Sunday, May 27th (Pentecost) – Sermon on Acts 2:1-21

Acts 2:1-21

I invite all of you, at this moment to take a deep breath.  In through your nose and out your mouth.  Feel the cool air rush in through your nostrils and the warm air move over your tongue and past your lips.  Once more.

Have you ever noticed that the way someone is breathing is often a signal to what is happening with them at that moment.  If someone is taking short, forceful breaths that cause their nostrils to flair, you know that person is angry.  Or if someone suddenly opens their mouth wider then you thought possible as they slowly suck in all of the air around them, you know they are getting sleepy and are tired. Or if someone’s breath is slow and steady, you know that inside they are feeling calm and at peace.

There is good reason for this. Because did you know that in Hebrew and Greek, the languages of Scripture, the word for breath, wind, and spirit are the same.  It is the same word.  You can even hear it in some of our English words around breathing.  Like “respiration.”  You can hear the word “spirit” in there.  Which is to say that if you have breath in you, you have spirit in you.  No wonder the way we are breathing reflects what’s happening in our spirits.

Take another breath.

This breath, or spirit, is fundamental for human life.  If you have ever watched a sleeping baby, you know how holy and precious each breath is.  Watching that young, little torso, covered in an Elmo-themed onesie, rise and fall with each breath of life.  If you have ever watched a loved one approach the end of life, you know how holy and precious each breath is.  Watching that old, frail torso, covered in a polka-dot hospital gown, rise and fall, wondering which one will be the last.

The divine breath, or the Spirit of God, has been with us since the beginning of time.  You may recall that in the creation story, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.  But then a wind from God – the breath of God, the Spirit of God – swept over the face of the waters.  Then in the Garden of Eden, God got down on God’s hands and knees and sunk those divine fingers deep into the red earth.  Out of which God shaped….well…you.  And the next thing God did was lean over you, took a deep breath, and , whoosh, breathed the spirit of life into your body, kick starting your heart.

Take another breath.

Today is Pentecost Sunday.  The day in our church year centered on celebrating the coming of the Spirit of God.  But this isn’t simply the wind of God moving across the waters of creation or the breath of God entering into our dirt-formed lungs.  This is Spirit of God rushing in.  Violently.  Like a howling tornado blowing out windows and slamming open doors. Shaking the foundations.

As the story goes, there is a Jewish festival going on in Jerusalem. Which means Jews from all different nations are gathered there in one city.  Jesus has just recently ascended into heaven and the community of believers have no clue what to do without him. They have hidden themselves into a tomb-like room, when suddenly the doors begin to rattle and the shutters clap.  The next thing they know, whooooosh, the Holy Spirit spins into the rooms, tossing linens and parchment paper every which way.  Flames appear, but before anyone could shout, “Fire!” they realized these tongues of fire weren’t attached to anything.  Instead, they floated overhead in thin air.  With every nook and cranny of the room filled with the Holy Spirit, there was no place else for the Holy Spirit to fill except the lungs of everyone there.

Take another breath.

Here’s where the story really starts to get weird.  With a flaming tongue over each person’s head, they begin to speak in languages that did not belong to these rural Galileans.  They began to speak the languages from all the nations of Jews who had gather in Jerusalem that day.  What is more amazing than these Galileans suddenly becoming multi-lingual is the group of people that gathered outside the house to hear their native tongue being spoken.

There were Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs.  This is a curious group of people.  This isn’t simply the Holy Spirit bringing together people from different countries and cultures.  The Holy Spirit is gathering together people from different times.  You see, the Medes and the Elamites had been wiped out and extinct for more than 500 hundreds years by this point.[1]

How is that possible?  That would be like if I told you all of the animals of the earth are going to come to congregate on this farmland right here.  You’d expect birds and snakes, bears and alligators.  Old English Bull dogs and conniving tabby cats.  You’d look for skunks and elephants, Hippos and maybe a dolphin or two, if they could stay hydrated.  But you wouldn’t expect a Tyrannosaurus or a pterodactyl.  They’ve been extinct for millions of years.  How would that be possible? But there they were, Medes and Elamites in the flesh and blood….

When the Holy Spirit blows like a tornado and fills everyone in the room up – things start to get weird.  And things begin to change.  And most of us are not big fans of change.

There is no doubt that the churches in America is in an incredible time of change.  Many are experiencing membership decline, lower worship attendance, decreased giving.  Just this week, I was in multiple conversations about how the church isn’t what it used to be. People use to look forward to going to church.  Now, we look forward to any break from it we can sneak in.  Parents used to take their children to church every Sunday. Now, who knows?  Church used to be the center of life.  But now it isn’t.  And there is fear that in the midst of all of this change, the church is losing its breath and is dying.

