4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12

"And you want me to do what?"

Isaiah 66:10-14       
Psalm 66:1-9    
Galatians 6:[1-6]7-16    
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20     
 Proper 9
July 7, 2019
"And You want me to do what?"
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    I have titled this sermon as "And You want me to do what?" because I can imagine what the 70 followers must have been thinking when Jesus sent them out.  This is the second time that Jesus is sending out his followers.  The first time was in Luke 9 when he sent out the 12.  Apparently, it worked out really well. Luke writes, "They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere." So, Jesus takes it one step further.  He sends out not just the 12 disciples, but the whole church.

    In the Mormon church, each member must do two years of missionary work.  Those guys you see on bikes, knocking on doors, passing out books—they are doing their missionary work.  They go out, two by two and their missionary work has paid off.  At one point in time, the fasted growing faith in America was Mormon and this is a group of people who do not believe in the Trinity; who do not baptize as our Lord commands.  Could you imagine if we added that assignment to the Lutheran Church?  Would you all stick around?  Would you even do it?  Or do we just say that is the Pastor's job to do evangelism?

    This is not just a St. John's mentality.  It is a entire mainline church mentality.  We think evangelism and missionary work should be done by other institutions, agencies, specialty trained pastors.  We have passed the buck away from the congregation and look what it has gotten us.  The job of the church, the congregation, each and every member in the body of Christ is to proclaim "The kingdom of God has come near to you." Plain and simple.  And it is down-right terrifying to send you all out into the midst of wolves.  Often we overlook the ending of the liturgy called "The Sending."  We just see it as something to get through quickly so that we can all go home, but that is a serious moment.  The church is sending you and your neighbor out to preach the kingdom and it is possible that some of you might not be able to return next week.  

    In the days of the early church, the threat of capture was real.  Today, we are blessed to live in a land were such persecution of Christians is rare.  In some ways I believe we as the whole church, have lost our motivation, our desire, to want to tell others about God's kingdom drawing near to us.  We have no urgency.  We are comfortable with the ways things are and we are in no real crunch to make changes to our daily, Christian lifestyle.  We are okay with letting others do our work.

    Luke is the only gospel that has the sending of the 70.  None of the other gospels include this pericope.  I think that is odd and at the same time, I think Luke, Pastor Luke was facing a similar situation that mainline Christianity is facing today—we are afraid to engage outsiders.  We are afraid to go knock on someone else’s door and for good reason.  The news is full of stories of people being killed or mugged.  I think Luke includes this pericope because his church was afraid of outsiders and I think, deep down, we are afraid too.  Maybe some of us are afraid of the bad guys out there, but I think the majority of our fear lies in having a door slammed in our face.  We are all afraid of rejection.  We are afraid of someone making fun of us for inviting them to worship with us.  We are afraid to tell someone about our faith in Jesus Christ because they might make fun of us.  It is like we are all back in the 8th grade, and we forget what Jesus says: “Whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you.’" You move on.  You don't let one person's words set the tone of your ministry.  You go out into the street, you shake it off, and you go to the next house, the next town, and you engage the next person because the kingdom of God has come near regardless of the stranger's willingness to listen and welcome you into their home.  

    As I mentioned earlier, there is another sending in Luke’s gospel.  There are three common instructions given to both the 12 and the 70 that are worth noting for us today.  Eat what is provided, heal the sick, and announce the kingdom.  That is what the church is charged to do.  That is what each and everyone one of us is called, equipped, and sent out to do by the Holy Spirit.  We must learn how to be dependent on others.  Put the debit card away and let someone else make you supper.  And I have to tell you, that is something I struggle with today.  

    I went to a boundary workshop and during the workshop, the leader talked about how when he visits shut-ins, he rarely accepts a drink because he doesn’t want to take any time away from his visit nor does he want to place any undue burden on those whom he was visiting to fix him something.  And I have to admit, I feel the same way.  I schedule visits for after lunch so that I do not force a shut-in to have to feed me a meal, though the times I do visit shut-ins and members over lunch have always proved to be wonderful and holy time.  And while I have my reasons, is this current practice against what the Lord commands? Eat what is provide.  In some ways, all of us hate being dependent on someone else.  We all hate group work, yet it group work that our Lord calls us to do.  

    We are also called to heal the sick.  In James 5:13-17, it says:

13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 

This is all Biblical.  This is something we believe to be true, but do any of us do it?  Do any of us actually gather the elders of the church together to pray over the sick or in the very least, think to call a Pastor before they call the doctor. And that is not to say that a doctor should not be consulted, but where does faith fit into the treatment of cancer, heart disease, orthopedic needs, or of a simple case of the flu?  The church needs to play a vital role in the health of people, otherwise we are no more than a social justice organization with sacraments.  Prayer matters, it works, and our mission as a church needs to have care of the sick as one of its chief endeavors.  

    I am blessed to serve a congregation who supports me in this work.  Two weeks ago, I went and spent time with a member in Ruby Memorial in Morgantown.  I was gone for two days.  You all could have told me to not go.  You could have refused to pay my milage or demanded that I spend my time doing other things deemed more important.  But you allowed me to go and it was a holy thing to be Wayne; to meet and talk with Colin and Devin about their wedding and their new son still in the NICU at the time; to see Elisabeth, Matthew, Laken at Camp Luther.  It is important and vital to our work that those who cannot make it here each week are told of the kingdom of God.  And you all see this not only as my work but there is a number of you all who take not the work of visitation as well.

    The world is a very different place than what it was 2000 years ago.  In many ways, our world has gotten smaller—it is easier to travel over long distances and cell phones and other technology allow us to communicate with anyone anywhere on the planet.  Multiculturalism, religious pluralism are all welcomed changes to the world.  Diversity is something that we seek out rather than shy away from.  As the world changes around us, we find ourselves looking deep at ourselves and wonder what we have to offer to other people—does our mission still have relevance for people who do not share the same culture and faith as our own.  Do we comprise our mission to meet the needs of those around us?  "It is not that the mission of the church has become unnecessary or impractical, but simply that the changing conditions of the communities in which we live are forcing us to rethink the gospel's teaching about the mission of those who follow Jesus and to find avenues of obedience that are effective and appropriate for our times as well as faithful to Jesus' teaching."  What we preach cannot change—the kingdom of God is near.  But how we go about this work might look different from the days when Jesus sent out his followers two by two.  It might involve social media, digital media, VBS even—but we must still go out and do proclaim the kingdom.  We cannot remain silent.
 
   Regardless of how we proclaim the kingdom, the results will be same. Some will reject us.  Some will welcome us into their private lives and will want to hear more about this Jesus.  Are you ready to go out?  I know you might not feel ready.  I know for some of you that the thought of telling someone about your faith might make you want to throw up, but if our Lord was willing to send a bunch of people out in his name, why should I hold any of you back?  Why should you be afraid?
    And I think you will surprise yourself as the followers of Jesus surprised themselves.  As the the seventy returned with joy, they were saying, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!" If the demons are no threat, nothing is a threat to our mission.   Not even Satan can prevail against those who come in the name of Jesus.  My brothers and sisters, I know things are different from the days of Jesus and it might seem as though the idea of sending followers out seems archaic and downright dangerous, but I beg to differ.  I beg you to reconsider and pray that the Holy Spirit will kindle in your hearts a desire to engage the world around us in the good news of Jesus Christ. "The context, means, and forms of the mission change continually [for the church], but its basis for God's redemptive love remains constant."

