Sunday, April 19th, 2015 – A Farewell Sermon on 1 John 3:1-7

1 John 3:1-7
1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. 4 Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.

I have to admit that in light of this being my last Sunday and my last sermon with all of you, I started to panic a bit as I read through today’s Scripture texts trying to figure out what I was going to preach on.

Today’s Gospel from Luke is basically the exact same text we had last week, only this time, Jesus gets a piece of broiled fish to eat. And I hate eating fish, so that was out.

In the Acts reading, Peter is basically just yelling at a group of Israelites, blaming them for killing Jesus. He calls them ignorant and tells them to repent so that God might wipe out their sins. And you know, I haven’t exactly been a hellfire and brimstone preacher the past four years, so why start now?

And to be honest, I couldn’t even tell you what the psalm is about after reading it five times. So needless to say, I was pretty freaked out about how this was all going to come together….until I read the second lesson from 1 John.

Listen. See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God. And I breathed a sigh of relief. What more could I want to leave you with than that word from God? Friends, look at the love that God has given to us – that we are called children of God.

And the first thing that I picked up on when I read that was that those words are plural. Look at what God has given us. Not what God has given you. Not what God has given me. But what God has given us. We together are the children of God. The letter of 1 John is not about personal faith. It’s not about you and God. It’s about a community and the experience of Jesus embodied within that community. We are children of God. And if we are God’s children, then all of us are siblings. We are family. The whole Christian view of the world is that of one big family.

You know, when I first interviewed here, that’s how you described yourselves – as one big family. And that’s what made me want to come here. I’d never experienced a church that was just like a big family. And early on, I learned that it is true. You are a big family. Now, that doesn’t mean that it’s always sunshine and roses among the family, because families can be really messy. But it does mean that there are deep roots and loyalty and commitment to one another here.

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. And it’s what we are. Not what we were. Not what we will be. It is what we are now.

And it means that this church, Aurora and Trinity, have an incredible opportunity to be a picture of how God wants the whole world to be. Like a family. So, look around. And meet your family. And know that you are called to go and live like a family as a witness to the world of what God desires. Because think of how different our world would be if we viewed everyone as our brothers and sisters. There would be no homeless and no one living in hunger, and no war…because we would never let that happen to family.

So, that’s the good news today. We are children of God. Which means God’s love for us is free and unconditional and it is forever. And it is for all people. And that love then makes us family. The whole world is our relatives. And 1 John says that in community, when we are together, that is when we will see Jesus in the flesh and blood. Here in this life that we share together.

And let me say, I have experienced that first hand. I have experienced Jesus in the flesh and blood through all of you. And I have experienced it in many ways – through the joy of participating together in different ministries and activities and Bible studies. Through coming up with a joint mission statement together and wrestling with what it means and looks like to live that out in this place. Through walking together through 16 funerals and 24 baptisms. Through making Aebleskivers elbow to elbow with each other until they came out our ears. Through living through the beautiful chaos and insanity that is the Aurora Diner. I have experience Jesus in the flesh and blood as we offered to each other mutual grace and forgiveness after doing and saying things that we regretted. I have experienced Jesus in the flesh and blood through you walking beside Lauren and I as we figured out what it meant to be parents for the first time.

But if I had to pick one time when I experienced Jesus in the flesh and blood through you, it was when my dad went through his medical emergency. And I had never been through that before. And you held us in prayer. And you told us over and over again that you were praying for us and for my dad. And you continued to ask how he was doing, even a year after the incident. And that changed me. I had never experienced the power of prayer like that before. I’ve said this before but prayer has never been my greatest skill as a pastor. In fact, it’s probably been the place of one of my greatest doubts and insecurities. But you taught me the power of prayer and you taught me how to pray. So you have converted me into a praying pastor. And so know that every time I pray with someone, know that your ministry to me reaches out to be ministry for others.

So, you’ve changed me as a pastor. For the better. If you have changed one thing about me personally, you’ve opened the eyes of this city boy to the sacredness of rural life. There are a lot of things I never knew before coming here. I never knew what it meant when a sow farrowed. I never knew that tiling in a field was different than tiling in your bathroom. I’d never ridden on a combine before. I’d never talked with anyone about castrating piglets. I never knew rural life. But now I know. And what a beautiful world I never knew until being here with you.

I may be leaving here a better pastor because of you, but I am also leaving here a better person because of all of you. So thank you for those life-long gifts that you have given to me.

There are 4 things that I want to say to you, and that’s the first one – thank you. Thank you for these past 4 years. Thank you for taking a chance on me. Know that I carry you with me, wherever I go.

The second thing I want to say: forgive me. Really. One of the first things a professor said in seminary was, “As a pastor, you will hurt people. So be ready for it.” And it’s true. I know that I have done and said things that have hurt and disappointed some of you over the years. And I imagine that there are some things out there that I don’t know about but that are still alive in you. And so I ask for your forgiveness. Know that my intentions have never been to do anything that would hurt any of you. And I want you to know that if you carry any guilt or regret from our interactions, know that all is forgiven on my end. And I hold nothing but love and gratitude for you.