However, there is a Presbyterian minister named MaryAnn Dana who would like to offer a different diagnosis.  She thinks that the church is pregnant.  Pregnant.  And what happens when a woman is first pregnant?  She begins to feel sick.  And ill.  Is it possible we have misinterpreted morning sickness for a terminal disease? Could perhaps something new be growing inside this church.  There is no doubt we are going through a difficult and painful transition, but maybe it isn’t the end…Maybe there will be new life.

We only have to look again at the text in Acts to see that MaryAnn’s conclusion has merit…Without this moment in Acts, with the Holy Spirit bursting in with flames and wind, none of us would be here.  This chaotic, uncertain, and somewhat tornado-like time for the early church, when everyone starts speaking a new language and the dead and extinct are brought back to life. This was the birth place of the church.  So maybe all the change and challenge that churches are facing today are something similar… As one theologian put it, “Pentecost challenges churches to live into the promise that Christ is present and alive in the midst of change” (Feasting on the Word – Pastoral) Perhaps all the pain and challenge are part of the birthpangs that will give life to something new in our future.  Something new for our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren.

How might the Holy Spirit be stirring things up for us? Or how might the Holy Spirit be stirring things up in your own life? The Holy Spirit can freak us out.  We don’t know what to do with it because when the Holy Spirit gets breathed in, things start to change.  At first, it might not feel so good. A little nauseating and dizzying.  But who knows maybe its nothing to fear.  Maybe it is just that the church is pregnant, thanks to the Holy Spirit.  We’ve heard a story like that before, haven’t we?  Sounds to me like something’s about to be born.  Take another breath…

Sunday, May 20 – Sermon on John 17:6-21

John 17:6-21

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine was cleaning out her attic when she found a project evaluation form from the 9the grade.  It was from a group project she and I and another student did on the nervous system in biology class.  When she sent me a text and a picture of this evaluation sheet from 15 years ago, first it simply brought me back to the nostalgia of 9th grade.  But then it reminded me… just how much I hate group projects in school.

Nothing against my friend or this project.  I’m sure it was a good project.  In fact, I remember always being excited at the beginning of a group project, because it means you don’t have to do as much work.  But so often, at the end of the project, I would often think to myself, “I wish I had just done this on my own.”  I think it has something to do with having your name attached to something that isn’t completely your own work.  When you work with someone in a group, you have to compromise. You do some of the work and they do some of the work…. and sometimes you don’t like your name to be associated with work that isn’t yours or that you don’t agree with.  You want your name to be well represented.

There is something about putting your name on something or vouching for someone with your own name that is….risky.  It puts your reputation in play.  If you make a recommendation to someone for a doctor, or a mechanic, or a restaurant, you have given your name on that recommendation.

Recently, I was asked to interview for a volunteer board position for an organization.  A friend of mine called me up and said they were looking for another board member and he would like me to interview for it.  Now, truth be told, I was terrified. I knew that I didn’t have the same amount of life or work experience as the type of people on this board.  I was nervous during the whole interview and apparently rightfully so.   During the interview, they said, “You are young and are not the typical board member.  But Jim recommended you.  Why?” At that point, I wasn’t so nervous about representing myself well.  I was nervous because Jim had recommended me.  Jim had given his name on my behalf of this interview.  I was nervous because I wanted to represent Jim and Jim’s recommendation well.  Jim had risked his own name for me. There is something about putting your name on something or vouching for someone with your own name that is….risky.

Which is what makes what we just heard in the John’s gospel – this long, twisty, somewhat confusing prayer of Jesus – kind of incredible.  It is easy to miss in Jesus’ long prayer, but it is right at the beginning of our text.  Jesus is praying to God in front of all of his disciples, which is probably just as nerve-racking as praying in front of your family at Thanksgiving.  But Jesus says this, “Lord, I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world.”  Jesus has made God’s name known to us…Jesus revealed God’s name to us…Jesus has given us God’s name.  As we just talked about, to give over your name is to place your own reputation in the hands of another.  God has risked God’s own name by placing it on us.  We’ve been stamped, like a library book, that says “Property of God.”  “Child of God.”

We are like God’s science project.  God places God’s name on us, saying, “Yep, this is my work.  I stand behind it.  Whatever they do, they do in my  name.”    Which is great for us.  And risky for God. Because sometimes we don’t represent God well.  In fact, in 2007, a book was written called UnChristian.  The book is about how young Americans generally think that Christians are…unchristian.  That we are judgmental, hypocritical, too caught up in political fighting, and not always nice to people.  Which…is true!  I mean, sometimes we’re selfish.  Sometimes we like to showoff.  Sometimes, we’re just down right crabby and not very nice to people.  And these are just the things I’ve seen in myself.  Maybe they are true for you too. Which is also exactly why we begin our worship service where we do – with confession and forgiveness.  We come to worship as Christians knowing that we have been unChristian.  And we ask for forgiveness.  And God continues to give it to us.  Over and over again.

