Sunday, July 1st, 2018 – A Sermon on Salvation and How Jesus is a Dad, from Mark 5:21-43

Mark 5:21-43
21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24 So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?’ “ 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” 35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. 

Beloved people of God, grace, peace and mercy are your from Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Throughout our High School mission trip in Houston, as we were driving around town, we saw many, many billboards that said in BIG LETTERS, “Where are you going? Heaven or Hell.” Of course, with a beautiful clear cloud-dusted sky for heaven and a big dark fire for Hell. And then at the bottom it said, “Call 1-855-FOR-TRUTH.”

I called the number this week, just to see what it was like. It was nice. It gave you options depending on what billboard you’re calling about. For “Proof that God exist”, press 1. For “Jesus, your only way to God”, press 2. For “Where are you going, heaven or hell?” press 3.

I pressed 3. It talked a lot about how heaven is the salvation that God offers us as a free gift, as long as…we obey God. Give our life to God. So, not exactly free, according to their theology. There is just a little bit of work you have to do.

When we hear the word salvation, I think for many of us think of this – as going to Heaven instead of going to Hell. This is how most people associate Christianity, I think, as a community that separates people into those two categories – those who are going to Heaven and those who are going to Hell.

You see we like to put things and people in categories – so that we think we can understand them.

But I am also going to guess that for many of us, that word salvation, carries a lot of baggage.

Biblical scholar Marcus Borg tells the story about getting together with an intergenerational discussion group, where half were in their 20s and 30s and half in their 60s and 70s. “Most were committed Christian involved in their churches. The rest were earnest seekers – no longer or not yet part of a church, but seriously considering whether there might be something real and important in Christianity.”[1]

And the interesting thing about this group is that for 80% of them, the word salvation only had a negative connotation. Salvation was all about going to heaven, or…..not. Many recalled as children wondering if they had believed or behaved good enough in order to be saved.

For so many of us, salvation has this narrow and highly negative meaning to it. But in the Bible the word for salvation has this wide breadth of meaning to it. And here is the most interesting part: in the Bible, salvation is rarely about an afterlife.

Now, just to be real clear – the promise of eternal life, of life with God beyond this life, because of the grace and unconditional love of God, in the company of all the saints is part of our faith. It is good news.

But salvation in the bible means so much more than that too. As Borg says, in the Bible to be saved can mean being set free from bondage (sometimes religious bondage). To be saved can mean being restored to a community. It can mean being rescued from danger. It can mean life coming out of death. Sickness to wellness. From fear to trust. Injustice to justice. From violence to peace.

All of this is said to be salvation – experienced in this life.

So, you see, in the Bible, salvation has a much broader understanding of what it means to be saved than we tend to think.

I bring this up because this gospel reading for today is about salvation – though it might be hard to catch at first.

Jesus and his disciples are coming back from their across the sea, and there is a crowd gathered around. And immediately we meet a man named Jairus. He just cuts through the crowd like a hot knife through butter. A powerful leader in the community and synagogue, who goes right up to Jesus, because he is used to getting time and space and attention from people…and Jairus has a 12-year-old daughter. And he says to Jesus, “My daughter is at the point of death. Come and put your hands on her and she will be made well.“

So Jesus goes with him. But remember, there is this whole crowd there. Pressing in on Jesus. And in the crowd is a woman. And she, unlike Jairus, doesn’t have a name.

She’s just one among a crowd.

In fact Mark tells us a lot about her.

She’s been bleeding for 12 years old. Remember Jairus’ daughter is 12 years old and this woman has been bleeding for 12 years. Put a pin in that – we will come back to it.

But she has been bleeding for 12 years, which means not only has she been ritually impure for 12 years and kept away from the temple, it also means she hasn’t been welcome in public for a very long time.

You see, people who are chronically sick know that not only do you have to battle the sickness, but you have to battle isolation too.

Mark also says that she’s suffered under the care of many physicians and she’s spent all her money. She’s broke. She’s got nothing left.

Which is part of the cycle of poverty, right? We learned a lot about the cycle of poverty in Houston. We get sick because we don’t have enough money to heat our house in the winter, but then because we are sick we can’t go to work and won’t have enough money to heat the house for the winter. And so we get sick again.