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

An Unwavering Commitment is Ahead

1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21        
Psalm 16      
Galatians 5:1, 13-25    
Luke 13:18-21      
Proper 8 (Installation of Mustard Seed)
June 30, 2019
An Unwavering Commitment is Ahead
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    "To what shall I compare the kingdom of God?  It is like a Mustard Seed..." 18 years ago, you all took on a major commitment.  Start a preschool to help nurture the minds of young children.  18 plus years ago, you all had a vision.  Kathy was just telling me about this vision at Mutual Ministry meeting the other morning.  You all had a vision to start a school that would outlast Pastor Riley and other lay leadership.  You all would start a school and here we are, 18 years later, installing Mrs. Christy Costello as 4th director to lead our school.

    The Mustard Seed is a unique place.  Over half of the staff have been with the Mustard Seed for over 10 years.  Christy has been here for 18 years.  Her first class of pre-schoolers graduated High School this past May and for the most part, she still keeps in touch with all of them.  When I came here three years ago, the board took on the hard task of laying out a future for the school.  We prayed for God's Spirt to come upon us and help us determine which direction we need to go.  We developed a vision and mission statement.  We began the hard work of building relationships with parents, students, teachers, and the congregation.  Work that is still ongoing.  

    One thing that Mrs. Christy said in her interview was the importance of having a connection between the congregation and the Mustard Seed—That it is vital to the success of the Mustard Seed that their be connection to the work we do as a Lutheran congregation in downtown Martinsburg and to the work that the school is doing. Coming here together today and publicly committing the office of director to Mrs. Christy during our Sunday Morning worship is just the start of building this relationship.  It is my hope that in the future, we set aside one Sunday a year to celebrate all things Mustard Seed and that we as a congregation continue to pray, lift up, hold accountable, and affirm the work the Mustard Seed is doing.  But Mrs. Christy’s installation is not the only reason we are here this morning.  The Word of God is front and center—the chief reason as to why we gather.  

    Part of the mission of the Mustard Seed is to create a nurturing environment that provides an exceptional Christian education. You can't have Christian Education without the Word of God.  Even the name of the school is named for a particularly meaningful parable.  The text appointed for today, as found in your Celebrate is a good text.  It’s a fine text and had we been doing a regular, Sunday worship I would have preached on this text.  But this appointed text in your Celebrate is a little terrifying for the kids:

"Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."

If we are going to give thanks to God for the Mustard Seed, we need to talk about the Parable of the Mustard Seed.  The name that the school choose was not chosen by accident, but was intended to set the foundation for the future of the school.  The Mustard Seed is a parable about planting seeds.

    But not just any seeds; its about planting weeds.  Yes, weeds.  Pesky weeds.  But Pastor, the text says the Mustard Seed grows into a tree where the birds of the air can dwell and live safe and secure.  Yes, that is exactly what it says.  However, most people today, unless you grew up on a farm, don’t know much about wild mustard.  It is a weed that farmers spray in order to get rid of it.  Jesus is preaching to farmers who know all about wild mustard, the real question here is “why is Jesus describing the Kingdom of God like a weed?”  
 
   To understand this strange comparison, we first must understand why Jesus would use a parable in the first place.  If you have been coming to St. John's for a while, you probably know this parable definition and are about to roll your eyes as I repeat for the 50th time, but none-the-less it is always helpful to have a refresher and very important for anyone joining us for the first time:  
Parables function as metaphors, metaphors challenging or inviting the audience into a new or deeper experience of God’s dominion, a dominion identified with those who are the LAST, LOST, LEAST, LITTLE, & LIFELESS.`

When Jesus uses a parable, his intent is to remind the people that the Kingdom of God is not for the powerful and prestigious, but can be found in the last, lost, least, little, and lifeless; the kingdom of God has the most power for people who have nothing left to give; for people who are powerless; for people who have no voice; for people who have no way to take care of themselves. People like 2 years old, 3 years olds, 4 years old.  People who like to shove things up their noses, who could not make their own meals or even go to the bathroom on their own.  The kingdom of God is for people like our children at the Mustard Seed just as much it is for us adults, just as much as it is for the poor, neglected, despised, hated people of our community and world.  

    Often when we think of the kingdom of God, we think big.  We think of the pearly gates, streets covered in gold, huge mansions.  In the Old Testament, the kings (who are often portrayed as bumbling fools the further down the line they went) described the kingdom of God as a mighty and tall cedar where the birds of the air can make their nest and dwell safely on the trees branches.  Mustards plants are by no means as tall as a cedar tree.  They can hardly stand up on their own. Maybe you will find a mature one that is about the size of the shrub, but a shrub is no cedar.  With that knowledge of the true nature of a Mustard plant, "Jesus' emphasis is, therefore, not on the glory of the future kingdom but on the present sign of its presence.  The mustard seed is a parable of the kingdom’s beginnings, not its final manifestation."  How fitting that the name chosen for our school, a place where we walk and educate children in the very beginning of their life, is called the Mustard Seed.  How fitting of a name for a school that might be small when compared to others, but in this smallness is able to create an environment where children are introduced to the love of God at a very early age, through a program where we seek to provide an exceptional Christian educational experience, plant seeds for a love of learning, and meet a children’s developmental needs.  How fitting of a name for a school which serves as such a humble beginning in a child's life but has the potential to effect a child's future for many years to come.  

    We often expect the kingdom of God to come in like a mighty cedar.  We often read the Bible and see Jesus as this mighty, powerful, towering figure.  This parable reminds us that even though Jesus ministry might have been accompanied by mighty deeds, "it was like a mustard seed, merely a promise of a mature plant.  Had [Jesus’] opponents read the scriptures more closely, they might have recognized that they should have been looking for the sprig God had promised to plant rather than a full-grown cedar."  

    Christy, 18 years ago you started here as a teacher.  18 years later, those children are all grown up into adults, about to face a world that can be a wonderful place to live and at other times a terrifying place. 18 years later, these children are about to go out into the world and change the world.  Some will be teachers, some will be HVAC technicians, some will be college students, maybe one or two might be a pastor.  Their future is not yet set, but you, this entire institution, and this congregation played a vital role in setting them up to face this world.  You planted a weed and look at what God can do with weeds—create a place where we might safely dwell with the Lord, God almighty.  

    The seeds we plant today might not produce mighty cedar trees.  The seeds we plant today might very well be consider as weeds by the world—weeds that the world tells us to pull and destroy, but we, as Christians, as educators, as fellow heirs of God’s kingdom see the potential that these weeds have for world.  That these weeds will one day grow into a shrub and be a safe, dwelling place for all of God's people, from the smallest to the oldest, the richest to the poorest, and everything in between. For God’s Kingdom knows no bounds Christy, Nicki, Melissa, Megan, Wendy, Jenny, Angel, Sonja, Shannon and people of God: do not worry about planting cedar trees. Do as your Lord commands and continue to plant weeds and watch what God can do with them.

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

Do we still believe in demons?

Isaiah 65:1-9       
Psalm 22:19-28      
Galatians 3:23-29    
Luke 8:26-39      
Proper 7
June 23, 2019
Do we still believe in Demons?