So it’s risky for God to give us God’s name.  To put God’s trust in us.  For God to vouch for us and call us people of God.  God has entrusted us with God’s reputation.  And there is great responsibility in that for us.

And then what does God do?  God gives us God’s name and then sends us out into the world bearing God’s name.  Jesus continues in his prayer to God, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (verse 18).

Today, we gather together after worship to discern how and where God is sending us into the world.  To discern a mission statement that all of us can live into and embody.  One that gives us direction and purpose for the future ministry God is inviting us into together.  Frederick Buechner once said, ““The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”[1]  When we first met to talk about mission, we discovered that a deep gladness our two congregations share is food.  We love to eat and we love to feed people.  We can see this in our two biggest events of the year – Aurora’s Diner and Trinity Aebleskiver supper.   Both are centered around feeding.

And so we wondered, if maybe God was calling us to feed people.  Not only to feed people with real food that nourishes and sustains the body, but with spiritual food that nourishes the spirit and the mind.  I mean, mission statement or not, we’ve already been doing this – feeding people.  Making a meal for a funeral, proceeds from the Aurora diner being donated to the community, Trinity sending hymnals to Nicaragua, giving to the food shelf, purchasing farm animals for hungry families overseas, bringing a meal to new parents, teaching Sunday school, or playing music for worship.  All this stuff feeds people.  So part of our task today is to ask, “How is God continuing to our passion for food and feeding to meet the world’s deep need?”  How do we go out into the world as people claimed and sent by God without damaging God’s reputation too much, and perhaps instead helping people to know the very real love and presence of God in their lives?

And as we seek to do this together, we don’t do it alone. At the end of our text, Jesus prays for us.  He prays for you.  Seriously.  In verse 20, Jesus says, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word.”  Jesus is praying not only for his disciples in front of him, but for all the people who will come to believe because of these disciples.  That’s you. That’s me.  That’s us.

So perhaps we all will leave here today terrified by the incredible responsibility that God has stamped God’s name on us, making us people who bear God’s name to a hungry world.  And it’s heavy task.  You can’t do it on your own.  But maybe we can also be sent from here today by the Spirit of God.  Washed in peace and joy because no matter what happens out there, no matter what we do, Jesus continues to pray for us and offer us each moment as just another opportunity to love one another. May this be so.

AMEN

 


[1] Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking.

Sunday, May 13th – Sermon on Acts 10:44-48, John 15:9-17

Acts 10:44-48
John 15:9-17 

When preparing a sermon, preachers have often been encouraged to have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. (Karl Barth) Because as Christians, we are called to look at the world, to encounter the world through the lens of God’s story.  Because if what you are saying about the Bible doesn’t matter to, or relate to, what is going on in the world, well then, “Who cares?”

Granted I don’t hold many newspapers in my hands these days, as much as I read on the computer I am holding my hands, but as I was reading different newspapers this week, there was one subject that just kept coming up, over and over again – same-sex marriage.

As you just heard in the announcements, last week the ELCA Southeastern MN synod assembly, of which we are apart, voted to oppose the current Marriage Amendment in Minnesota.  The amendment would define in the MN constitution that only the union of one man and one woman can be recognized as marriage.  When the resolution to oppose the Marriage Amendment passed, some people felt an overwhelmingly sense of joy and affirmation.  Others felt hurt and confused, disappointed and angry.

Then on Tuesday, the state of North Carolina voted on a similar Marriage Amendment.  The amendment passed.  Again, some people felt an overwhelmingly sense of joy and affirmation.  Others felt hurt and confused, disappointed and angry.

And finally, on Wednesday, President Barak Obama announced his support for legalizing same-sex marriage, and expressing that it is his Christian faith that helped him come to his opinion. Yet again, some people felt an overwhelming sense of joy and affirmation.  Others felt hurt and confused, disappointed and angry.

I’ll be honest, when the thought of preaching on this topic, my first reaction was to run in the other direction.  In fact, at this very moment, I am a little nervous to stand up here and speak about this issue.  Because it is so divisive.  Regardless of which side you fall on with this issue, we can all agree that this topic is divisive and hard to talk about.  It tears apart communities.  It divides families.  It divides congregations.  But that is why we must talk about it…

This is such a hard conversation for Christians because faithful people who worship the same God and read the same Bible come down on different sides on this issue.  So how are we supposed to understand it?  How do we understand which is the work of God and what isn’t?  Was it the work of God that our synod voted to oppose the Marriage Amendment, or was it the work of God that North Carolina voted to pass it?  Is God on one side or the other?  How do we begin to talk to one another about this topic?