And Mark says she hasn’t benefited from anything…she’s only gotten worse.

She’s like this double outcast – she’s been bleeding for 12 years and she’s been exploited out of her money from bad medical treatment.

Do you see how Mark is making these characters polar opposites? Named – nameless. Powerful – powerless. Rich-poor. Proper-improper. Jairus’ daughter has someone to advocate for her – this woman has no one to advocate for her.

And remember how Jairus just walked right up to Jesus to ask him to place his hands on his daughter? This unnamed woman doesn’t assume anyone will make room or time for her. This woman belongs to the crowd. To the faceless and the nameless, just bundled together. With no one to defend her. So she just desperately, bravely puts her hands on Jesus. Just his clothes even – so that she can be…saved. Professor Matt Skinner says she steals a healing…because who would ever give her one? So she reaches far out and get just the hem of his robe.

And Jesus noticed.

Jesus noticed her touch. Jesus is surrounded by a crowd, surely bumping into people. Others reaching out for a quick pat on the back of Jesus. But he notices her touch. In fact, it says Jesus felt power leave him. It affected him. This woman hasn’t had an affect on anyone in years. But she had an affect on Jesus.

So, then unnamed woman touches Jesus’ cloak and immediately her bleeding stops. And Jesus calls out to her, “Who touched me?” And she steps out from the crowd in fear and trembling – you see, her bleeding may have stopped but she isn’t fully healed yet. Not healed of her fear or her isolation. And the text she kneels before Jesus and she tells him her whole truth.

When we were serving in a homeless shelter, our guide said, “You will be the first person some of these folks have talked to in days.”

I can only imagine what how long it has been since someone has listened to this woman’s story. And not just her story, but the whole story. I can only imagine what she shared – about years on the fringes of society, years of dashed hopes, years of isolation.

And when she is done, Jesus speaks to her, and his very first word to her is…

Daughter…

He calls her daughter. He adopts her in that moment. Jesus is a dad! Did you know? Jesus claims her as family. Jesus becomes her advocate. “Jesus says, ‘If you have no family, you can be part of mine.’”[2]

Daughter, your faith has made you well, Jesus says. But that word for “made well”, it is the same word for salvation.

Daughter, your faith has saved you. This is a story about salvation.

Because in that one word – daughter – Jesus restores her back to a community. And now her healing is complete. That for her is real salvation. That not only has she stopped bleeding – but there is a place for her again.

Daughter, Jesus says, your faith, your persistence, your hope, your courage…it has saved you.

You see, Jesus won’t let the family-less, face-less, unknown forgotten children on the fringes remain there. If the kingdom of God is for all, then Jesus will not sleep until all are restored into community. That is salvation. Here and now.

But that isn’t the end of the story. Watch what happens. While Jesus is claiming this unnamed, ritually excluded woman as part of the family, word comes that Jairus’ daughter has died.

Now, remember that she was 12-years old. And then woman had been bleeding for 12 years. The number 12 is a very symbolic number in the Bible. And it often represents the community of God’s people, Israel, because there were 12 tribes in Israel.

So, some scholars think that this little 12-year old girl represents the whole community of Israel. The nation. And so perhaps the beginning of this story is about a whole community of people, a nation that is sick. Not well. And on the way to heal her, Jesus is confronted by woman who has suffered from and been isolated from that nation. From that community. And not only is it making her sick, but it is making the nation sick.

Jesus as Jesus has called this woman daughter, trying to bring her back into the community, the community start to fear that Israel is dead. But Jesus tells Jairus, “Do not be afraid. Keep believing. Your daughter, Israel, is not dead. She is only sleeping.” And then Jesus goes to her house, takes her by the hand, and lifts her up to new life. A saved life.

In calling this outcast woman “daughter”, it becomes not only her salvation, but also the salvation of the nation!

You see, if we fail to see one another as family, if we isolate one another and keep some out on the fringes, it will slowly make us sick. My daughter, Israel, is sick, Jairus says. Our daughter, America, is sick, we fear.