Pastor Diane joined us this morning for pulpit exchange.  Click the link above to hear her message.  

Where are we being guided?

Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31        
Psalm 8       
Romans 5:1-5    
John 116: 12-15      
Holy Trinity Sunday
June 16, 2019
Where are we being guided?
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    When I sat down to plan out this summer's sermon titles, I envisioned Pentecost and Holy Trinity Sunday being a two part sermon.  Last week, I wanted to focus on how the Holy Spirit, the paraklet, comes along side each of us, guides you, leads you, sanctify you.  I thought it was a fitting reminder as seven of our young adults made a profession of their faith that we be reminded that the Holy Spirit does this for each of us.  That these young people are not our future, that Christ Jesus is our future and the Holy Spirit is the one who is doing the leading and stop turning to people like Rebekah, Jordyn, Danica, Justin, Christian, Matthew, or Dylan or even myself to save the church, that we stop electing human saviors and trust in the one who was actually named our savior, Jesus Christ. 

    So, in my way of thinking, last week I wanted to focus on where God was leading us individually and this week, focus on where God is leading us collectively as a church.  What part does the church play in God's new reality?  How can we come together as a community of many voices and speak as one, loud booming voice and what we will we say? So, hopefully I accomplish this by the end of the sermon.  I leave that determination in your hands.

    Bishop Kallistos Ware, a bishop in the Eastern Orthodox Church once said, "...it is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery.  God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder." Something that I admire greatly about the eastern liturgy is the wonder that it creates.  Their liturgy is absolutely foreign to what we do here in the western church.  I have been a couple times to churches that uses this rite and I have absolutely no idea what is happening most of the time, but yet I can't seem to turn away.  Their liturgy has a way of drawing people that makes one want to know more.  I want to know what it all means, what is happening, but more important, I want to know what is happening in those places hidden to the congregation’s eyes.

    Eastern churches have this large iconostasis in front of the altar and in this wall there are three sets of doors.  The door in the middle allows you to see the altar.  On either side of main door is a door for the priest and on the other side is a door for the deacon. The doors stay close till worship begins. When worship begins, the priest or deacon enters thrOugh the side doors and opens the middle door allowing you to see the altar. The Iconostasis blocks off parts of the altar area.  You can't see all that happens during worship.  Things are often said in sotto voce by the priest and deacon making it hard to understand what is going on.  Often you catch a glimpse of what is happening but then they move back and you can't see anything until all of a sudden, the priest is standing before you with the bread and wine, beckoning you to come forward and receive the blessed sacrament.  As Bishop Ware said, it is not our job to answer questions, but it is our job to show forth the mystery of our God.  The Eastern Rite, in some ways, does a much better job of this.  Things do not always have to make sense, what is important is that in the midst of things we cannot understand, the presence of our Lord comes into midst and we are invited to come forward and become more like the thing that we eat—the body of Christ in the world.

    We should not be afraid to leave people with unanswered questions about God.  In the Western Rite, we often feel like we need to explain everything that happening.  While I think it is helpful to a point, eventually it is best to just let the actions and the words speak for themselves.  Holy Trinity Sunday teaches us that a healthy dose of wonder and awe is good for us all to have because if we think we understand everything there is about God, why then should any of us continue to come here?  Why should any of us bother to read the Bible?  Why should any of us bother with sending kids to camp, or working for months to plan one week of VBS, or going through the hoops to be confirmed, or do anything to deepen our faith?  

    Wonder and awe of God led the Psalmist to write, "When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?" Imagine the psalmist going out into a field late at night.  Going out into a field where their is no light pollution, where most of the world is still unknown and unexplored, looking up into the heavens, seeing so many stars, seeing so many that we cannot see today because of the artificial light that surrounds us.  Imagine being that psalmist, looking into the heavens, without the knowledge that we have of the universe now, imagine how small you feel but yet God cares about the psalmist, God cares about you and me, God cares about humanity, that God makes us into God's own image and in the words of the psalmist, "made [us] a little lower than God, and crowned [us] with glory and honour." If the psalmist knew God fully, he would not have wrote Psalm 8.  

    If humanity knew God fully, we would not need Jesus or the Holy Spirit.  Humanity needs Jesus and it is for this very reason that the mystery of God exist.  God remains a mystery, but God choose to reveal to the world part of God's self through sending us Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh; and Holy Spirit, the one who comes along side of us.  

    But even having Jesus and the Holy Spirit does not mean we fully understand God.  As Jesus says in verse 12 of the gospel lesson, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now."  Jesus did not tell the disciples all the mysteries of God because we cannot comprehend or maybe even bear to know God as Jesus knows God.  Our minds could not handle it. Maybe there are things about God that we rather not know or understand.  A great example of this revolves around the questions of theodicy, of why do bad things happen to good people.  This past week, John Stewart gave a very impassioned speech on Capital Hill about the 9/11 fund. In doing so, he reminded us of a day 18 years ago when 3000 individuals lost their lives.  Why did God not stop those planes from hitting those buildings or from crashing into that field?  Many have asked that question over these past 18 years with no clear answer ever given but what is for sure is that the Holy Spirit has remained with us throughout these years and helped us see that God was not absent on that fateful day but was present in the pain and suffering of all those who felt lose and continue to feel the effects of that fateful day.  

    God remains a mystery, but we are not completely stumped on the person of God.  For 2000 years, theologians, pastors, lay people have explored the God-head, three in one, and have notice some characteristics.  St. Paul notes in his letter to the Romans that because we are justified by faith, we have peace with God. The phrase, “peace of God” is not a phrase in other parts of the scriptures.  Peace in Paul's day was often played along side Roman peace.  Peace if you kept your mouth shut and let Rome do whatever Rome wanted to do.  Paul identifies peace coming from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.  And this peace does not mean everything will go our way.  In fact, God's peace is not devoid of suffering.  Paul says, "suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us." Peace from God does not mean suffering is no more but it does leads us to hope.  Hope that God can take down the evil one.  Hope that God can bring even the dead back to life.  Hope that God cares about a sinner as bad myself.  It is in this hope that we rest assured God will save us. God's very nature cannot be understood outside of the care for us, the care for you and me.  

    God so infinitely powerful, whose mysteries cannot ever be fully understood, loves you, me, us, this world, and offers us real peace.  Other gods in Paul day were not known for their peace.  The Greco-Roman gods were often avoided by others.  Infinitely powerful beings have a lot of time on their hands and the people believed that these gods would come and mess with humanity when they got bored.  Logic of the day would say that the gods should not be sought out but Paul rewrites the logic of the day and says our God, the real God, should be sought out because our God gives us peace. An infinitely powerful being is on our side and we are called to continue to explore God's nature and seek out God's love and peace. And when we take on this work of exploring who God is, we can stand with confidence knowing the Holy Spirit will come along side us, will come along side the church and lead us down the right path.  It should be our fervent prayer that we pray to God to continue to lead us, to continue to speak to us through the spirit, and give us the peace that can only come from our God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  

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

Where are you being guided?

Acts 2:1-21         
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b       
Romans 8:12-17    
John 14:8-17, 25-27      
Pentecost (Confirmation Sunday)
June 9, 2019
Where are you being guided?
 