The third thing: I love you. I do. I love you like family. Because we are family. And as God has said, nothing can change that.

Finally, the last thing I want to say is goodbye. But not in the “I’ll-never-see-you-again-best-of-luck” sort of way. But in the original meaning of the word goodbye. The original meaning of goodbye is “God be with ye.” God be with you. When we say goodbye we take “strength in remembering that the One who (gives) and (cherishes) life (will) be there to protect and console. Goodbye (is) a blessing of love proclaiming the belief that if God (goes) with you, you (will) never be alone,…comfort, strength and all the other blessings of (God’s) loving presence (will) accompany you.” God will lead you, God will be with you, God will not fail you or desert you. Have no fear. (Deut. 31:8) [1]

They say that the family that prays together stays together, right? I pray that you will keep praying together. That you will keep focusing on your prayer life throughout this year. And they say that the family that eats together stays together. So I pray that you will keep eating together both around the communion table but also at potlucks. That you will continue to feed each other in body, mind, and spirit with the love of Jesus.

And now, as we all turn to face a new future, may we take comfort in a couple more words from the first letter of John – Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. Which means God is not finished with any of us just yet. So if there has been anything of God in these words spoken and in the past four years together (and there has!), may it settle and take root in our life. Amen.

[1] Praying Our Goodbyes, pg. 1-2.

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April 18th, 2015 – Confirmation Day Sermon on Exodus, Romans, and John

Exodus 3:1-12
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.7Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” 11But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12He said, “I will be with you.”

Romans 8:31-35,37-39
31What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

John 13:34-35; 14:15-17, 25-27
34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” 15”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 25”I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate, 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. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

By way of introduction, I want to let all of you know that this group is the first Confirmation group to go through all three years of Confirmation in our current form. The way we do Confirmation is we begin downstairs by lighting candles and sharing our highs and lows. We light candles as a way of reminding ourselves of God’s presence with us but also that Jesus has said to us – you are the light of the world. And so that is our calling – to be light to the darkness of this world.

Then we would share together the best part of our week and the worst part of our week, and then we would gather for a snack, we would review what we had previously learned, we would have a Confirmation lesson, and then we would gather again around the candles for closing prayer together and then every Confirmation student would receive a blessing as they left.

Now that we all are a little acquainted with how we did Confirmation, let’s begin with a little trip down memory lane during our time together during Confirmation. Pop quiz:

– In our first year together, who was known for digging a big hole in his backyard? Payton
– During one of our retreats, who was ordained as pastor and baptized a gnome? Evan
– Who has had more injury days out from Confirmation than anyone else? Taitelynn
– Who never ever had a high or a low? Kristian
– Who was most likely to speak in a funny voice and accent during a Confirmation Session? Jace
– Who always conveniently needed a bathroom break 15 minutes before Confirmation was over because he just couldn’t stand it anymore? Cameron
– Who played the roll of Jesus when we created a live version of the Lord’s Supper? Dalton
– Who was so constantly well-behaved and polite and even-keeled that it makes it difficult to come up with trivia questions about him? Ethan
– Who is the best volunteer adult leader you could ask for in Confirmation? Niki

Those are just a few of the wonderful memories that I have of our time together. But most of all, what was most meaningful to me was to watch how you came together as a group of people that we would support and care for each other. As some of you said, Confirmation became a place where we talk about hard things that we couldn’t talk about in other parts of our life. And while we may not all be best friends, you all have formed a bond of support and care for one another. And what a great witness to what God calls us to be. God calls us to be like a family to one another. And we are to treat each other like family. And as some of you know, families don’t always get along perfectly. But you still have a love and a respect for one another. And I think this bond that you all have created is something that will stay with you throughout your life. Some of you may leave here today and you won’t see each other for years. But when you do see each other again, something will creep up in you and you’ll say, Hey! I was in Confirmation with that person. And you’ll instantly remember the bond that you have. And that’s a real gift.

Now, I’ve shared this with our Confirmands and their parents but I will share it with all of you as well. Today, these young adults get to choose to affirm their baptisms. Which means they have all the power in the room today. I’m not the one confirming them or blessing them because they’ve passed some sort of spiritual test or because they have completed a handful of requirements. But rather they are confirming their faith. They are affirming the promises that their families and sponsors made in baptism and they are choosing to take responsibility for their faith life. The great promise of today is that God is in love with this group of young adults and will forever be a part of their life. And they have the power and the freedom of whether to say yes or not to that love.

Which I think in a lot of ways makes today kind of like a wedding day. God has made a proposal to you – to love you and to walk with you forever. And you, our Confirmands, get to decide if you want to say yes. It doesn’t mean God will stop loving you if you say no or that God would no longer be part of your life. But it is to choose to have an active part in the relationship.