When we see each other as categories: homeless, poor, conservative, liberal,  undocumented invader, worthy citizen. Heck, even early service, late service, or St. Olaf side of town and Carleton side of town. If we see each other as categories it will make us sick and lead to our death as a nation. I mean, c’mon, if liberals and conservatives cannot stop talking about the blue or red wave that’s coming at us this November – such a violent image for our politics – there will be no healing of the nations.

This is not who we are.

But if we can stop and look at each other – especially the most vulnerable – and begin with “Daughter….Son….Sister…..Brother….”– we will experience our own salvation. We are made alive again when we begin to see that the other is a child of God too.

In a text that is all about the sick and the dying and the bleeding and impurity, everyone is likely afraid of what is contagious. But the only thing contagious in this text is the love of God. Wherever Jesus goes, whomever he touches the love of God, the kingdom of God, much like the mustard seed, invades and spreads belovedness where belovedness doesn’t belong.

To tweak a quote from Sam Wells, Jesus has so much love, so much healing power, so much compassion, that when the unclean woman gets anywhere near him she’s infected with (belovedness). That’s surely what we long to be as Christians. Not frightened shadows who fear relationship because it might make us dirty, but people so full of compassion and truth and longing for justice and gentle understanding that (belovedness) infects everyone who comes anywhere near us.[3]

And you can do that. Because this belovedness is yours and it is your to give.

There is no number to call. There is no belovedness to earn. It is yours and it is your salvation. Not to be saved for later. But to be use for now. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] Marcus Borg, Speaking Christian, pg. 35.

[2] Sam Wells, http://chapel-archives.oit.duke.edu/documents/sermons/2006/060702.pdf

[3] Sam Wells, ibid.

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Sunday, June 3, 2018 – Stretch Out Your Hand: A Sermon on Sabbath and Mark 2:23-3:6

Mark 2:23–3:6
23 One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26 He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” 27 Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.” 3:1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.


Deuteronomy 5:12-15
5:12 Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 14 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work — you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. 15 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.


2 Corinthians 4:5-12
5 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6 For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

Years ago, during my senior year of college, something happened that I will never forget. I can remember it as clear as day.

Early on, so much of my college career had been spent living in the music building trying to survive as a music major. Trying to make something of myself as a trumpet player; trying to eek through our dear Alice Hansen’s music history class. I had also surrounded myself with friends and teachers I was constantly trying to impress.

But then, senior year, I went on a J-term abroad trip to Greece and Rome with all these people I had never really met before or spent time with. And it was this wonderfully new and freeing experience in life.

After four-weeks abroad, we get back to St. Olaf and we all go our separate ways, back to the life we had been living. I entered right back into the same stream of things. Into the same narrow grind of school work and trying to impress people.

But then in the middle of February, I’m walking from the music building to the religion department, and across the lawn, I see Laura – a girl from my trip.

And suddenly, this deep and profound joy, that I hadn’t felt for weeks, starts to bubble up in me. We run to each other like fools and give a big embrace. We talked for a few minutes, caught up on each other’s live, and then went on our way.

But right after that, I can remember thinking, “Whoa – what just happened? Where has that Jon been?” Like lungs after using an inhaler, suddenly I felt like I could breathe again. In that moment, it was like I had found myself again. I didn’t realize I had been lost – but in seeing Laura, I felt a joy and a freedom to be myself and I liked the person I was in that moment.

And here’s the thing, Laura and I weren’t that good of friends. We haven’t talked or seen each other for probably 14 years now. But something about her and the people on that trip and getting away from school gave me the freedom and the space to just be myself, in a way I hadn’t felt for years.

Have you ever felt like that? Like you have found yourself? Or you got your life back, even though you didn’t know it had been lost?

Sometimes you’ll hear people say, maybe after a weeklong hike in the boundary water or on a mission trip, “I found myself out there. I found myself in those woods.” Or on that trip.

Like you used to be this kind of person. But then slowly over time, you shifted and changed into this kind of person, and then one day, you wake up, and you don’t recognize the person in the mirror? And suddenly you feel like you need to find yourself again.

Believe it or not, God has felt that way.

In the book of Exodus, God and Moses are talking about the Sabbath day and the third commandment – Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.