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    It was about a year ago that the news was all a buzz over the Royal Wedding. Prince Harry and Megan Markle were married on the 19th of May, 2018.  And they asked an American Bishop by the name of Michael Curry to preach at their wedding.  He gave a powerful sermon that stunned the world.  The sermon was so good that it got him a place on the Today Show where the host were asking him questions about his message: how did he craft it, what was his inspiration, where did he learn how to preach that way?  

    I must admit, I did not watch the wedding.  I really do not enjoy weddings so the thought of watching one on TV was not high on my list of things to do.  But I do remember being on facebook and seeing everyone posting about Bishop Curry’s message.  So I went on YouTube and watched it.  If you have not heard his message, go home and listen to it.  It is a powerful message; a message that you don’t normally get to hear at a wedding because we are all to often focused on other things, the least of them being worship of the most high God.  Bishop Curry preached: 

    Someone once said that Jesus began the most revolutionary movement in human history.
    A movement grounded in the unconditional love of God for the world - and a movement mandating people to live that love, and in so doing to change not only their lives but the very life of the world itself.
    When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again.
    When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.
    When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.
    When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more.
    When love is the way, there's plenty good room - plenty good room - for all of God's children.
    "Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well... like we are actually family.

What I admire most about this message is that Bishop Curry didn’t neglect the gospel on this day.  On a day when the world was more concerned with who Megan Markle’s was wearing and about the flowers, and the parties that followed,Bishop Curry did what he was called to do—preach the gospel.  He had a microphone and he used it.  He didn’t back down to the pressure to just get up and say a few words and sit back down.  He used the microphone given to him and he preached a message that impact more lives than just the two who had come into that church to make marriage vows to each other.  It was a once in a lifetime moment and  Bishop Curry used it well.  So well in fact, that after Bishop Curry returned to his seat, you can see Prince Harry say to his wife, “Wow.”

    As we gather here today to ponder the mystery of Holy Spirit moving in the church 2000 year ago, I am drawn to how the Spirit led people like Peter to preach such memorable messages.  I think about the words from the gospel of John that say, “...the paraklet, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”  The Holy Spirit is who gave Peter the ability to stand before that group assembled outside where the disciples were meeting in prayer and worship.  The Holy Spirit empowered Peter to speak a powerful message, a powerful sermon on God’s new reality long foretold by prophets.  He used the microphone that day and the people gathered, the world as it seems according to Acts 2:6, the world gathered outside the first church’s door, and heard a message of hope—hope that can only come through faith in Jesus Christ. 

    Peter used the microphone that God gave him that day and changed the world with his message. Bishop Curry used the microphone that God gave him on May 19, 2018 and preached a message of love that forever changed the world.  Rebekah, Jordyn, Danica, Justin, Christian, Matthew, Dylan what has the Holy Spirit placed in your heart this day?  Are you just grateful to be done with confirmation.  “Oh thank God its over.” I hate to tell you this, you are not done today.  Well, you don’t have to come back for classes in the fall, unless you really want to.  You still, though, need to continue in your study of the scriptures, the creed, and the 10 commandments.  You still need to come to worship and receive the body and blood of Christ.  You don’t get to stop being a faithful member of this community because of the affirmation of faith that you will make today.  No, your confirmation today is not a get out of church free card.  I still expect great things out of you, not because you received the best confirmation experience that money could buy, not because Bess and I are like the coolest confirmation teachers in the whole world, not because you do well in school or sports or other extra-curricula activities.  No, I expect amazing things to come from you because I know the paraklet is with you.  I know the Holy Spirit is with you. The one who will be your Advocate, your comforter, your counselor, you helper will be with you.  The Holy Spirit will hand you what you need to do God’s work whether it be a microphone, a pen, a computer keyboard, or whatever tool it might be and you will do will of God.  The only reason I am in this pulpit, or any pulpit for the matter, is because of the Holy Spirit. When I was a child, I had difficultly speaking, I  had to see a speech pathologist all the way through middle school, and now I am  preacher of the word of God.  My brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit makes the impossible, possible.  Never forget that.

    And my other brothers and sisters, I need you to do me a huge favor this day.  I need you to stop saying that these young people are the future of the church.  They are not our future.  Jesus Christ is our future.  These young people will make mistakes.  They will fail despite the Holy Spirit coming along side of them and leading them.  Peter and Paul were not perfect after the Holy Spirit rested on them and neither will these fine young people be perfect either.  We can’t keeping putting our faith in humanity to save the church.  The church has already been saved by Jesus Christ.  He is our future. That is the message that Peter preached—God pouring out God’s Spirit on all flesh:  Young and old, man and female, slave and free.  God is our future, not Rebekah, Jordyn, Danica, Justin, Christian, Matthew, or Dylan.  They are, however, a vital part of our future along with you, and me, and all those who gather in the name of the Lord.  The future God is laying out is going to have its ups and downs, but the one who comes along side us, the Paraclete, won’t leave us or abandoned us.  The Holy Spirit won’t ever leave you seven alone to fend for yourselves in the faith.  

    And it is my fervent prayer and I hope yours as well, that the Holy Spirit will give you the words to speak when you are called to do so, will give you the strength to speak out against injustice, will give you hope to see that nothing in all of creation can separate us from our God’s Love.  And may each and everyone of you, gathered here today before the almighty God, find the peace that can only come from our Lord Jesus, and trust God is moving and breathing among us this day and forever more.  

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

Wait, is that Him?

Acts 1:1-11        
Psalm 47       
Ephesians 1:15-23    
Luke 24:44-53      
Ascension of our Lord (transferred)
June 2, 2019
Wait, Is that Him?
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    43 days ago, we gathered in this room, in this holy place.  Some of us gathered very early in the morning.  Some of us came later.  We gathered here three days after we remembered our Lord's death on the cross.  We gathered in a hollowed out shell of a sanctuary and remembered that it is not the things that we place in this holy of place that matter but the word of God.  43 days ago, we said for the first time, "Alleluia, Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed, Alleluia." And if you came to the late service, you will remember that we had noise makers that we shook and made sing every time we said the word "Alleluia."(And I intentionally handed them out to anyone I thought was under the age of 20).

    Easter was so much fun this year.  It was beautiful coming into the church with the sun just beginning to rise.  We lit candles and turned the lights down low to remember that it was only three days ago that all hope seemed lost.  The sunrise was a wonderful way to start Easter.  Quietly pondering the paschal mystery.  And then after we had some breakfast and coffee, coming back into this space and singing, "Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!". It felt like old times, right? When the church was so full with people, we were running out of seats for them.  Right? The good old days of the church.  The days when we had hope for the future.  

    The Sunday after Easter, it sure felt like back to normal.  Back to the same old, same old stuff.  And maybe for the past few weeks, it has not felt the same. Maybe you feel like the energy of Easter morning has quickly dissipated.  Maybe you are wondering as the disciples wondered, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?"  "Back to us..."  Return us back to the days when we couldn't fit everyone into the sanctuary worship on a Sunday? 
    You know, is it not strange how the same writer of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts would record the same story of Jesus ascending into heaven, but tell it differently two different times.  I mean, it would make sense if we had two different authors, but all the evidence suggest the same author.  