So in that way I think today is kind of like a wedding day. And here is the thing, it is down right scary to commit yourself to kind of life-long relationship. To make promises like that. And there is a problem with weddings these days. 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 people seem to think that by the day of their wedding, their relationship should be in perfect shape and they should be more in love than ever and they should have all their problems figured out. That the relationship is supposed to be perfected at the time of the wedding. (Sheryl Paul, Huffington Post, “Marriage is a Work in Progress.”)

When in fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. 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 your relationship with God must be at it’s highest. That you have figured out this thing called faith and it is easy. And that your love for God is as big as it can ever get and that now you’ll just spend the rest of your life happily believing in God and Jesus. And that it will be easy from here on out. And nothing could be farther from the truth.

Committed relationships are hard. And a life of faith is hard too. I’ll never forget what my mom said to me. She said, “Jon, when you are dating and engaged, you’ll have bad days and bad weeks in your relationship. When you are married, you’ll have bad months and bad years.” The same is true in the journey of faith. You’ll have good months and years of faith, and you’ll have some bad ones too.

To our Confirmands, 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 today in order to confirm you faith. 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. But it will always be a work in progress and it is never finished.

But when you are saying yes to being in relationship with God, you are daring to say yes to some of the most incredible promises that have ever been made. Promises that God gives to you. And today in our readings, we have just three of those promises that I want to lift out.

The story of Moses and when God calls upon Moses for help in freeing the God’s people from slavery in Egypt. Many of us think that the miracle in this story is that God spoke through a burning bush. But the real miracle is that God called on Moses. What sin had Moses committed before God called upon him for help? Murder! That’s right, Moses is a murderer.

So, today, one of the things that you confirm is that God can and will call upon and use anyone for the sake of creating a better world. You can never ever lose God in your life. God will never give up on you. I don’t care who you are or what you’ve done, you will forever remain part of God’s life and love. And God will always have a purpose for you.

And what’s the purpose? We learn it in our Gospel reading. To love. Not to love in the sweet, easy, all-you-need-is-love sort of way. But to love even when it is hard to love. Love is not easy. In fact, it can be very difficult sometimes. But it is the greatest work and the greatest power in the world. Which is why the Scriptures say that God is love. In fact the Scriptures even say that you cannot even love God while hating another person. They are linked. If you want to work on your relationship with God, if you want to love God, work on loving people. And that means all people, including our enemies. To love God is to love people. They are one and the same. And if we are going to love people, then we are going to have to work on tearing down those pyramids of power that we learned about. We cannot live in a world where there are people on the top and people on the bottom. How do we begin to tear them down? By loving all people and not just some people. By offering compassion and forgiveness and grace to all. When we walk out of here today, we will be singing Onward Christian Soldiers. But here is the thing, you are like soldiers that the world has never seen. You leave here as Soldiers of Love. You are not soldiers carrying weapons that hurt and harm but soldiers carrying medicines that heal – medicines of love and compassion and forgiveness.

Now, like I said, this is hard. And we are going to fail sometimes. Many times in fact. But then God has another promise for us. And we heard it from Romans today. And you Confirmands heard it every single time you left Confirmation in the past 3 years. Child of God, nothing can separate you from the love of God. Nothing. Nothing can separate you or anyone from the love of God. And by nothing I mean…nothing. God will still love you if you stop going to church. God will still love you if you fail to listen to God and love your neighbor. God will still love you even when you say and do things that hurt other people. And through that unconditional love, God will always be calling you back from that life, so that you can be the light of the world that God has created you to be. And that is good news for all of us here.

So that’s what you dare to confirm today. Faith in a God who is so in love with you that God wants to be in relationship with you forver. Faith in a God who makes the most incredible promises one could ever hear. May you find the courage to say yes to that today.

And finally. I hope you know how much each one of you mean to me. Confirmation with you has been one of the best parts of being pastor here. So thank you for that. You have been bright lights to my life and I have no doubt that you will continue to be bright lights for the world. So I thank you for all that you are and I thank God for you. Amen

Sunday, April 12th, 2015 – Sermon on John 20:19-31

John 20:19-31
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Friends, today is Second Sunday of Easter. I share that because I actually think the title for today is significant. Today is not the Second Sunday after Easter, but the Second Sunday of Easter. Easter is a season in the church, not just a day. It is fifty days long – a whole season of death and resurrection. Which is to say that Easter is not over. In fact, it is never over. But rather as Christians, we are called to be Easter people. Resurrection people. To live an Easter life. To be a people, a community who is always looking for life out of death.

And yet, to be honest, Easter is always the hardest season of the church year for me. Out of all the Christian seasons and Holidays, Easter is the one when my faith feels the thinnest. And my doubt seems to come back with a passion.

The resurrection is at the heart of our Christian story and yet too often it can be the hardest one for me to believe in. I don’t know if it is just the strangeness of a dead man rising from the grave and the seemingly impossibility of that, or the joy of the season doesn’t seem to match the heartache and the heaviness of the events themselves. Of Jesus’ death and the disciples’ abandonment. Of Mother Mary’s grief. And even of the disciples’ response to the resurrection which was…fear.