Remember in the creation story, God created the heavens and the earth in six days and on the seventh day, God rested. Sabbath. And in that conversation with Moses, it says, “You shall keep the Sabbath as God kept the Sabbath and was refreshed.”

God kept the Sabbath and was refreshed. That word refreshed is an interesting word in Hebrew. It is actually the noun for “self or soul” and this is one of only three times it is used as a verb. Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann says that it is better translated, “God kept the Sabbath and was re-selfed.”  God was re-souled.[1]

God kept the Sabbath, and God got God’s self back. God found God’s self by taking Sabbath, by resting, because after all that work of creation – God was depleted. God was worn out. God was pooped. Creation is hard work for God.

And the same is true for us, who are made in the image of God. We get worn out. We get depleted. And, in the process, we can slowly lose ourselves. And so God gives us this amazing gift called the Sabbath. And God commands that we honor it, meaning take Sabbath, because it is good for your life. In fact, in that same conversation between God and Moses, God says if you don’t take the Sabbath, if you don’t rest, it’ll kill you.

So rest, God says. And not just once every four years, but once a week. For a whole day.

That’s what the third commandment is about. Sabbath gives you your depleted life back.

Honoring the Sabbath day isn’t about being forced to go to church. It is about receiving the God-given gift of rest so that you can be restored again for the sake of life. So that you can find yourself again. So that you can find your made-in-the-image-of-God-ness again.

Okay so what is Sabbath then? What does it look like? Again, I’m relying alot on the work of Walter Brueggemann here. I’m quoting him all over the place. He says this, “Sabbath is work stoppage.” It is a day when you refuse to look at your smart phone and check your email. It is a refusal to be identified by productivity. By how much you could can produce and then acquire.

Remember the 10 Commandments were born out of the Jewish experience of slavery in Egypt. Under the boot of Pharaoh. And the theme of Pharoah’s Egypt, “Pharoah’s economy (was), ‘Make bricks.  Make more bricks.  Make bricks without straw.  Make more bricks.  Do not take a break.  Keep working.  Keep producing.  Keep making bricks.’”[2]

In fact, Brueggemann says that Sabbath probably did not become an actual Jewish practice until they knew what it was like to lose themselves. To lose their identity.  Jews had to be very intentional in maintaining their Jewish identity in an empire which wanted to destroy their Jewish identity by overworking them.  Sabbath becomes a visible performance of Jewish identity that protests way of the empire that is all around them.

Sadly, as I think we all can see, we are caught in a similar system of productivity now. If the theme of Pharaoh’s economy was, “Make more bricks”, the theme of our economy is “Make more money. Make more money. Buy more. Be more. Be Better. Be best. Achieve, achieve, achieve.” And as a result, we are living in a time of “systemic violation of Sabbath…” It is the only commandment we sort of brag about breaking.

Ugh. Yeah, I’m just super busy right now. Got no time to rest. Gotta get to the to-do list. I’m super important.

And then because we regularly violate the Sabbath, meaning never stop working, “we operate by and large out of fatigue and over-extendedness, which makes us cranky, inhospitable, and ungenerous.”[3]

Which is what our culture of busyness and commerce economy wants actually.  It wants us exhausted because exhausted people make good shoppers and good sports spectators and good Netflix watchers.[4]

Brueggemann says that “Exhausted people do not make for transformers of a community.” Or in other words, “Rested people are dangerous people.” Because rested people have more energy and courage, they just might start to see what’s really going on and change it for good.

That’s what the third commandment is about. It isn’t about the rule to go to church because God is an insecure, ego-centric maniac who demands your worship to feel good about God’s self.

The commandment to take Sabbath is about God’s love for you and your well-being and slowing down and stopping every week to remember that. Sabbath is refusal to live as depleted people. God is not a workaholic and neither should we be. Because, as the Apostle Paul put it today, we are clay jars. We are fragile and we break and we break down. But we also are clay jars that contain a treasure. The light of God. The image of God. Which makes you precious to God and precious to the world.

As people of faith, honoring Sabbath and taking Sabbath is a visual demonstration of our refusal to be identified by our productivity. And refusing to identify other people by their productivity. But rather to let our identity rest in our made-in-the-image-of-God-ness.

