.  So, we stay but we stay at home in order to curve the disease from spreading.  Luther talks about how he was trying to stay out of the way in order to help fight the spread of the Black Plague.  Staying for luther meant praying.  He did what the medical professionals at the time asked him to do.  He went and helped bury the dead.  He prayed with grieving families.  My brothers and sisters, this is our task.  As we stay, we do not stay home and act like it is a snow day. We stay and we go the mission of the gospel where we train and equine people to root their lives in pray and daily devotion of our Lord.  

I find it a bit ironic that the appointed reading for today has the Samaritan woman going back to the village, after her encounter with Jesus saying, “Come and see.”  We seriously just got done saying, “stay away.”  Seems almost a little too ironic.  Yet, the samaritans are already the outsiders, they are the ones who are contagious, they are the ones who should be avoided.  They have been quarantine by the rest of the Jewish world for many years.  “Many Jews would have taken a longer, ostensibly safer, route across the Jordan through the more Gentile Decapolis to avoid Samaria... That Jesus “had to go through Samaria” is, therefore, both a political expedience and a theological necessity (verse 4).  Jesus sees a group of people who need to experience and hear God’s plan for the future.  A future that we heard last week in church.  A future rooted in love.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

When I hear this verse, I often think about the Declaration of Independence, specifically that line that says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...” It took many years after these words were penned by Thomas Jefferson for the all to really mean all.  I am sure when Nicodemus heard these words from Jesus, he could not have imagined the world to mean the whole world.  Jesus not only says it, but he goes and does it.  He goes to into the world, into the forgotten places, into the quarantined places, in the forbidden places, and brings them the gospel. 

We might be forbidden to congregate in large, social gatherings, we might be stuck home from school, we might be scared and terrified—but we still are called to bring the gospel.  My wife just had a baby two weeks ago.  I am scared every day that this virus will continue to go unchecked. I am not scared of someone breaking into our house and hurting my family.  I have a dog who will give her life to stop an intruder and a baseball bat in every room of the house.  I am scared that I cannot stop this virus from hurting my family.  But I know in the midst of my fear and panic, in the midst of our fear and panic, God does not run away.  God goes into the those places, into these quarantined places and brings good news of great joy for all the world to hear.  

I want you to know that there isn’t a place God is not present.  

    • If you are sitting at home this morning, God is there.  
    • IF you are sitting in a hospital room, God is there.  
    • If you are a health care worker pulling 12, 15, 20, 24 hour shifts, God is with you.  
    • If you are stuck at home with 2 or 3 kids about ready to go insane, God is with you (and God is probably about ready to go insane with you.) 
    • If you are stuck in a lab working on a cure for this virus, God is with you. 
    • If you are a restaurant worker, barista, or someone who relies on customers coming into your work and purchasing food and you find fewer and fewer coming in, God is with you.
    • If you a student looking forward to your senior year, if you are someone who has been working in a play or another art project, if you are someone who has been looking forward to opening day, if you are someone who has been looking forward to March Madness only to become very disappointed, God is with you.  

You are invited this day, to come and see.  You are invited this day to come and see this amazing power of our God.  God’s Love is the only constant thing in this world.  The rest of the world might spinning out of control, but God’s love will not leave you. Right now, in the midst of all this fear and uncertainty, the world needs a savior.  May we be as bold as the samaritans in our proclamation and may you have the faith to trust in moments like this, that Jesus Christ is our savior.

In the name of the father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

I am miserable

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17    
Psalm 51    
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10    
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21  
Ash Wednesday
February 26, 2019
I Feel Miserable
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    I am not like most Christians.  I rather enjoy feeling miserable in worship.  I do not enjoy singing hymns that make me feel good inside.  I despise David Haas and Marty Haugen for their cheerful lyrics and happy melodies.  I want those hymns written in minor keys that leave you trembling  after you are done singing.  I want those German chorales where nobody knows how to sing them and when you get done singing, you look around at everyone’s faces and you see the terror in their eyes as they wonder, “What did we just sing?”  That is what I love and it is a wonder why anyone would entrust me with picking the hymns for worship. 

    Anyone remember the movie Sister Act?  There was the one scene between the nuns where they were talking about the different covenants they had lived in over the year.  

This older nun, Sister Mary Lazarus said: A progressive convent? Sounds awful. I liked my convent in Vancouver. Out in the woods. It wasn't all modern like some of these new-fangled convents. We didn't have electricity. Bare feet, cold water. They were nuns.
Sister Mary Patrick: Sounds wonderful!
Sister Mary Lazarus: It was hell on earth, I loved it. This place is a Hilton.