So this is my doubting season. It’s like allergies. It always comes out like clockwork. I can remember in 2008, while I was at seminary, I experienced my worst Easter to date. I was playing trumpet at church service, and everyone came into the church shouting, “Alleulia, Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!” There were the banners with bells on them, the brass instruments, the Easter lilies. And for me, that doubt start to creep in. But then to make matters worse, the sermon that Sunday was all about if you don’t believe in the resurrection, if you don’t believe Jesus’ literal body was raised from the dead, then you’re not a Christian. Then you have no faith at all. And as a person who was already doubting, it was the final blow. I left that Easter service with a crushed faith, not a resurrected one.

Because of my struggle with this season, today, the second Sunday of Easter, has always been one of my favorite Sundays of the year – because it is Thomas’ Sunday. Thomas the disciple. The patron saint of doubters. And I’ve always loved him for it. Because he doubts like I do. He asks questions that I want to ask.

And you know, I think we have done a disservice to the church and to Christians everywhere by scarring Thomas with this nickname – Doubting Thomas. As if doubts and questions are an absence of faith, when in fact they are an element of faith. For far too long, people have said, “Don’t be a doubting Thomas. You just gottta believe.” Well, it’s not always easy, I say.

But, for as much as I love Thomas, I want to leave him behind for today. Sometimes I think Thomas has become a distraction for us to everything that happens before him in today’s gospel text and I think we’ve missed the whole point of this story. I think we missed the point by looking at Thomas and what Thomas does and then telling others not to be like him. Because if you make it about Thomas and that we should never doubt, then I think all we end up doing is crushing people’s faith on Easter. I mean, that’s what we love to do, right? We love to make things about what we do, and some morality lesson. When in reality, perhaps this is a story about what God does for us and the promise God gives us to hold on to.

So let’s leave Thomas behind for today and instead pay attention to the details of what Jesus is doing in this story.

It was the night of Easter. Mary and some of the disciples had been to the empty tomb and discovered that Jesus was no longer dead, but alive. And now it was evening. And the disciples were huddled together in a house behind a locked door. Why? Because they were afraid. It says they were afraid of the Jews, but I suspect that’s not the whole truth.

I mean, if you deny and betray and abandon your leader unto his death and then you find out he’s alive….that would strike fear in all of us. Is he coming back to (gulp) get us?

And Jesus does come back to get them. Only not to punish. To rescue them from their fear and their trembling.

The disciples are hiding in fear behind a locked door and somehow and someway, Jesus sneaks through and he stands before them and he says….not where were you when I needed you. Not how could you leave me when I needed you the most. Not I just knew you would deny me. No, Jesus breaks in to say to them – “Peace be with you.”

So just from those few verses alone, we learn a few things. We can try and lock Jesus out of our life, but it will not work. He will find a way to barge back in unannounced and uninvited. And when he does, he will come to bring peace to our fearful self. Or put another way, when we are completely unworthy of Jesus’ presence is exactly when Jesus will show up offering us peace. Jesus doesn’t show up once we’ve become good and moral people, but when we’ve messed up and are frighten – that’s when he will break in to our lives.

After that, Jesus shows them his hands and his side. His wounds from the cross. Now, what could this mean? What we learn is that the resurrected Jesus is identified by his wounds. That the resurrection does not undo the crucifixion. But rather that the suffering that God endured on the cross for the love of the world, continues to be part of the life of God today. That God continues to feel the pain of this world and continues to bear the suffering of this world in love.

After that, Jesus does this remarkable thing. He says to them, “Just as the Father sent me, now I am sending you.” And then he breathes on them. Or another translation says, “He breathed into them.”

Which is pretty weird, right? And I don’t just mean for us today, but I imagine it was a little weird for those disciples too. That’s not something people normally do.

A couple of weeks ago, I was putting Elliot to bed, and I had to keep moving my legs because they were sore. And Elliot noticed this and he asked me, “Why do you keep moving your legs, Daddy?” And so I told him that my legs hurt. And then he said, “Oh, I can help you…” and he proceeded to get up and breathe on my legs. Haaaaaaaa…..haaaaaaaaaaaa.

And while it was super sweet and super cute, it was also a little weird. I have absolutely no idea where he learned that. And so I have to think it was maybe a little weird for the disciples too. There only like two social acceptable times when it is okay to breathe on someone – in a moment of passion and a moment of CPR. Neither of which is this moment between Jesus and his disciples.

But that’s what he does – he breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” What’s he doing? Well, can you think of any other time when someone in Scripture gets breathed into?

Adam. In the creation story. God gathers up some dirt and breathes into it to create the first human. To create something new. So what’s Jesus doing? He is making all things new. He is recreating his disciples into new creatures. So that they are no longer the ones who abandoned him and betrayed him. They are made new, freed and forgiven. That’s what our confession and forgiveness does. It breathes into us new life, so that we might be made new.