Perhaps, a place to start is to move from the newspaper in one hand to the Bible in the other.  As I was reading the text for this week, I realized that conflict is nothing new for the Christian Church.  Since the very beginning, the Christian church has dealt with conflict and disagreement.  In fact, we can find one example in our reading from Acts today.  One of the great debates way back when is whether the promises of God revealed in Jesus applied to only the Jews – the Israelites, God’s chosen people – or if it could be spread to the gentiles.  The outsiders, the non-Jews.  The people you weren’t supposed to talk to or associate with.  In fact it was against the law for Jews and Gentiles to interact.  And rules are rules.  So can the promises of God be spread from the Jewish community to the Gentile community?

In our short reading from the book of Acts, the apostle Peter has all sorts of people gathered around him – both Jews and Gentiles, and he is preaching to them. As Peter’s sermon goes on and on, suddenly the Holy Spirit comes and falls upon all the people there.  Just like that.  And you know what?  The Jews couldn’t believe it.  That the Holy Spirit would come down not only on them, but on those outsiders, those people whom the law said they weren’t even supposed to interact.  And now, all of sudden, all of them, Jews and Gentiles, are blessed and anointed with the same Holy Spirit.  The family of God just got a whole lot bigger.  And the Jews weren’t all that comfortable with it.

In fact, when Peter returns to Jerusalem from his preaching tour, he even get interrogated by some other Jews, who holler at him, “Now why did you go and eat with those outsiders? They’re not a part of us!”

Divisive issues in the church – they’ve been with us a long time.

I think Jesus knew how divided the church could be.  At least, I think he knew how divided his disciples could be.  In our reading from the Gospel of John, it is Maundy Thursday, Jesus’ last night alive and he has all his disciples gathered around the table and he is giving his farewell speech.  He knows these are the last words he’ll be able to say to them, so he’s saying goodbye and telling them how to live.  And he knows what’s about to happen to him and how it will send his disciples scurrying in different direction.  Judas will go off and betray Jesus.  Peter will deny Jesus three times.  Eventually, many will end up hiding in a room behind a locked door out of fear of what might happen to them.  And anytime people start to get afraid, people start to separate and divide.

So what does Jesus do before all that?  The night before his crucifixion, he pulls them all together and reminds them of who they are and what they have been called to do.  “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love…This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  You are my friends.”

Who are these disciples?  They are a community united by Christ’s love for them.  No matter what future lies ahead, they are bound together by Christ’s love for them.  And together they have been given a job to do – to love one another as Christ loves them.

In the midst of a divided world, what holds us together is not our agreement on tough social issues – like same-sex marriage, or abortion, or capital punishment or immigration. What holds us together is Christ’s mutual love for us.  That we are friends of Christ called to love one another as Christ has so loved us.

Last week, we were brothers and sisters in Christ.  This week: friends in Christ.

About a year and a half ago, I had the great joy of performing the wedding for my college roommate, Niels, and his partner in life, Martha.  At Niels’ bachelor party, I met his best friends and groomsmen – Chris, Tony, and Luke.  What was so great about these four guys is that each one of the them is very outspoken on their political views and none of them fully agree with one another.  In fact they have the whole spectrum represented.  As Niels put it, you’ve got Luke on the far left, Niels a little more left-center.  Tony is towards the center but on the right.  And Chris is on the far right.  Rarely do the four of them all agree, but in the end all four of them are the best of friends and stood beside one another at each other’s weddings.  I asked Niels, “With politics so divisive, how do you four do it?”  He said, “In the end, you don’t forget that the core of that person is your friend whom you have cared about for a long time.”

I think this is who we the church are called to be.  People who, in the end, don’t forget that the core of each person is your friend in Christ, whom Christ has cared about for a long time.  So that when faced with an extremely difficult, complicated, and divisive subject as same-sex marriage, we can speak to each other honestly and in love, knowing that we are held together by something much stronger than shared political affiliations – we are held together by the love of Christ – we abide in Christ’s love.

Divisive topics are nothing new for the church.  We’ve survived many of them. We are still having others.  And we are still here.  So let’s talk about it.  Let’s talk about same-sex marriage.  But let’s do it differently.  Let’s share our stories.  Let’s be honest about our convictions.  Let’s not enter this with the hope that we can change each other’s mind.  But so that we can learn from one another.  So that together we can bear the weight of this complicated time in history through mutual respect and discussion.  So that everyone can have a voice at the table and so that we can freely be ourselves when we are at church.

This fall, I will lead us through a 3-session conversation in which we will discuss same-sex marriage and how we can best engage in this difficult discussion.  But I hope you won’t wait until then to start the conversation.  In fact, I hope you’ll talk about it with your families.  With your friends.  With me.  With people that you might not agree with.

