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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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
for all the firstborn are mine; when I killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for my own all the firstborn in Israel, both human and animal; they shall be mine. I am the Lord.
To anyone who claims Jesus was all for throwing out the law as rubbish, point them to this text in Luke 2. Jesus was brought up in respect for the law and the intent of the law. "The tension Jesus has with the Law is never that of an outsider, but as one who has faithfully observed the divine expectations. Practices of the law that subvert God's command to love are unacceptable requirements. Those practices are what Jesus calls out. And Jesus is not anti-Temple. Rather, Luke envisions a temple open to all that seek the presence of God, distinguishing between pausing to worship and honor God from practices that oppress and dishonor others."
Consecrate to me all the firstborn; whatever is the first to open the womb among the Israelites, of human beings and animals, is mine.
The Prophet Anna's, who sat in the temple day and night, fasting and praying to the Lord, upon seeing the Baby Jesus recognize that God had acted. That God had indeed done a wonderful thing. That God was present. Upon witnessing the Lord, they both proclaimed him with joy and this beautiful hymn of praise to God became the cornerstone, of sorts, to our Liturgy.
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’
Apparently the pastor forgot the passage from the gospel that say, "Let the little children come to me." The pastor apparently didn't want to ruin the experience of, and I quote from the pastor himself, "300 people because of a crying child. That’s why we have TVs in the outside, that’s why we have a nursery." Apparently what Jesus meant when he said, "Follow me" was to really just keep our mouths shut and not to disturb anyone else's faith experience.
"Two of the biggest problems with nondenominational, megachurch-style pop worship is that the pastor, who usually functions as a self-appointed pseudo-bishop, often has an inflated sense of self-importance. He and the house cover band are the stars of the show, and aim to give their congregation audience the best entertainment their dollars can buy. United Church in Gallatin, TN is an aspiring megachurch pastored by Dan Smith. Apparently as Danny Boy began his sermon this past Sunday, there was a child who made a noise, described by witnesses as little more than a peep."
I don’t know about you but that sounds a lot like asking the older members to stay away.
"They were requested to move to an alternative worship for 15 to 18 months during this transition time but they were never asked to stay away for two years."
Yet again, the words from Jesus were simply, "Follow me." Jesus did not say "Follow me if you fall within the 18-30 young adult bracket." Church is one of the few places left in the world that are intergenerational. Schools are not intergenerational. Some workplaces are but not like church. Don't get me wrong, I love young families in church. I do. I really do. But I also love 40 year olds, 50 year olds, 60, 70, 80, and the 90 year olds. I love people of all ages. The health of any congregation is not determined by the average age but by the spiritual practices. I seriously would be lost if it were not for you all who watch Thomas. He has like 15 grandparents in each of our congregations. I love visiting our shut-ins. I love going to the hospital when a little Baby has been born. I grew up going to mostly older congregations and I am here today not because I went to some hip church, but because people were faithful to the gospel and their faithfulness inspired something within me. They nurtured my faith. They allow me to make mistakes and say stupid things. They were an amazing group of people who happened to be a bit older. There is nothing wrong with having both older adults and younger adults in a congregation. Actually, it is quiet good to have a good mix because a church is a place where the sacraments are administered, the gospel is preached, and the saints (of all ages, races, and creeds) worship together.
"For 70-year-old Bill Gackstetter, who has been a member of the congregation for about 10 years, the message was that only young families were wanted. He said the note he received said that the campus would be "going dark" and its current parishioners, many of whom are older, were "no longer allowed to go there." "I just couldn't believe it," he told CNN."
As I hold my now 2 and a half year old son, I can't imagine a king killing him in order to protect this throne. Yet, I feel compelled each year to hear this part of the birth of Jesus because I know the reality for most people after Christmas is that we find ourselves in similar situations of weeping and mourning. One commentator says it best:
When the evening gently closes in
and you shut your weary eyes,
I’ll be there as I have always been,
with just one more surprise.
As a general theme, life after Christmas is not all that sweet. Following the birth there is anger and murder, weeping and wailing, moving and resettling. After our wonderful Christmas celebrations we are again confronted with the fact that the kingdom has not fully arrived. The "peace on earth" sung by the angels at Jesus' birth (in Luke), is followed by death and destruction, suffering and evil (according to Matthew's account).
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