Jesus makes them into new beings – unburdened by the past and freed for the future. He fills them with the Holy Spirit and then he gives them a purpose in life – If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.

What Jesus is saying to them is if you are going to be my disciples, if you are going to be Resurrection people in this world then you will take up my work in the world. The work of bringing God’s grave and forgiveness and love to the world.

You see Jesus knows that in order to get us out of our locked rooms of fear and darkness, we need to be given a purpose in this life. If you’ve ever seen someone going from having no purpose in life to finding purpose, then you’ve seen a resurrected person. Jesus knows that in order to free these disciples from their tomb of fear, they need a purpose.

So he gives them his purpose. His work. To send them out into the world to offer God’s life-giving word of grace and forgiveness and love. If you speak the words of God’s grace and love and forgiveness, then they will know. But if you don’t – if you withhold those words – how will the world know of God’s great love for them?

And so what we learn is that, as Jesus’ disciples today, you and I are entrusted with that same awesome responsibility. The whole world needs to hear the word – you are forgiven. You are accepted. The whole world needs to be made new. To be unburdened by the past. And Jesus has entrusted you and me with the responsibility to speak those words to the people in our world. Every week, when we gather together here, Jesus breathes his Spirit into our lives so that we can carry those words of love and grace and forgiveness out these doors and wherever we go in the week ahead. That’s our work as the church. As Parker Palmer says – to love the world, not to enlarge our membership, not to get new members to be like us,or to get more offering in the plate, but simply to love the world in every possible way–to love the world as God does. That’s the work Jesus is sending us to do.

And then did you notice what happened with the disciples after that? I didn’t until Lauren pointed it out to me. A week later…they’re still hiding in the house. I mean, c’mon, Jesus just said that he was sending them out and they haven’t moved an inch.

But then…Jesus shows up in the house again – even though the doors were closed. And once again, Jesus says – Peace be with you. Even though they didn’t listen to him from a week earlier.

And so, I guess what we learn from this is that we have some freedom about whether we will listen to God’s call in our life or not. Jesus is sending you into the world to be a bringer of God’s peace and love – but only you can decide to unlock the door and go.

But the good news is that Jesus will keep coming back to you, behind the locked doors of your heart, to shepherd you back out into the world.

Friends, we are called to live as Easter people. Which is not to have it all figured out. It is not to have all the answers. But rather it is to trust that you have been given a purpose for life and not for death in this world. A purpose that simply will not allow you to stay behind locked doors.

So, I invite you to close your eyes. And take a slow deep breath. Risen Christ, breathe into us. Enter us. Fill us once again so that we may embody you in the world.

Now, let’s unlock the doors. And let’s go. Amen.

Sunday, April 5th, 2015 – Easter Sermon on Mark 16:1-8

Mark 16:1-8
1 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Let us pray. Spirit of the Risen Christ, break through the tombs of our hearts and free us from fear. Resurrect our hope and enliven our love for one another. Raise up within each of us here the desire to be your faithful friends forever. Amen.

But the young man dressed in white said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Not exactly the ending that most of us were looking for. No cheers of “Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” No, trumpet’s sounding, no joyful celebrations of this amazing event of Jesus’ resurrection.

But that’s the gospel of Mark for you. At least in the Gospel of Matthew and Luke and John, the resurrected Jesus shows up again – so they know it’s true. But in Mark’s gospel – we don’t get to see the resurrected Jesus. All we get is a promise from the young man sitting in the tomb – He has been raised; he is not here…Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.

And then the women leave the tomb, in terror and amazement, and they didn’t say a word to anyone, because they were afraid.

No, not exactly the ending we’ve been looking for. Or the ending we’ve been hoping for.

And the ending of story, I mean, that’s the most crucial part, right? Whenever a long-standing and popular television show begins it’s final season, everyone is a buzz – how’s it going to end? How are they going to close out this story? Because the way a story ends is often what makes or breaks the whole thing. And in the end, we all want a story that ends well. We want things to be resolved and not left open ended.

We want the team to win. The hero to live. The relationship to succeed. The crime to be solved.

But then there are those other endings. Those other stories that don’t resolve everything or don’t answer every last question. I think of the final episode of the Sopranos, where they are in the middle of a scene, and the screen just goes black. I mean the whole world thought their cable went out. And were so disappointed when they realized that that was the end.

Or when Bob Newhart wakes up in bed with his wife from a previous show, many years earlier, and you learn that the whole show of Newhart was just a dream.

Those blindside endings – they can be exciting but they can also be so disappointing. Because so often we just want the story to end well. But you know, as I’ve been thinking about it, the stories, the shows with the neat and tidy endings might be the most satisfying at the time, but they rarely transform us. They rarely cause us to stop and reflect and put some thought into what the ending could have been. It’s only the stories with no ending or an unclear one that actually invite you into finishing the story for yourself.