We are called to hold the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other.  To discern how God’s word for us matters to what is happening in the world.  It isn’t easy.  In fact, sometimes it just down right painful.  But I think it is what we are called to do.  And as we do, may we trust that the abiding love of Christ which holds us all together will see us through. AMEN

Sunday, May 6 – 1 John 4 (7-21) – Confirmation Sunday

1 John 4:7-21

If I were to stand up here and offer a greeting of something like, “Dearly beloved…”, what might you think you were about to witness? A wedding! When I hear the beginning of our reading from 1 John, that’s sort of how he greets us. He says, “Beloved,” and then he goes on to talk a lot about love. Love, love, love. And so it reminds me of a wedding. Which got me thinking…today is sort of like a wedding day. Today is Confirmation Sunday and today, individuals will make promises on behalf of and for the sake of a continuing relationship. That’s what a wedding is, isn’t it? Making promises on behalf of and for the sake of a continuing relationship?

So today is sort of like a wedding day. But there is a problem here because there is a lie going around about marriage. Sheryl Paul, an author on marriage, writes that one of the most common myths about marriage that most people believe but no one talks about is that “at the wedding day, the relationship itself is supposed to be at its height of ease, love, and workability.” (Sheryl Paul, Huffington Post, “Marriage is a Work in Progress.”) That the relationship is supposed to be perfect at the time of the wedding. Why? So that all of us can believe that the couple will live happily ever after, just like Prince Charming and Snow White. But as many of you know, this completely ignores all of the hard work it takes to maintain a healthy marriage or relationship. You know, when the bills start coming in. Or when one person loses their job. Or when one partner starts to get depressed and then stops talking to the other.

So if today, Confirmation day, is like a wedding, I fear that some of us believe this same myth about today. That on a day of Confirmation, for Alexis, Samantha, and Kyle, their relationship with God must be at it’s highest. That they have figured out this thing called faith by now and it is easy for them. And that their love for God is as big as it can ever get.

The lie is that on your wedding day, your relationship must be perfect, and on your confirmation day, your faith and relationship with God must be as strong as it has ever been. This just simply isn’t true. It isn’t easy. It is hard work.

Alexis and Sam and Kyle, today is like a wedding day, because you are making promises to God about a continued relationship with God. But your relationship with God doesn’t have to be perfect in order to get confirmed. Don’t worry if you have questions and don’t worry if you have doubts. Like all relationships, your relationship with God will be a work in progress. So don’t feel like you have to have it all figured out by now. In fact, none of us will ever have it all figured.

All of that from the first word of our reading – beloved. But then the passage from 1 John continues – “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

I love this verse – God is love. I think it is at the heart of the Christian message. But I also hesitate about this verse because I think it is too easily hijacked by Hallmark, slapped on a card with a beautiful sunset, and all is well with the world. “God is love” can become so clichéd, stripped of any depth and wonder, and made to sound so easy. To say that love is easy is also a lie. Love is not easy.

I don’t know about you, but I find that most fortune cookies are a waste of time. I mean, sure, they can be fun if you turn them into some sort of game, but as for giving wisdom or guidance, they usually fall short. But every once in a while…it’s very rare, but you come across a fortune worth saving. I can remember one fortune I got when I was in high school – in fact I put it up on my bulletin board, and I continue to remember it to this day. It said, “The only true way to love is to realize that it can be lost.” The only true way to love is to realize that love can be lost.

If love can be lost, then love isn’t easy, love is a risk. A friend of mine says, “You don’t spell love –L-O-V-E. You spell it R-I-S-K.” Love is a risk. Because you have to open yourself up. You have to be willing to be vulnerable. To hope and trust the other will hold your heart in safety. To love means to open yourself up to being hurt. Families of divorce know this. Parents who have had to endure their worst nightmare of losing a child know this. That’s why most of us are so terrified to say, “I love you” for the first time in a relationship. It is frightening because what if they don’t say it back. Can recall a time you’ve said, “I love you” to someone, not knowing if they would say it back? Love is not easy. It is a risk. It can be lost.

But here is the best part about today. God has already taken that initial risk. God has already been the first to step out and say those risky words to you, “I love you.” Verse 19 says, “God loved us first.” And it is a risk for God. Because we can say no. And we do say no. Some days, I say no. But that won’t change God’s love for you. God wants to be in relationship with you, to share in this world with you, so God takes the first risky step.

Anytime you enter into a relationship of any sorts, it is no longer just about you. You no longer live just for yourself, but you live for another. And you become a part of a community where you don’t always know what is going to happen. So there is a fear of loss and risk, but what makes it worth it is being able to live in a community, rather than going through this life alone.

Our text says God is love and so God invites us to participate with God in loving the world with. So that no one goes through it alone. Which is why the author of 1 John says, “Beloved, let us love one another.” Why? Because God is love. And to love is to participate in God. In fact, he says that if you love one another, God lives in you. God lives in you. Isn’t that incredible. That God would make a home inside you. You carry God around inside your body, when you love. God is not off in the sky, God is down here….inside you!