Sabbath is a gift of God for the sake of life, not a burden from God for the sake of being rule-followers. It is meant to restore you – to help you find yourself, your life, again.

Which is what our gospel reading was all about. In the gospel reading, Jesus doesn’t actually break the Sabbath law or even improve or correct the Sabbath law. Jesus is a good Jew. He restores the Sabbath to its original purpose. The Pharisees were trying to use the law to trap Jesus. They weren’t concerned about the hunger and the well-being of the disciples, and the wholeness of the man with the withered hand. They were using the Sabbath as a rule, not a life-giver.

But Jesus knew that Sabbath was for the sake of the flourishing of the human. And so he lets the hungry pluck grain and he restores the man with the withered hand just as Rabbinic law would have allowed.

Now some scholars think that the withered hand is a metaphor. Perhaps a metaphor for anything that is depleting your life right now.

Do you have a withered hand? Something that is crippling your life right now? What is your withered hand that needs stretching out and needs healing?

You see, sometimes, when we can slow down, when we just stop trying to produce so many bricks, when we take Sabbath, it can allow us to noticed our withered hands. And not only that, but give us the courage to stretch them out. Meaning shine a light on them. To give them the attention they need to be healed.

“Stretch out your withered hand,” Jesus says.  Don’t hide it or hide from it anymore. It’s the only way it can be healed.

IMG_1921Downtown, there is this stunning new piece of art work outside the library. It’s called Waste Deep and it is a metal sculpture of a person who is waste deep. And do you know what the person is doing?

They are stretching out their hand.

The plaque said that the high school students who made this sculpture made is as a message to encourage support for those who are struggling with mental illness in our community. But that it can be interpreted in many ways as a symbol of needing or receiving assistance from caring others.

Dear friends, some of us are waste deep and stretching out our hands. Trying to find ourselves again. Some of us are waste deep in busyness and reaching out for rest. Some of us are waste deep in despair at our boarders, reaching out for our children who have been taken away. Some of us are waste deeply in loneliness reaching out for our relationships that have withered.

If we do not take Sabbath, we will never see those truths in ourselves and in others. And it will crush us. And we will never have the energy or the courage to reach out to each other.

So, remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. In other words, stop working for awhile. Find some real rest. Sacred downtime. It becomes the most important commandment in the Old Testament – because without it our lives wither. Sabbath was made for you and for your neighbor. So that we might be dangerously rested people who can care for each other. It is the way of God.

Amen.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rtvjnmjMCc

[2] http://qcfamilytree.org/neighborhood-economics-walter-brueggemann/

[3] Walter Brueggemann

[4] Ibid.

Sunday, May 20th, 2018 – I Don’t Know, a sermon on Pentecost, Acts 2, and Romans 8

Acts 2:1-21
1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ 

Romans 8:22-27
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

First off, just a word of thanks to all of you, to this church. As many of you know by now, a little over a week ago, my wife had an appendicitis that sent us to the hospital late at night. Everything went well and she is doing great. But I wanted to say thank you for all the care you have shown us this past week. For your prayers, for your checking in on us, and for the food. Oh, the food.

And with that, just a quick word about accepting help.

It is so hard.

There is such a temptation to say no and to tough it out and suck it up and think you can get through something without anyone’s help. But thank God for my friend Ken, who said to me, “Jon, I know you. I know your people will offer you help and I know you will want to say no. Don’t do that. Let them help you.” And on this Pentecost Sunday, that felt like a word from the Spirt of God. Like the Spirit was speaking to me through my friend. Paul said in Romans today, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.” My weakness was not being humble or vulnerable enough to know that we could use help. And so, fighting that temptation and with the Spirit’s help, we said yes. We welcomed three meals brought in and it made a world of difference, not only for our bodies but for our hearts too.

My mother-in-law came in to help this week, and she was blown away by the support, by the delicious meals, and by the thickness of the homemade Rice Crispy bars.