I am sister Mary Lazarus.  This is my time of year.  I love Lent for its somber tone, for its reflective nature, for its mournful hymns, for the way it makes me feel.  And then there are others, like my mom, who hate this time of year.  For they do not like the somber tone, they do not need the reflective nature of Lent, they hate the funeral dirges we sing, or for the way Lent might makes them feel.

    There are many who see church as a place that is suppose to give followers a positive, uplifting experience.  They see the pastor as the motivative speaker who gets ups and preaches a sermon of how you can do it if you only set your minds to it.  Well, the last time I checked, you all call me Pastor Matt.  A pastor is not a motivational speaker for good reason.  Pastors have to do things that sometime make them very unpopular and downright hard to say.  A pastor is someone who comes along side you and walks with you.  Sometimes, a pastor cannot make you feel better.  Sometimes the only thing a pastor can do is simply be with you and be that presence of God for you.  Sometimes bad things happen to good people...Actually, it happens all the time.  There are a lot of people who come to this place to bury a love one.  The church cannot always be a place that makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside because life is not always going to present us with warm and fuzzy things.  The church mirrors life and this is why we need this season of Lent.  

    For today we stop our busy lives, we come into this place that typically brings us great joy, and we trace burned palm branches onto our foreheads.  We remember our mortality and the mortality of our neighbors.  We not only hear the words, “remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” but we see it. We see death—we see death on the foreheads of our neighbors.  And there is no way to escape death.  Today should make us feel lousy on the inside, but it should push us to make a change.

    Last May, I was at the beach with my friends.  Pastor Jason Felici had been trying to get me to think about working on eating healthier.  I kept ignoring him but he was a good friend and never gave up.  Unintentionally, he took a picture of me holding a tray of crabs and I saw how unhealthy I had become.  I realized at that moment that I might not see my kid graduate high school if I continued eating whatever I wanted without realizes the consequences.  That photographed scared me to make a change and I stand before you 27 pounds lighter almost a year later.  I tell you this story because today has the power to make you desire a similar change.  Whether you see it on the foreheads of your neighbors or in the reflection of your own forehead, I hope these ashes propel you make a change.

    I want today to scare you.  I want you to realize that your time on earth is not eternal.  I want you to think about your mortality and the legacy you are going to leave behind.  Are you happy with where you are at in your life?  Spiritually? Professionally? Family? Notice what the psalmist says:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
   and put a new and right spirit within me. 
Do not cast me away from your presence,
   and do not take your holy spirit from me. 
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
   and sustain in me a willing spirit.

God wants you to look in the mirror and see someone that is worth changing.  God wants you to see that you are not perfect, that you are not the best that you can be, that you need redemption, that you need Jesus’ saving, work on the cross. 

    As much as we might not enjoy this season of Lent, we need this season of Lent.  If you go through life thinking everything is great, how great you life is, feeling like you are God’s gift to humanity—you will miss the real gift given to humanity—Jesus.  So, I want you to heed our Lord’s words this day from Matthew 6:  I want to encourage you live differently this Lent by giving alms, praying, and fasting, and to no  store up treasures “where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal.”  I also want you to heed the words of our Lord that tell us the dangers as acting as hypocrites.  But first, understand that hypocrites are not people who pray out loud or who go church.  Hypocrites are people who go to church for political or social benefits.  Jesus is not saying we should hide away in our rooms to pray, but that we should careful and understand why we are doing these things in public, in the first place. If you are here to make yourself look good to others, then that is what hypocrites do.  But if you are here to deepen your faith and trust in God, then by all means, carry on.      

    But even after you get past that hurdle, Lent will still be hard.  So, might I suggest we turn to our children for some advice.  Over and over, Jesus talks about our right hand not knowing what our left had is doing.  What group of people do not know their left hand from their right? Our children. Depending on Thomas’ mode, he might be really excited to get ashes on his forehead or he might not want any part of it, but as his loving father, I will still bring him forward.  He is not sure why he needs his ashes but trusts me.  He trusts me enough to know that this is the best thing for him.  Thomas might not want to pray before bed, but we still do it.  I want you to come forward unsure but with that same kind of trust that Thomas has for me—God will not fail you or hurt you. And you already made that first step.  You are here in this place.  The Holy Spirit has led you to this place for a reason.  

    You have come here for a reason.  See this time,  this moment, this season of Lent as a second chance and may the Holy Spirit be with you as the Holy Spirit is with us now.  May the journey treat you well, and may your heart be forever renewed, refreshed, and cleaned this Lent.  

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
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