Our text says that no one has ever seen God, which is such a relief to hear because that means I’m not the only one. But because no one has ever seen God, we must show God to them. How? By loving them – because God abides in you. You are God’s representative. You are God’s agent of love, to bring God’s love to the world.

Today, our confirmands are going to make a covenant with God. And to make a covenant with God is to make a covenant about love, because God is love. Today they and God will take each other’s hand and step off the edge with a leap of faith together into the risky business of loving. But they don’t have to be the only ones today. Maybe you’ve already been confirmed or maybe you’ve never been confirmed, but either way, you too can step out with them and God into the riskiness of love. Simply by loving.

Go home and hug your kids a little longer and tell them you love them. Call a friend who you talk to all the time but have never told them just how much you love them, but this time tell them how much they mean a lot to you. Send an email to the family member you have spoken to in awhile.

This is love. It’s a risky move. Who knows how they will respond. But God will abide in you, for God is love. AMEN

*I am indebted to Alan Storey for his sermon on this text which help give me ideas and directions on mine. http://www.aslowwalk.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/sermon-2012-01-29.mp3

Sunday, April 29, 2012 – Sermon on John 10:10-18

John 10:10-18

I had heard that the last couple of weeks have been prop-based sermons.  So in order to keep up with the times, and maybe to compete just a little, I brought my own props this morning.

My Bach Stradivarius Bb trumpet. My gold-plated, extra heavy trumpet mouthpiece.  My piccolo trumpet.  My curved-toe, extra small, extra durable rock climbing shoes.  My iPad 2.  My 25-pound dumbbell. My skinny, striped, knitted tie.

Anyone want to take a guess as to what all of these items have in common?

All of them, at one point or another, were supposed to change my life.  But none of them did.  These top of the line trumpets were supposed to immediately make me a better trumpet player so that I could make the St. Olaf band. These rock-climbing shoes were supposed to instantly make me a better rock climber and by extension a little more popular at the rock climbing gym.  My iPad 2 –well, not only would it make my life easier and more efficient, but I would also be the cool person at seminary with the new cool gadget.  And who doesn’t want to hang out with that guy, right? The 25-pound dumbbell was supposed to make me stronger and have a better body.  The skinny tie – instantly cooler and hipper.

At some point, all of these things were supposed to make everything better.  My life would finally be complete.  I wouldn’t ever want or need anything else.  My life would some how be shinier, brighter, happier…something was supposed to change, but nothing did.  This tiny hole in my heart was supposed to fill in, but it never did.

Now, I hesitate to ask because I am terrified of the answer, but am I alone in this?  Or do you find this to be true about your life too?  That you’ll set your heart on something, thinking that it will some how complete your life.  That you’ll never want anything else ever again, only to be let down over and over and over again?  Perhaps it is not this kind of stuff but something else…like a bigger paycheck.  Just $100 more a month – then you’ll feel financially secure.  Maybe those new bright colored soccer shoes from Puma that will certainly make you kick farther and score more goals.   Or maybe it is the new GPS-Satellite Imaging monitor for your combine that promises lower stress and a better harvest?

All of these things, all of this stuff, they have a voice…and they whisper to us.  Just loud enough for the hole in our heart to hear.  They say, “You are not enough.  Your life isn’t complete until you have me.  Come, let me give you life.”

This is what every advertisement on TV is trying to do, right?  Sell us something that will make your life better if not complete.  If you are a 15 year old boy who looks and smells a little funny, just buy some Axe deodorant and you’ll instantly attract all the beautiful women in school.  If your body doesn’t work like it used to, just pop in this little purple pill and not only will it fix your love life, but your marriage too.  Whether it is losing those last 10 pounds, the new summer outfit that will make you look great, or whatever…so often we invest our hopes and dreams into things that we think will complete our life, but that so rarely ever do.

In our gospel for today, Jesus talks about life too. He says that he came not to destroy or kill, but to bring life…abundant life.  Which is what all of us long for, right?  Abundant life?  I mean that is what this pile of stuff I’ve accumulated over the years is all about – the search for a fulfilled, meaningful, and abundant life.

So just like those TV ads, this stuff, Jesus is offering us something.  Something that will bring us life.  And, just like those TV ads and this pile of stuff, Jesus has a voice that whispers too.

Jesus says that he is the good shepherd.  And his sheep – that’s you by the way – …they know his voice.  They recognize his voice and they listen.  Well, so what’s he saying?  If we look again, we can see it in the text…he says it over and over again.  “I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep (verse 11)…I lay down my life for the sheep(verse 15) …I lay down my life(verse 17) …I lay it down…I have the power to lay it down.” (verse 18)   The voice of the good shepherd says to his sheep, “I lay down my life, I lay down my life, I lay down my life for you….” Five times he says it.