And that’s what we have in Mark. A disappointing ending. An unfinished story. A promise of Jesus’ resurrection that ends in fear and alleluias. But maybe that’s the point. No easy answers here, Mark says. But rather an ending that invites you to finish the story. To wrestle and wonder. Why’d they leave afraid? Whatever happened to those women?

So why this ending? Why have the women leave the tomb in terror and amazement, but then never say anything because they were afraid? Maybe it’s because Mark knows the truth about us – that our lives are so often lived in moments just like that. Moments of terror and amazement. Moments of fear and hope. Everyday, we live on this line between hope and fear. And every day it is a gamble on what kind of day it’s gonna be – fear or hope.[1]

And, man, when it’s between fear and hope, fear seems to win out. Doesn’t it?

When you hear about a friend who was cancer free and now – bam! – it’s all over his body.

When 200 Nigerian school girls are taken from their school (their school!), and now, a year later, we still don’t know where they are.

When Christians are singled out and gunned down by radical Muslims at a University in Kenya, and 147 are killed.

Or when co-pilots crash airplanes.

So often, fear wins the day. And I don’t know about you, when I become afraid, I’m tempted to crawl into my own tomb and just hide from it all.

I don’t know if you heard, but there was a shepherd in the mountains who actually witnessed the Germanwings airplane crash. And when they interviewed him, he said, “I’ll never fly on a plane again.”

And who can blame him? Seeing something like that changes you. We hear of these horrible and frightening things and we will do everything we can to protect ourselves from them.

So who can blame the women in this story who walk away in fear? They were the only ones who stayed until the end. They watched from the hillside as Jesus was crucified. And seeing something like that changes you. And seeing that, I can imagine them saying, “I’m never standing up to Rome ever again. I’m never following Jesus. Look what happens! You get crucified.” And then to see that the tomb is empty and that Jesus is alive and that he will meet them in Galilee. That they’re supposed to go follow him again now? Of course they’re scared. It’s like asking that shepherd to step on an airplane after seeing what he saw. You’ve got to be kidding me!

I’ll never fly again. Of course he feels that way. Who wouldn’t?

The thing is, fear like can become kind of like a death for us. Fear can immobilize us and numb us. Sometimes living in that kind of fear can become like a tomb around us.

But if Jesus won’t stay in the tomb, then neither can we.

In fact, through Jesus’ messenger, Jesus won’t allow these women to stay in this tomb. Remember the angel said to the women – He has been raised; he is not here…Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.

I’ll meet you in Galilee, Jesus says. What’s he mean? Well, Galilee is back where it all began. Back where the disciples lived their everyday lives. Jesus says, Go, I’ll meet you back in Galilee. I’ll meet you back in your ordinary lives!

In CS Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, you might remember the four children that travel from London to that strange world of Narnia through a wardrobe and they meet Aslan the Lion. In the stories, Aslan is a symbol for Jesus. In the first book, with Aslan’s help, the four children help defeat the White Witch who held the land of Narnia in a perpetual winter. In the second book, they help Prince Caspian return to his rightful throne. By the third book, the children have grown to love Narnia and Aslan. But Aslan tells them it is there last trip to Narnia. They can’t come back anymore. Lucy, the youngest of the children and the one closest to Aslan, is heart broken and distraught at the idea of not seeing him again. But Aslan tells Lucy that she will see him again. Back in London. In her ordinary life. That, in fact, that was the point of her coming to Narnia. For her to get to know Aslan so well that she might be able to recognize him more easily in the rest of her life. Aslan tells Lucy – you cannot stay here. But where you are going, I will meet you there.

The angel said to the women at the tomb – Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him. Jesus is speaking to them through the angel saying, “I could not stay here in this tomb and neither can you. But where you are going, I have already gone ahead of you and I will meet you there.”

In the gospel of Mark’s incomplete, open-ended, and somewhat un-Easter-like ending, all we get is an empty tomb and frightened disciples. But we also get a promise.

That Jesus will meet us in Galilee. In this life. In this life that exists between moments of great fear and moments of great hope. If Jesus is alive, then we cannot stay in the tomb of fear and hopelessness. We must return to Galilee, to our everyday lives, trusting that the story, God’s story, isn’t over yet.

Because your life is the resurrection. Because in your life is where the resurrected Jesus promises to meet you. God will not stay in the grave. This love for you and for the world will not be buried. But God will go before you in love. Which means that wherever you go, God has already been there.

If you enter an MRI machine, Jesus has gone ahead of you and will meet you there. If you have to walk to a graveside and bury a loved one, Jesus has gone ahead of you and will meet you there. If you have to walk into chemotherapy, if you have to walk into the divorce lawyer’s office, if you have to walk into a therapist’s office because life is simply crushing you, Jesus has already gone ahead of you, and will meet you there.

That is Jesus’ promise for us today. That we will see him in this life.

So let me tell you where I have seen the resurrected Jesus just in the past week alone. Jesus is alive when a United Airlines flight holds a plane at the gate just so that a man rushing home to say goodbye to his dying mother won’t miss his connecting flight home.