And it was with great joy to say to her, “Yah. Welcome to Church. This is what we do.” So if you find yourself in that situation, please don’t hesitate to accept help. It is how God shows up. It is how God gets to you. Thanks for being the presence of God for us this week. Thanks for being church to us.

This morning I want to think about the word hope with you. Which is a strange and hard sermon to write on Friday afternoon, when my phone alerts keep chiming in with updates on the school shooting in Texas.

It’s hard to think about hope in a moment like that. And yet all the more important that we do today.

Hope. What comes to mind when you hear that word? Are you are hopeful person? What does a hopeful person act like to you?

As I was thinking about hope this week, it reminded me of an important day in my life. On June 26, 2011, I made a promise, publically. I was in Rochester, MN. In my home church. Wearing exactly this same outfit. It was my ordination day. And as part of it, this bishop spoke these words:

Jonathan, care for God’s people, bear their burdens, and do not betray their confidence. So discipline yourselves in life and teaching that you preserve the truth, giving no occasion for false hope.

 Giving no occasion for false hope.

As a pastor, one of the most important parts of my calling is to not give false hope.

What is false hope? False hope is the certainty that things will get better. That everything is fine. There is nothing to worry about. Just keep doing what you are doing.

But there is also the opposite of false hope, which is no hope. No hope is the certainty that nothing will get better. That everything is hopeless. So don’t even try to change anything. Just keep doing what you’re doing.

So, if false hope is the certainty that everything will get better. And no hope is the certainty that nothing will get better…then what is real hope?

hope in the dark.jpgRebecca Solnit, a long time activist, has written a remarkable book called Hope in the Dark, and in it she says that real hope is uncertainty. We can’t be certain everything will get better – because…look around. But we also can’t be certain that nothing will get better –because…look around.

Real hope, she says is, being willing to live in uncertainty.

She says, “Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable.”[1]

“Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed.”[2] But just possible.

She says that “Hope locates itself in the premise that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act.”[3] To do something that might have an impact on the unknown future for the better.

She even quotes a journal entry by Virginia Woolf, written after the First World War, as all of Europe was paralyzed by killing and death. In her journal, Virginia Wolf writes,  “The future is dark, which is… the best thing the future can be.”[4]

The future is dark, meaning unknowable. Unclear. Uncertain. We cannot see it yet. Which means that another world is possible. Which means the future has hope.

In our reading from Roman’s this morning, Paul talks a lot about hope.

First, notice that he names the truth. The world groans. All of creation groans. Just like we do.

This isn’t false hope, everything is going to be just fine sort of stuff. Paul is not naïve. He knows the suffering of the world.

But it also isn’t no hope. That life is all groaning and suffering. No, because Paul says that in the midst of this groaning are birth pangs. Groans of labor. That something new, some new future could be born out of this.

And that is hope. And by hope we are saved.

And notice that he says, “Hope that is seen is not hope.” Hope that is certain is not hope.

No, we hope for what we do not see, for what is uncertain but what we also trust is possible. A new world. A new life. A new way.

As a pastor, as a church we are called to be people of hope in the world. And to give hope is to give the gift of uncertainty.

There is so much hopeful uncertainty in our Pentecost story from Acts today. Watch for the unexpected, uncertain parts.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

 Who in their right mind saw that one coming? They certainly didn’t.

Here they are, the disciples, with their newest member Matthias, gathered together in a house, probably at some team-building retreat before they get back out there and keep on keepin’ on with the ministry of Jesus. And suddenly, God breaks in and sets the place on fire with the Holy Spirit. And thanks to the Spirit, suddenly these disciples were capable of more than they thought.

Not only is this saying that something new is happening, but it is saying that something new is possible. The future of their life was not set after all. It was not certain. In fact, it was full of hope.

And then all these devout Jews who were gathered in Jerusalem for the day of Pentecost, the Jewish harvest festival, suddenly hear all this raucous coming from this house. And they were bewildered because they each heard someone speaking in their own native languages.

Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs.

 In their own languages, they heard someone speaking about God’s deeds of power!

Who saw that coming?! They certainly didn’t.

And after all that, after everything that has happened…what’s the strangest thing that the crowd first comments on and just can’t believe?

It’s not they heard some speaking in own language.