    Look in Luke for second.  Open up your celebrate inserts to the gospel.  Let's look at the order of events and what is said by Jesus and the disciples.
  • First, Jesus reminds them that everything written about him in the law, the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.
  • Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 
  • Then Jesus reminds them that the cross was necessary in order to fulfill God's plans for salvation.  He says, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 
  • He tells the disciples, "48You are witnesses of these things." 
  • Then he talks about the coming of the Holy Spirit.  
  • After all of this, he takes them on a walk and while they are on the walk, he ascends into heaven and the disciples are celebrating.  Luke tells us that they "returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God."
It is a really nice way to wrap up the gospel.  No cliffhangers.  No need for imagining what happened.  Luke tells it plainly and simply. The last thing Jesus tell the disciples is to be on the look out for the Holy Spirit.  That the Spirit will come and take over the work.  

    Okay, turn to the front page of your celebrate.  Look at the reading from Acts.  
  •     Verses 1-5 look relatively the same as the ending of the gospel.  It is a little bit different but nothing super different.  
  • Notice verse 6.  They ask Jesus 6 “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” It sounds like the disciples are a bit worried about their future and we didn’t hear that worry in the gospel.
  • Jesus goes on to say, "8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 
  • That is a change in mission statements.  Judea and Samaria is a much larger territory, much larger missionary field than Jerusalem.  And those territories are filled with, you know, "those people."
  • Now before they have a chance to process any what Jesus has just said, "he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight." They still have so many questions.  Jesus leaves them hanging a bit before they have a chance to prepare for what lies a head of them.  They stare up into the sky.  You can probably imagine a couple of them are yelling, "Wait, come back.  Don't leave us hanging! You're Jesus, not the president.  There are no term limits."
    So, if you are writing a two part book, do you need to restate what happened in the first book?  

    I am one who reads a lot of Star Trek Fan Fiction.  I especially love the books that continue a narrative left off from the show or another book.  None of those authors spend time or the paper telling me what happens in the last book.  They tell you to make sure to read the previous book so you know where we left off.  Why does Luke waste valuable space, costly space, on a story he has already told?  And if I were to read this in my fan fiction, I wonder why the author changed the ending. It is really confusing.
 
   I have seen many theories there is a different ascension account in Luke and Acts and they all have some valid points.  But I am a parish pastor and I have to wonder if Pastor Luke saw something in his congregation.  I have to wonder if Pastor Luke saw that his congregation were feeling a bit hopeless in those days after he wrote his gospel.  Maybe he found a bunch of his parishioners longingly staring into the heavens wondering when will he come back?  Why did he leave us?  Maybe they are looking at their congregation and are seeing a drop in attendance or participation.  Maybe they are facing a whole new oppression  from Rome.  They are begging God for release, for help, for our Lord to return and make things all better.  

    And here is Pastor Luke, standing before his congregation, a congregation who is feeling a bit stuck and maybe even a bit depressed.  What do you say to them? “Men [and Women] of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”  You tell them the truth.  You tell them to stop staring into the sky, wondering if that cloud up there will bring Jesus back.  You tell them to stop staring into the past and see that the Holy Spirit is next in God's ultimate plan.

    And you also tell them that Jesus never left them.   I think there is Reason that none of the other gospels include this narrative of Jesus ascending into heaven because they want their people to remember that Jesus is with us.  And I believe that is a part of Luke's narrative that we often miss. 

    My brother and sisters, we can't keep looking back to the time when the church was at its quote unquote height.  We can't keep staring up into heaven wondering, "When are we finally going to get our revenge on all those who have hurt us or persecuted us because of our faith, on those who don’t show up on Sunday morning.  For if we keep turning our backs and staring, we are going to miss the beautiful things God has laid out in front of us.  We will miss out on Athena being baptized and welcomed into our church family.  We will miss out on her growing up and becoming one of God's beloved daughters.  We will miss on all she has to offer to us, to our community, and to our world.  

    Christ will return, that is for sure.  The two men in white remind us of this good news.  But these angels also tell us that we still have work to do.  The past is in the past and that cannot be changed.  But what can be changed is what lies ahead of us.  And what lies ahead is a people who need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.  What lies ahead of us is people like Athena, McKensize, people like Jordyn and Megan, people like Kristen and Josh, people like Bev and Pat, People like Doug and his son Scott.  What lies ahead of us are the people in this room who come seeking the hope that can only be found in Jesus Christ.  

    What also lies ahead of us are people outside these four walls who do not even know how much they need Jesus and his gospel in their life, people like Lydia and her family who we heard about in Acts 16.  She was a believer in God but had no idea she needed Jesus in her life till Paul spoke to her and her entire family was baptized and became the church in Philippi.  Something that has been said to me and my wife time and time again is to not blink or we will miss Thomas growing up.  I think that is good advice for the church as well.  People of God, don’t blink because you will miss all lie ahead of you.  There are people who need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ and we need to stop staring, worrying about things that do no matter, doing things that have no meaning, driving ourselves crazy with wanting to return things as they use to be and see all that can be done through the power and the work of the Holy Spirit. 

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

Hey, You're Saved!

Acts 11:1-18         
Psalm 148       
Revelation 21:1-6     
John 13:31-35      
Easter 5
May 19, 2019
Hey, You're Saved
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    I need to tell you this funny story.  On Tuesday, Aaron sent me a text asking for a sermon title.  Originally, this was suppose to be a pulpit swap day but with the work day, we decided to move the pulpit swap to June.  So I needed to come up with a title.  A quick glance at the text and I thought, "Hey, You're Saved."  Aaron's response back to me, "I sure hope so."

    But to be honest with you for a second, I have been doing ordained ministry for 7 years now.  I started seminary 11 years ago this August.  I have grown up in the church.  I have met countless, countless individuals who believe that there is no possible way that God would ever bring them salvation.  And many of them are Lutheran.  We are the ones who have promoted since 1530 when the Augsburg Confession was presented at the Diet in Augsburg to the Emperor, "Justification by grace through faith." Yet, so many question their standing before God.  

    And I see it in the most obvious of ways when someone tells me flat out that God does not love them or in the most minuscule way when someone says something like, "Pastor, you have a direct line with God.  Your prayers reach God fast than mine." Let me set the record straight, if I was suppose to get a special phone line to God installed when I was ordained, I am still waiting on it.  There are a lot of people out there who do not feel as though they are worthy of salvation and that is something that we as a church can deal with.  We can preach better.  We can teach better, but this belief that one is not worthy of God's love will never go away because Satan loves this theology.  I truly believe it is the work of Satan when a believer lies in fear or terror of God.  Luther says we are to fear and love God, not hide from God.  God didn't destroy Adam and Eve in the Garden after they ate the forbidden fruit. God isn't going to destroy you because you're not perfect either.

    So, we have this problem with people on the inside not feeling worthy of God's love.  We also have a similar problem today that the Early church was dealing with as well.  Insiders afraid to let outsiders in.  

    In the case of the Early Church, there was a great divide between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.  And we can see this divide not only in Paul's Letters where he talks about this Gentile Christians issue in great depth, but also subtly in the Gospels where these writers try to stretch their audience's perception of God's new reality.  For example, in Matthew's gospel, the inclusion of the Magi, those Gentile-palm-readers who get and understand who Jesus is and will travel for years to just bow down in worship. They, the Gentiles, get Jesus while the insider-Jewish King, Herod, tries to kill him after he learns Jesus' true identity.  