When Jesus says, “I lay down my life for you,” there is something else that is being said within that.  It is hidden within and so you have to really listen, because it is just a whisper.  Buried with that phrase Jesus is saying, “You are enough.  In fact, you’re worth dying for.  I lay down my life for you.”

Jesus says, I am the good shepherd, listen to my voice and I’ll show you the way to abundant life.  And the way is to hear the voice of the shepherd, “You are enough, you are enough, you are enough. You…are….enough.”

But then he says one more thing.  And it can be disturbing to hear it because it will challenge us.  That is what Jesus does. He affirms and then he challenges.  But it can also be refreshing to hear. Jesus, the voice of the shepherd, then says, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.  I must bring them too, because they hear my voice too.”  Jesus is saying that it’s about you, but it is not just about you.  Jesus has other sheep that do not belong to this group.  So it is about you but it is also about your co-workers.  And the woman you pass on the street going to work.  And the guy in front of you in math class.  A client or the new couple who just moved in down the street.  They are Jesus’ sheep too. And they too are enough.

This pile of stuff, it all whispers, “You are not enough. But if you have me, I can fix that.”  But it won’t.  It will never change or save my life.  And your pile won’t change yours either.  They are false saviors.  And truth be told, I am probably not going to get rid of any of it anytime soon.  In fact, I’ll probably just accumulate more.

But maybe part of our ministry together and to this community can be that even though these things continue to lure us in whispering, “You are not enough,” we can remind one another that the Good Shepherd whispers back….”But you are.” AMEN

Easter Sermon – Mark 16:1-8

Mark 16:1-8

Beginnings.  Beginnings can be important.  We know that first impressions can define the future of a relationship.  The way a team begins their baseball season can foreshadow the rest of the season.  And the first 10 minutes of a movie will either hook you in or lose you for the next two hours.

But so often what is more important than the beginning is the ending.  We all know this.  It is the ending of something that really makes or breaks it. On Super Bowl Sunday, everyone watching is looking for a game with a good ending.  They’re looking for the nail-biting ending.  If it’s a blow out, no one will care to watch the end of it. The way a TV show or a movie ends is crucial.  We’ve got the end of the Newhart show, where it turns out the whole thing was just a dream. Or the Sixth Sense, where the whole time Bruce Willis is….well, okay, I won’t spoil that one for you.  You’ll have to go see for yourself.  But it doesn’t matter how great the beginning of a  TV show or a movie is, if the ending is boring or just way too predictable, no one will care.  But when an ending is good….it’s really good.

We know how important endings can be and here we are on Easter morning and we’ve come to hear the end of the story.  Many of us are tired from getting meals ready for today, we’ve gotten up early because it is the one Sunday a year mom says we absolutely have to go to church. We’ve put on our Easter outfits that we picked out last night, we’ve got on our nice shoes, the trumpet is sounding, the egg bake baking, and we’ve come here simply to hear the end of the story and the gospel of Mark…just completely blows it.  I mean, could you believe the ending we just heard?

The women, Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Salome all go out to the tomb, planning to anoint Jesus’ body.  And when they get there, they see someone has rolled away the huge stone in front of the tomb.  And when they look in, there is this guy in all white sitting there, and naturally, they were freaked out.  But then he is like, “No, don’t be afraid.  You are looking for Jesus who was crucified.  But he is not here!  He has been raised!”  The guy is all excited, saying, “Look, that’s where they laid his body but it isn’t here anymore.  But go and tell the disciples and Peter that Jesus will meet you in Galilee, and there you will see him.”  But the women were so freaked out, that they left the tomb and they didn’t say anything to anyone.

What kind of Easter story is that?  The women leave and tell no one?  Oh yeah, and did you notice anyone missing from the story?  Jesus!  This is the only Easter story where Jesus never shows his face.  It is Jesus’ resurrection party and he doesn’t even show up.

What kind of ending is that?  Doesn’t Mark know what we’ve been through to be here?  For the last forty days some of us have been coming to church twice a week.  Twice a week!  And then it’s Holy Week and we get palms on Palm Sunday, we get together on Thursday for the last meal, and on Good Friday, we witness the crucifixion, and now it’s Easter morning, and all we want is to hear the uplifting story of how Jesus is raised from the dead and all is well in Bibleland.  But no, Mark just totally messes up the ending.  The bases are loaded, it’s a full count, and Mark whiffs at the ball.

In fact, here is a little piece of Bible trivia, which I knew you were hoping for today.  This ending is so bad that somewhere along the lines, a monk came, read the ending, thought it was so bad and then tried to fix it by adding about 11 verses to it.  Go home and check your Bibles.  You’ll find that the 16th chapter of Mark ends at verse 20, but the real ending is here in verse 8 – where the women went away and said nothing to anyone.