Jesus is alive when members of our church give up their whole day to prepare a meal for the hungry and then when that meal runs out, they rush to make more food so that no one is turned away hungry.

Jesus is alive in friends of ours who learned of their miscarriage and their cousin’s suicide on the same day, and yet continue to seek a life of hope as they support others who live through such tragedy.

Jesus is alive when one of our confirmation students talks to me about my leaving and he says, “Well, I hope we get a new pastor soon. Because I think we have a lot to offer.”

The angel said to the women, He has been raised; he is not here…Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him. That’s the Easter promise. That Jesus will meet us here. And when we see Jesus in our life here and now, then we will know that what Jesus proclaimed all along was true. The kingdom of God has come near.[2] Amen.

[1] Matthew Skinner, http://www.odysseynetworks.org/on-scripture-the-bible/daring-to-hope-in-the-stress-of-uncertainty-mark-161-8/

[2] Ibid.

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015 – Maundy Thursday Sermon on John 13 and Exodus 12

Exodus 12:1-4, [5-10], 11-14

1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. 4 If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it.[5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. 7 They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. 10 You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn.] 11 This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. 14 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

 

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

1 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” 12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

31 Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

I have to say that I hesitated for a very long time this week about whether we should have read that passage from Exodus for tonight or not. It is one of the assigned readings every year for Maundy Thursday, which we will get into in a bit. But I found myself wanting to protect you from the reading. Because it’s quite an awful story if you really listen to it. It is the story of the 10th plague that hits Egypt, which is meant to get Pharaoh to release Moses and the Israelites from slavery.

It’s not a story we hear very often, but I’m certain some of you are familiar with the 10 plagues: water turns to blood. Frogs fell from the sky. Gnats. Flies. Diseased livestock. Boils. Hail. Locusts. Darkness. These were all the plagues that fell upon Egypt because of Pharaoh’s unwillingness to free the people. To let the Israelites go. And then there was the 10th and final plague – death of the first-born of every family in Egypt.

As the story goes, before this plague struck, the Israelites were told to each take a lamb for the family, and slaughter it together. They were to put the blood of the lamb on two of the doorposts in their home and then eat the lamb as part of a meal with unleavened bread. It would be their last meal in Egypt.

And then God will pass through the land of Egypt. And anytime God sees a home with lamb’s blood on their doorposts, God will passover that home and it will not be hit by the plague. So all the Israelite families would be safe. But in the Egyptian homes where there was no blood on the doorposts, the first-born child of both the family and the animals would be killed. I mean think of the chaos that must have been.

And it was after this 10th and final plague struck that Pharaoh finally freed the Israelites from slavery. He let the people go. And ever since then, the Jewish faith has celebrated this night, this freedom from slavery with the festival of Passover, and with a Passover meal.

A meal with a slaughtered lamb and unleavened bread. And that’s the meal that Jesus is having with his disciple’s at the last supper. They are celebrating this story with all the other Jews who came to Jerusalem for the festival.

But it’s a pretty horrifying story, isn’t it? Which is why I hesitated to even read it. I wanted to protect us from it. But then I realized that this is the week when we cannot protect ourselves from that which is hard to hear and see, otherwise we will miss the point. I mean just join us tomorrow night on Good Friday, when we will watch and hear Jesus be crucified, and you’ll see what I mean.

So, what a terrible story. But then we have this other story about Jesus with his discipleship celebrating this meal, and Jesus kneels down and washes the feet of his disciples and we hear Jesus say things like, 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

I mean talk about opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to stories and images of God. We have a terrifying story and then a beautiful story.

I’ve been listening to the band The Decemberists a lot lately and in one of their new songs, they sing – Oh my God, what a world you have made here. What a terrible world, what a beautiful world.

And when I hear these two stories, that’s what I want to say – My God, what a terrible world where first-borns are killed in a plague. And what a beautiful world when we wash the feet of one another in love.

Okay, so how are we supposed to make sense of all of this? I mean, do we really believe in a God who would kill the first-born of Egyptians? I don’t. What kind of God is that? That’s a play out of Pharaoh’s playbook – to wipe out all the firstborns. Not God’s. I mean what horrifying image of God – of a god who gets even. And it is that kind of thinking that keeps us at war with each other. No, we need to be liberated from this kind of image of God.

So what could have happened? Well, let’s just imagine for a moment. Pharaoh is a tyrant who has enslaved the Israelites and he will not let them go and be free. Pretty terrible and awful. Now, imagine that during that time Pharaoh experienced his own tragedy. Maybe his first-born died for some reason or another.[1]

And I’m willing to bet that if that happened, that some of the Israelites would’ve said, “See, serves you right. Now, you know the horror of life that you have subjected us to, Pharaoh.” In fact, all we have to do is listen to ourselves whenever something bad happens to someone who does horrible things. When something bad happens to someone who has been cruel to you, aren’t you tempted to say – Good! Serves you right! What goes around comes around! And we actually have a word for that in our culture now. A word I hear a lot among the youth. Karma.