    Matthew's community, we believe was more Jewish than Luke's community mainly because Matthew has many more of these types of Gentile stories than Luke, but Luke does deal with the great Jewish/Gentile divide in the church and we see such an example in our first lesson from Acts.

    What we first must remember when reading this story is that Peter had this vision somewhere around 30 CE.  Luke wrote the book of Acts somewhere around 85 CE.  We are talking about 50 years passing since that vision, the way the scripture sounds, verse 18 says, “when they heard this, they were silenced.  And They prayed God, saying, “Then God has given even to the the Gentile the repentance that leads to life.”  One could read this and assume the issue was close but we know from other historical documents that it was not a closed issue.  I believe Luke is using a literary technique to say to his church that look, this was not an issue back then, why are you STILL making this an issue today.   So the phrase, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Was probably a question that many were asking Luke and it less of a question of inquiry and more of statement of judgement and condemnation - "What gives you the right to go and break our laws, our customs and eat with THOSE people?"

    Peter is called before the apostles and the believers in Judea.  It would be the same as I being called before the pastors and members of all the churches in the Potomac Conference and questioned for something I have done.  Peter's credentials, his Apostolic membership is being called into question.  The one who was the first to make a confession of who Jesus was in Luke 9:20 "You are the Messiah" when all the others are too afraid to answer, when all the others were confused as to who Jesus was, Peter was the one who was willing to take a chance and be wrong.  Now he stands before the others and he is being questioned, accused of preaching a message counter to what Jesus preached—Of preaching heresy.

    But Peter, and us as well, know that he was justified in ministering to the Gentiles, to the uncircumcised.  In the 10th chapter, we hear in much more detail the events that Luke is describing again for the reader in chapter 11.  Peter's vision to eat "unclean animals" and to baptize a Roman official was justified and in fact, deemed necessary by the Holy Spirit.  God TOLD Peter to do this.  But that doesn't mean Peter was okay with this new avenue of ministry.  In his vision, he tells the Lord, "'By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’" Peter knows the law and he knows what he was taught since a child, you do not eat certain animals but yet, this voice from heaven is telling him to ignore those laws, to ignore those customs, to ignore what he knows to be true, "to get up, kill, and eat."

    And immediately after this vision, he sees three men who are coming for him, to bring him to an unnamed Gentile.  We are privy to more information in Acts 10, but nobody on the council knows the identity of the man who has sent for Peter.  Which is probably good because judging from the tone of this council, they probably would have lost their minds to know that a Roman official was now just like them, and knows what they know.

    Peter tells them that he went with the men even through they were Gentiles and was amazed to find a man and his family, a Gentile man and family, ready to hear the word of God.  And before he could even prepare them for baptism and do his baptism consult meeting, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it did to those gathered in the upper room on Pentecost.  It was at that moment that Peter realized God wanted the church to move in a different direction and that the gospel message was not just for the Jews but for the Gentiles.  "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?” 

    My brothers and sisters, while there might be a Jewish Christian and Gentile Christian divide today, we still find ways to separate ourselves.  Martin Luther King once said that most segregated hour of the week was at 11 am on Sunday morning.  It was not too long ago that we had signs on bathrooms that said whites only, colored only.  The same was true for restaurants, water fountains, schools, for buses. And if it isn't race, there is plenty out there to divide us.

    Peter was given a sign from God to know that God is signaling a new era for the church in its work of ministry.  God showed Peter a vision.  What sign is God showing us? What vision have you seen?  For we are a community that welcomes, that prays, that worries, who calls up those who are missing from our worship.  We are community that cares and we need to look at the barriers we have placed around ourselves, whether they be physical or perceived, and take them down.  To be brave like Peter and describe a new vision that God has for the church.              

If it only takes a sign/a vision for the church to change directions then let that sign be of love and service to our brothers and sisters.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  That is the vision that God has for us, my brothers and sisters.  A world where you are not identified by your clothes, or your race, your class, your gender, by whether you grew up in Baltimore or in the hills of Appalachia but by the baptismal cloth you were given when Christ clothed you with the Holy Spirit.  

    This loved-soaked vision is a good vision, but a hard vision for our world to get behind, especially when it is just so easy to put up signs, put up divisions that do not unite us but divide.  If we don't start with the love, nobody will.  If we don't start tearing down these barriers that divide us, nobody will. As Christian, my brothers and sisters, let us be the ones who set the bar for what is accepted and dare others to be like us.

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

You Sheep Got It Made

Acts 9:36-43       
Psalm 23      
Revelation 7:9-17      
John 10:22-30      
Easter 4
May 12, 2016
You Can’t Go Back to Fishing
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    Usually after Easter, I like to preach on the book of Acts.  The Book of Acts is a narrative that describes how the early church did ministry in a world where people were not Christian. Now, we live in a world where Christianity is no longer the dominate religion.  The days of Christendom have come to an end, but the church remains.  How do we do ministry that still proclaims the resurrection, the good news of Jesus Christ, while no longer having our large foothold in society?  How do we live differently post the resurrection in a world where people have never heard of Jesus Christ?  The book of Acts is our Church Manual for doing ministry today.  

    So last week in the book of acts, we heard the calling of Saul.  I was going to preach on that but I heard a great sermon on the John text at ULS the week before and felt the Holy Spirit pushing me to share some of those points with you.  The calling and conversion of Saul, his baptism by Ananias, his subsequent escape from Damascus by being lowered down the town’s wall in the middle of the night in a basket—this narrative provides us with some sense of amazement that the church continues to grow against all odds as it lives in peace, that it is enlivened by the fear of the Lord and empowered by the Spirit's encouraging presence.

    And in the midst of this excitement, of all these amazing things happening int he church, a woman dies unexpectedly. “In the midst of these success stories, which include Peter's healing activity in the area of the seacoast port of Joppa, comes this poignant story of sorrow and loss. In the midst of comfort, success, and growth, there is the painful reminder that the last enemy of death still lingers and threatens this early Christian community's and our own present day community's confidence and faith in the power and promise of Jesus' resurrection.” 

    "The vivid description and careful detail of this story describe shock at a sudden death, the preparation for burial, the viewing and visitation of the mourners, all too familiar to ones who have walked with numbness through such scenes at the death and funeral of a loved one.”

    For the past 9 chapters, we have heard success after success.  Even though Paul is breathing threats against the church, we have heard how Paul's heart is changed by God and he becomes the greatest evangelist and writer for the church.  Even though the church is scattered because of the threats against the church, the good news spreads because the church was forced out of Jerusalem.  The church is growing despite the danger in believing.  People are hearing the word of God and responding by being baptized.  Amazing things are happening and here, everything seems to stop as Peter deals with a woman who has died.  It feels out of place.  We don’t have time for death.  I don’t have time to stop and deal with this dead woman. There are things for me to do; for the church to do.

    Luke uses this phrase in verse 37—”At that time…” It is not the best translation.  “and it came to pass in those days.”  This same phrase was used by Luke to tell the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth.  How they would have a child even in Elizabeth’s old age and that this child would grow up and prepare the way of the Lord.  Luke uses this same phrase but uses it to talk about Tabitha’s death.  The Birth of a child and now the death of a faithful woman.  