So what are we, the readers of the Gospel of Mark, to do? If the women didn’t tell anyone, then the disciples certainly didn’t either.  So who is going to tell about this strange and yet incredible news of Jesus resurrection?  The only one else who knows is us, so who…..

Oh.
Huh.

Do you think Mark ends the gospel this way, with the women running away afraid and not telling anyone…because Mark wants us to be the ones who tell the story?

And what did that man, the one clothed in white, sitting in the tomb say again?  Go and tell the disciples that Jesus will meet you in Galilee.  Galilee.  Well, that is where all of this began.  That is where Jesus began his ministry, back in Mark 1. “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.” (Mark 1:14)  You know how with a story that has a really great ending, it kind of makes you want to go back to the beginning and read it again with new eyes?  When the man in the tomb says that Jesus will meet us again in Galilee, which is where Jesus’ ministry began, what if he wants us to go back to the beginning of the story and read it again, only this time with new eyes?  With resurrection eyes.  Because now that Jesus has been raised from the dead, when we go back to re-read the Gospel of Mark, suddenly everything in the gospel of Mark becomes a post-resurrection story. When you re-read Mark as a post-resurrection story, you learn that the resurrected Jesus is still out caring for the sick, and sitting with the people no one else wants to sit with, and loving the people who hate and betray him. And when we realize those things are still happening today, then all of sudden we have something we have something to say about the resurrected Christ in the world today.

We can talk about how the resurrected Christ is alive and well in our world whenever someone serves their neighbor.  Whenever someone defends those who have been forced to their knees.  Whenever someone loves their enemy. Whenever non-violence is chosen over violence itself.  Whenever in the face of hate, one stands up for love.  Those are the places where Jesus is resurrected.

And when we look for it, we can start to see resurrection events happening here in this very congregation.  Whenever a mosquito net is purchased by someone in rural Minnesota for a child over in Africa, Christ is risen.  Whenever someone picks up an extra bottle of shampoo while at the store in order to give to the women and children at the Lilly’s Sparrow house, Christ is risen.  Or whenever food is gathered for the local foodshelf, Christ is risen.

Jesus is raised from the dead because you can’t destroy that kind of love.  It can’t be sealed in a tomb.  God’s love will break out every time.    In the end, death does not win. Love wins.

In the end, the women may have walked away afraid not saying anything to anyone.  But that’s okay.  Because Mark knows there others who can go and tell…Amen.

1). First piece of art come from He Qi, entitled, “Women Arriving at the Tomb.”
2). Second piece of art comes from Leif Michaelson, crafted during Easter Sunday worship.

Good Friday Reflection – Mark 14:32-15:47

Mark 14:32-15:47

This is Good Friday.  The darkest day of the Christian Year.  I have heard from many people this week who said that this is their favorite service.  I couldn’t agree more.  There is something about the quiet darkness of tonight that speaks to the deepest parts of our soul.

Tonight we hear Mark’s version of Jesus’ crucifixion. I’ll be honest with you, it is a dismal story.  There is very little hope within it.  On Sunday we heard about the two processions that entered into Jerusalem.  On one side was Jesus coming in peace and non-violence.  On the other side was Pontius Pilate and the Roman empire coming with military power and weapons.  Tonight, those two processions meet and they confront one another. In the end, it is a story about a man, named Jesus, who has been given over into the arms of the government so that he can be destroyed.

I don’t want to say a lot tonight because I want the story to speak for itself.  But let me say this.  Jesus doesn’t die tonight because God is angry at you.  Jesus doesn’t die because God is angry at you for your sins and thus needs someone to pay the price for them.  Jesus doesn’t die in order to forgive people’s sin; he forgives people’s sins and then he dies.  That is what started all of this in the first place.  That is what gets everyone so riled up about him.  Jesus was going all over the place forgiving people’s sins and people started to ask, “Who does this guy think he is? Does he think he is God?”  Jesus doesn’t die because God is angry with you and your sins, Jesus dies because he stood up for love.  In the face of a government that is built on wielding power and violence over its people, Jesus stands up and proclaims God’s unyeilding love for the people of the world.  And in the end he gets sentenced to death for it.

And when Jesus is on the cross, he prays the most human prayer of all – my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Jesus comes proclaiming God’s love for the world but in his last breath, he can only express a deep absence of God.  Jesus prays to God and hears nothing in return.  Something all of us can relate to, I think. So tonight, Jesus is comfort for those who have no comfort.  Jesus is God for those who have no God.[1]

Tonight we find in Jesus a god to whom we can cling even in our darkest hour.  But then the question becomes: what do we do when the God in Jesus who loves us and this world dies?  Is there any hope to found at all?


[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, Home By Another Way, p. 85.