It’s not that a tornado just showed up out of thin air.

It’s not all of God’s deeds of power.

After everything thing that happened, the most surprising part is that that at the center of such a sophisticated and linguistical event is….Galileans.

 Aren’t all these who are speaking….Galileans?

Which is Bible talk for hick.

The most unbelievable part of this unbelievable story is that it was Galileans whom the Holy Spirt showed up to and who could speak in all these native tongues.

You see, much like we do with some people, this crowd was pretty certain about Galileans and what they were capable of, which wasn’t much. But that’s the Holy Spirit for you. Suddenly the things you were certain about are uncertain. And hope is possible once again. Even for Galileans.

Who saw that coming? They certainly didn’t.

 Do you have any Galileans in your life? People for whom you are certain about what their capable of…or more honestly, what they are not capable of?

I think I met someone who has felt like a Galilean in his life. This past Wednesday, at our last community meal, I sat next to a man who said that his grandfather installed the furnace for this sanctuary, a hundred years ago. And he also added that he had fixed and worked on those kinds of furnaces too in his life.

But then in this somewhat desperate and demanding tone of voice, he asked sternly, “Do you think I needed a degree to do that?”

I didn’t hear him clearly at first. So, I asked him to repeat what he said.

And he said a little more passionately, “Do you think I needed a degree to do that?”

No, I said.

“You’re darn right, I didn’t!” He said back.

In that moment, this man was saying something, not so much to me, but to the world. In that moment, he demanded a respect and a value that he hadn’t received enough of. He needed to know that the world, not just me, could see more in him than the fact that he didn’t have a degree. That he wouldn’t be seen as a no-good Galilean for the rest of his life.

The story of Pentecost is a story filled with hope. Because the Holy Spirit disrupts and challenges what we think we know, what we think we are certain about. About the future. About ourselves. About others.

Aren’t all these who are speaking….Galileans? What could this possibly mean? They ask.

On the day of Pentecost, everything becomes uncertain. Which means, another world might be possible.

And the crowd asked that, listen to how Peter answers their question. He takes an old prophecy from Joel and uses it to interpret their present moment.

In the end, God will pour out God’s Spirit upon all flesh. And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy – they will learn to speak a word of truth. Your young men shall see visions. And your old men shall dream dreams.

What does it mean that the old ones begin to dream dreams again? Aren’t dreams for the young with a bright long future? Aren’t dreams the things you let go of as one gets older?  But on the day of Pentecost, the old dream dreams again.  It means they see a possible future that they couldn’t see before. To have a dream is to have a future. To have hope.

Who saw that coming?

 Peter goes on quoting Joel saying, “Even upon my slaves, (God says), both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”

“Even my slaves”, God says, claiming them as God’s own, “the lowest of the low, the ones who had no hope of any kind of future….even they will receive the Holy Spirit. And they will prophesy. They will speak the truth.” 

Who saw that coming?!

Welcome to Pentecost. A day when nothing is predictable. Nothing is set in stone. Nothing is certain. Which makes it a day full of hope.

And not just a day, but a faith full of hope. Because it tells us that the Spirit of God is alive and active and unpredictable. Who knows what the future holds. I don’t know. The future is open for God and for us, as co-creators for a better world.

To quote Rebecca Solnit, one last time – “Hope is not a door, but a sense that there might be a door at some point, some way out of the problems of the present moment even before that way is found or followed.” [5]

And that hope should send us rushing out of here like a violent wind. Because the Spirit didn’t pour herself out on all these people just so that they could sit there on their hands. But so that they might go entrusted, empowered, and renewed to seek and bring about that other world that is possible.

A world where bread is broken and the hungry are feed.
A world where the sick are prayed over and cared for.
A world where our students and our teachers are safe.
A world where joy and life can blossom in places overrun with rot and decay.

Hope just means another world might be possible.

Hopeful people say, “I don’t know. I don’t know what the future holds.”

“I don’t know” is a faithful, Pentecostal phrase.

This week I want to invite you into the Spiritual practice of uncertainty. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit. Because the Holy Spirit is alive and active and unpredictable, which means that another world, another life, another way, might be possible.