    “Still in shock, the community grasps for any hope and cries out in desperation for Peter to come without delay, carefully strengthening their appeal by sending "two men" to carry their request. Peter responds by immediately coming, and upon his arrival is ushered into the "upper room" so recently identified (9:37) as the sanctuary of death. But it is also the sanctuary of grief and the outpouring of love as her friends gather around Peter and Tabitha, eager even in their weeping to detail their loss by the parade of tunics and clothing she has made, the signs of her loving and caring life. That those gathered are "all the widows" (9:39), witnesses both to the culture and the society where the poor have their suffering multiplied, and to the fact that these women have been no stranger to death. The fact that they have been in such an upper room before does not ease their grief.”

    Luke uses some unique words and phrases in this story to recall our attention to other stories we have heard before: while she was with them referencing back to the Road to Emmaus or the upper room (the room upstairs). “The narrator certainly recalls another upper room and one who "was with them" in a story that moved from death to resurrection.” And it is here in this upper room, that Tabitha, who was a faithful woman and who devoted her life to good works and acts of charity, experiences what it is like to move from dead to resurrected.

    This story seems a bit out of place.  There is so much to do in the kingdom.  There are so many people who need to hear the word of God, that our Lord is risen.  Yet, Peter stops what he is doing to care for this woman and her family.  The church could have created a separate branch of people to deal with burying the dead.  In matters of food distribution, the church does this in Act 6.  They elect seven deacons to do this work so that the 12 disciples can devote themselves to the word of God. They could have done this for the dead, but church does not. Instead, Peter stops the work that he is doing, and travels at once to the home of one his flock and cares for her even in death.

    Acts is reminding the church, reminding us, that while ministry for the living is important, so is also ministry for the dead.  If we are going to be a people of the resurrection, we need to be willing to proclaim the resurrection in the face of death.  We need to remind people of the resurrection in moments like these and pray with full confidence like Peter, that God will act and the dead will be resurrected.  

    Luke tells us that “This [miracle] became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.” People believed because they heard the message of resurrection.  The reason funerals remain front and center in the church’s work today is because they are a time when we can preach the gospel in its most purest form.  Funeral ministry is an important ministry here at St. John’s.  We offer the family a home cooked meal after the funeral free of charge.  When I heard someone is ill, sick or dying, I drop everything I am doing to be present at these moments in people’s lives.  This text is giving us permission to do this—to put on hold those other ministries so that we can proclaim the resurrection and hope that can only be found in Jesus Christ. But this is not just my job.  It is an important part of my job, but there is nothing stopping you from bringing that resurrected hope to others in the church.  

    The ministry work being done here at St. John’s needs be grounded in this resurrected hope.  All our ministries, whether they are care for Chidlren, families, women’s or men’s ministry, feeding, music, worship need to be grounded in the resurrection.  If they are not, then we need to reground these ministries in this faith.  If they cannot be grounded, then we need to bury them and move on. What are you doing to proclaim the resurrection in your life and your work? 

    This text does not answer all our questions about death or why can’t do similar things like the miracle of raising Tabitha back to life happen today, but it does give us a “clear and certain witness to the power of our Lord's resurrection, to the good news—that not only at times of death but at other dark times—the Spirit of the risen Lord enters our world even now to bring life, healing, and hope.”

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

You Can't Go Back to Fishing

Acts 9:1-20    
Psalm 30    
Revelation 5: 11-14    
John 21:1-19    
Third Sunday of Easter
May 5, 2019
You Can’t Go Back to Fishing
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    Peter is frustrated.  The fisherman can’t catch fish.  Thank God he is better preacher than a fishermen.  After Jesus appears to the disciples (to the church), they go back to the way things use to be.  They go fishing.  Because that is what you do.  Easter Sunday comes, we sing, “Jesus Christ is Risen today! Alleluia.” And then Monday morning, it is back to the grind.  Back to the way things use to be.  We had 164 people at the 10am worship on Easter Sunday.  Pat Murphy told me that he had a hard time counting all the people.  A total of 217 people worshiped on Easter. The week after Easter, 63.  Things are back to normal—back to fishing.

    Then John tells us that “Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples didn’t realize it was Jesus. Jesus called to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” They answered him, “No.” He said, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” So they did, and there were so many fish that they couldn’t haul in the net. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard it was the Lord, he wrapped his coat around himself (for he was naked) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they weren’t far from shore, only about one hundred yards.

    And when they got to shore, they found a fire had already been kindled.  And Jesus says, “Bring some of the fish that you caught. Sit and have some breakfast.  Nobody dared ask Jesus if it was really him.  Now why do you think that is case? Up to this point, Mary didn’t recognize him.  The disciples who have locked themselves in the upper room do not recognize him.  And by the way John has written verse 12b, I think we can assume that Jesus looks different.  So how do they know it is him?

    The first time Jesus appears, he calls Mary by her name and she recognizes him.   The second time, Jesus shows them his wounds and they recognize him.  The third time, Jesus feeds them and they recognize him.   We recognize it is Jesus, someone we have never met before because he knows our names, we have seen his wounds, and he feeds us.  This is how we recognize the risen Christ in our midst, in our congregation, in our worship.  Jesus Christ has called each of you by names, shares in your suffering and feeds you with bread and an over abundance of food.  That is how you know Jesus is here, is with you. 

    To anyone in the church who think that God cannot be present in suffering, or that the reason you are having problems in your life is because you did not pray hard enough or that God is punishing you, why then do the marks of the crucifixion remain on our Lord?  Everything else has changed about Jesus.  His appearance has changed.  He is able to pass through lock doors and walls.  Why leave the marks of violence perpetrated against himself on his body?  God could make them go away.  If nothing else, these wounds remind us that God is still dealing with the violence that humanity inflicted upon his body, because we are still suffering as well.  Often when we find ourselves suffering, we assume God is punishing us or that God is not present.  These wounds remind us that Jesus is in fact with you and knows the way out.

    To anyone who does not see the value in feeding the people, how can expect people to recognize Jesus if their bellies, if their souls are rumbling for food?  There a few things that I am willing to lay down on a sword for in ministry.  The sacraments are one those things.  When they gave me this stole, the weight of this office includes the proper administration of the sacraments because failing to administer them in the way Jesus Christ commands, means I leave people hungry. And not just physically hungry because others can deal with this problem, but spiritual hungry and only the church can fill this need.  If you are physically hungry, you go store.  You stopped at McDonalds.  You steal, you would eat a bug, if you are really hungry and your life depends on it.  What if someone comes into our church, having heard Jesus call them by their name, having felt Jesus with them in their suffering, and now they come for breakfast, for our meal, and we say, “sorry, you came on the wrong week.  We only do this twice a month.” What do you think they are going to do? They will go some place else, and I worry where that other place might be, because it might not be a church.  “But pastor, we feed them on God’s word.”  Yes, true.  We can do that and Jesus does that in the gospel reading today, but you can’t deny the other part of the story—the physical eating of bread.  Jesus made a fire and made them breakfast. He fed them. 