So maybe that’s what happened – my Pharaoh’s child died. And then the people used that event to make meaning out of their situation. They started to think that it must have been God punishing Pharaoh. And like any good story, we always exaggerate the details, don’t we? And so maybe as they told the story, it got bigger and bigger and suddenly it isn’t simply that Pharaoh’s child died but suddenly the story becomes that God punished all of Egypt’s first-borns to set the Israelites free.

And maybe this story got so big and so out of control that now suddenly we are believing in a God who will go around killing children just to punish those who have done bad things. And that’s not a god I believe in. I don’t think it is the God of Creation, the God we see revealed to us in Jesus.

So I guess, what I’m wondering, is could it be that Jesus is making a new meaning out of this Passover celebration? That it isn’t a celebration of a God who gets even. But on the one hand it is a night when we are reminded of what not to do. If we enslave others (and I use that term broadly), like Pharaoh did, we will self-destruct. Not by God’s hand, but by our own. And we’ve all seen how capable we are of self-destruction by mistreating others.

And so the story of Pharaoh is a great example of what not to do. What the way of God doesn’t look like. And now Jesus is going to show us what it does look like. And he models the way of God, the way of Jesus, by clothing himself like a servant, and kneeling down and washing the disciples feet.

As you might imagine, back then, the feet were regularly the dirtiest part of the body. With unpaved roads made of dust and dirt, and only sandals at best for protection, the feet got pretty beat up. They were in constant need of cleaning.

And feet carry a similar reputation still today. Right, they smell. Sometimes they are misshaped from many years of hard use. Sometimes they are heavily calloused, and cracked and peeling. Sometimes they have warts or other contagious skin condition.

So I’ve been trying to imagine what that moment must have been like for Jesus’ disciples, when Jesus’ lines them up to wash their feet. And the best I can do is relate it to an experience I had recently.

This past Saturday, I forgot that Kayla Paape was going to stop by the house to deliver palms for Palm Sunday service. She was scheduled to arrive at 10am and she was exactly on time. And I was in my snowflake pajamas. And so the doorbell rings, here I am, a grown man still in his snowflake pajamas at 10 am on a Saturday morning.

And so I had that moment of like, Uhh…what I am going to do? I can’t go to the door like this! Do I have time to change? Should I just hide and act like I’m not home? Well the car’s in the driveway, so that’s not gonna work. Gah!

I so didn’t want to go to the door in my pajamas. Because it revealed something about me that I didn’t want others to see. But what could I do? So, I went to the door in my pajamas, apologized for my state of dress, and ended the conversation as quickly as possible.

You know what that’s like. You’re in the middle of an argument with your spouse and then a friend knocks on the door. Or the house is just a disaster and someone stops over. And there’s that moment when you’re like, what can I do to hide? And that’s our truth, right? That we all try to make it look like we aren’t who we really are. To cover up to pretend.

And I imagine the disciples having a similar reaction to seeing that Jesus towel up with a basin of water and kneel at their feet. I imagine the disciples in a slight mode of panic, thinking, Umm…I was unaware that tonight would involve people touching my disgusting feet. How can I get out of this quickly? I mean Peter even tries that, right? He says, Lord, “You will never wash my feet. I’m not worthy.”

That’s the thing about this act of love. This act of love on Jesus’ part demanded that they allow themselves to be really seen. To stick their feet out and be seen for who they really are. Literally warts and all. All the dirt and grim that their life has gathered up along the way.

I’m not entirely sure what Jesus’ technique was for washing the disciples’ feet, but if he did use a basin of water, who’s the poor soul at the end of this line of feet who has to stick his feet in that bucket that probably looked like the bucket of water you used to clean your paint brushes off in. Just a gray, mud color, with probably some floaters in it.

And it can’t feel that great to be getting other people’s dirt and grim all over your feet. But that’s actually another truth we can say about the dirt of life. Our dirt, our grime of life – it gets on other people, doesn’t? Like my sin doesn’t just impact me. It ripples out on all these other people. When I lose my temper at home, I watch as Elliot is changed by it. And it hurts to see.

So what’s your build up? What’s your junk that clings to the bottom of your feet and seems to spoil the bowl of water for everyone else?

What we see in this story is what Jesus wants to do with you. To wash you of all the weighs you down. To let it dissolve away like dirt in the rain. So that you can be free. And then he wants us to do the same for others.

This is the way to life. The way of Pharaoh, that’s not the way. This is the way. It is how Jesus wants us to love one another – to take one another’s feet in our hands and to wash them clean. If we can offer kind and gentle hands to each other’s dirt. If we can help each other to wash it away. To assure one another that you don’t have to wash it away all alone, only then can we be a community of the way of Jesus. But it mean’s you’ll have to stick out your feet. And you’ll have to embrace each other’s feet too.

May you have the courage to receive this love tonight in the form of water washed over your hands, and bread and wine placed in them. And then may you go and share that love with the world. Amen.

[1] I’m indebted to Alan Storey for this insight.