    The word “bread” is used 20 times in the Gospel of John.  The first use is when Jesus asks the disciples how they are going to feed 5,000 people and the disciples reply, “Where can we buy bread so that these people may eat?” Jesus then takes 5 loaves of bread and two fish and feeds all the people.  And later on that same chapter, the people come to Jesus because they are hungry again.  Instead of giving them bread,  Jesus says to them, “I am the bread of life." And people say, “Sir, give us this bread all the time!” God did a miracle and fed 5,000 people with bread and fish and then tells the people that he is the manna from heaven, that bread from heaven is his body, and everyone who eats of his body will have eternal life.  And here, on a beach, Christ feeds his disciples with bread and tells them that life after the resurrection is not “Business as Usual.” You can’t go back to fishing.  You can’t go back to wallowing in your sins.  You can’t go back to your old life, your old ways all because you feel bored.  There are hungry people out there wanting bread, who need to know Jesus is with them, and that our Lord knows their name.  

    In fact, Jesus promises Peter and probably us as well, that one day, “you will stretch out your hands and another will tie your belt and lead you where you don’t want to go.”  The work of the gospel does not take a back seat because Jesus is risen.  If anything, it has just begun.  

    And I know you are hungry.  I know you got rumbling bellies.  I know you are tired.  I know some of you are bored out of your mind.  It is the same, old thing week after week.  I know some of you are suffering.  I mean really suffering.  Suffering with an addiction, suffering with illness, suffering with a lack of faith, suffering in a relationship, suffering with work, suffering with the lack of income, suffering with issues of homelessness.  You are being taken to places you do not wish to go and here, Jesus stands on the shore, standing before you this day and has prepared another meal.  

    He has prepared a holy meal of bread and wine to make this suffering not so much go away, but bearable.  The nets are full of fish and they have not torn.  There is plenty to eat at this table, at this fire, at this breakfast prepared by our Lord. He is here.  He is risen. He knows your name and your bellies do not have to be hungry any longer.  

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

"Hey, I know that guy!"

Acts 4:32-35    
Psalm 133    
1 John 1:1-2:2    
John 20:19-31    
Second Sunday of Easter
April 28, 2019
Hey, I Know That Guy
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    Alleluia, Christ is Risen!  He is Risen indeed, Alleluia!  Contrary to what the world might think or say, it is still Easter.  Easter is not a day—it is a season, it is a way of living.  What we all experienced last week does not stay in the past.  The joyous worship.  The excitement.  The hope.  You can't go back to the way things use to before last week.  Do you like feeling miserable?  Do you like the way your sin makes you feel?  If we go back to the way things use to be, it will mean death.  It will mean that the promise of Easter is mute in your life. It means you let Satan and all the forces that defy God win.  It means you give up on your baptism and on your chance of resurrection.  You can't go back.  

    But evil will constantly try to pull us back.  Satan and all his little demons will constantly try to get us to wallow in our sin and not live in the joyous hope of the resurrection. Just last week as Christians gathered in Sri Lanka, a suicide bomber also joined them.  As people ate and as people spent time in their homes, terrorists attacked them.  Approximately 253 people were killed, including at least 42 foreign nationals and three police officers, and at least 500 were injured.  I remember checking my phone at 9:30am last Sunday and saw the news that a bombing happened in Sri Lanka. That was all that I saw and didn't think to open the link.  After worship though, I saw another headline—Worshippers attacked on Easter Sunday.  

    I was listening to a NPR interview where they talked to a  Father of boy who was eating dinner at one of the hotels when it was attacked.  The boy's name was Kieran Shafritz de Zoysa.  He was eating dinner when the bomb went off.  Kieran was in Sri Lanka with his mother whose family lives there. He was studying abroad at a school there. Kieran wanted to become a neuroscientist to cure diseases, like Alzheimer's. He was having brunch with his mother and grandmother when a suicide bomber detonated a bomb. Kieran died after being struck by shrapnel. His mother and grandmother survived the attack.  The interview was hard to listen to.  I almost turned it off about 10 times and it was only a 4 and a half minute interview. Listening to the father talk about his son and how his son was going to change the world almost brought me to tears.  Sri Lanka is so far away that it would be easy to just turn off the news and ignore it, but I feel like I can't do it.  

    And now, this week, the government is asking churches to not hold worship in the fear that another terrorist attack might happen.  Churches doors on Sunday will be locked for fear of another attack.  I understand what the government is doing.  These terrorists have no regard for human life.  They don't care who they hurt. It is a scary time in Sri Lanka this week.  A terrifying time for everyone and many Christians will be locking themselves in rooms today.  And here we read twice in the gospel of John today, "the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the temple leaders." The doors were locked because the disciples were living in fear.  

    I have read some commentaries that ask was it really the Jewish Leaders that the disciples fear or was it Jesus himself?  The disciples all abandoned Jesus.  They didn't rush to save him.  They ran away in fear.  And now he has come back from the dead.  Is he going to be angry?  

    But locked doors do not keep our Lord out.  Fear does not keep our Lord from saying to the disciples, "Peace be with you." He shows them his hands and his feet and "then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord."  He breaths on them and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."  Jesus comes into their gathering of fear and preaches a message of forgiveness and peace.  

    He should be angry.  He should be seeking vengeance.  They abandoned him.  They weren't there at the hour of his greatest need.  Yet, he comes into their lock room, locked hearts and says, "Peace be with you...Receive the Holy Spirit." The church, for many centuries following these two resurrection experiences, gathered in relative secrecy for fear of being infiltrated by those who mean to do the church harm.  In the early church, deacons would be placed outside of where the church was meeting.  Only those who knew the secret sign were admitted into the church.  Worship was off limits to anyone who was not baptized.  The practice of not allow the non-baptize to receive the eucharist dates back to the time when we didn't allow anyone other than those who were baptized into worship.  It is why the baptistry was at the back of the church because symbolically and theologically, the only way a person could enter the church was through baptism.
    And now, we are at time in the church's life when many are talking about having arm guards and other security measures in place because of the rise in attacks against churches, we read this gospel text yet again.  We read this text in fear of what might happen as we meet here to worship God. We read this text and we wonder what might be happening outside our doors.  Yet despite our fear and doubt, Jesus Christ appears in our midst.  The risen Lord brings a message of peace.  The risen Lord beckons us to touch his wounds, to touch the scars of his crucifixion, of violence inflicted upon his body by others.  And he breaths on us.  He breaths on us and we receive the Holy Spirit.  

    No amount of fear and doubt can keep Jesus Christ from being with us.  And on this day when many Christians in Sri Lanka will be staying home in fear of terrorists, we gather and sing praise to God on their behalf.  We gather and offer prayers to God on their behalf. We remember their dead.  We remember their wounded.  We remember those like Kieran who had their whole life ahead of them and now lie dead in a grave.  And while that is a hard reality to face, we also gather to remember the one who overcame the grave.  The one who appeared to Mary in the garden and spoke of hope and new life all while she grieved the loss of her beloved Jesus.  That is who we also remember today.  And maybe some of us gather like St. Thomas, doubting that a God could ever love a world so engrossed in violence or love even a sinner like you or me.  Here's the thing, Jesus still comes.  Jesus still finds a way in whether we are locked behind closed doors, are at home because of fear, or are here doubting the good news.  

    The message from our Lord today is that we cannot go back to the way things use to be.  We cannot keep gathering in fear of who might wish to do us harm. We must gather in the hope of the resurrection.  To be a people of resurrection means we we follow a God who takes things which have no life and brings them back to life.  We follow a God that is not limited by death but seeks to bring peace and the Holy Spirit to the world and especially to the church.  If God can bring a dead man back to life, whatever you are afraid of is nothing for our God to handle. 

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