May that hopeful uncertainty send you out as healing presence into the world. And may you all have tongues of fire to speak that warm word of hope to the world that God loves so much.

Amen.

[1] Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark, pg. 4

[2] Ibid., pg. xiv.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid. pg. 1

[5] Ibid., pg. 22.

Sunday, April 29th, 2018 – All of Them, a sermon on John 15, Acts 8, and 1 John 4

Audio will be posted shortly.

John 15:1-8
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

 Acts 8:26-40
26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” 34 The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 37 38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea. 

 1 John 4:7-21
7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

Grace, peace, and mercy are yours from the Risen Christ. Amen.

You’ll have to forgive me this morning. I’ve had a difficult time choosing which text to preach on this week. All three readings are so rich with possibility that it’s like that moment when I’m at the Hideaway, staring into the glass display case filled with such beautiful creations like homemade cherry pie, a flourless chocolate torte, and, of course, their 18-layer mountainous lump of chocolate cake. And then person behind the counter says, “Have you made your choice yet?” And my heart whispers back, “All of them. I just want all of them.”

That’s what it has been like reading through the texts this week. So, bear with me as I delight in all of them this morning.

I guess, my indecision started because of the gospel reading. I didn’t like it very much at first glance.

It has so often just sounded like a bad all-staff meeting pep talk centered around Jesus’ business model.

Okay, okay, settle down everyone. Just so we’re clear, I am the vine, God is the vinegrower, and you are the branches. God is the owner of this business we got going on here, I’m the Chief Operations Officer, and you’re the worker bees – got it? Apart from me and the boss man, you’re not worth a whole lot. So be glad you’re here and make sure we see some results. Some fruit of your labor. And if you’re good, we’ll work you harder, so that you can produce more. And if you don’t produce much, well…you’ll wither away and then we’ll cut you out and burn you up. Understood? Good. Alright, let’s get back out there. Good chat today, everybody. Good chat.

That’s how I first heard it. But then something happened. I was reminded of where and when Jesus spoke those words.

He’s speaking on the Thursday night of his last week alive. It’s Maundy Thursday. He’s just shared a meal and washed his disciples’ feet. In 24 hours, he’ll be dead.

Which means this is goodbye. These are his last words with his closest friends.

If you knew that your life were about to end soon, what would you say?

To your child?
To your partner?
To your best friends or students?

I imagine you might say things, “I love you. You’re the best thing that has ever happened in my life.”

Or you might give them words of encouragement – “Don’t forget what I’ve taught you. Don’t lose sight of who you are. And remember, I’ll be with you always.”

Or you might just speak words of awe. “You have everything you need – you’re gonna have a great life. In fact, you’re going to do greater things than I could have ever dreamed of.”

I think that is part of what Jesus is saying here. He’s saying goodbye – and in that goodbye are words of love and assurance, and, I think, words of awe. The most significant of which for me this week were, “I am the vine and you are the branches.”

I never really understood that line until my wife sent me out into garden this week.

I’m not a very good gardener – I can never remember how to prune this or cut back that. But nevertheless, Lauren still sends me out there with clear instructions to do my best. And this time, she pointed to one of the edges of the garden and she said, “Do you see over there? In that corner? Watch your step there because that’s where the bulbs are. You cannot see them, they are underground, but you’ll see the flowers starting to come up.”

And in that moment, I had this flash of understanding. I know it isn’t exactly the same, but think about it for a moment.

How does anyone know the bulb is there and still alive? When the flowers break through.

How does anyone know the vine is still active and alive? Through the branches and their fruit.

Jesus is saying goodbye to his friends. And he says, “I am the vine. But you. You are the branches.”

Or in other words, “I am the bulb. Which cannot be seen. But you. You are the flowers. Which can be seen.”

Or in other words, “You have everything you need. I am with you. And you show the world that I am still alive.”

What did the second reading say, “No one has ever seen God. But if we love one another, God lives in us….(for) God is love.”

What does it mean to love another person? Plenty of people have tried to answer that question but I’m drawn this week to Jean Vanier’s answer. Vanier founded L’Arche Communities across the world, communities for people living with developmental disabilities. And he said, “To love someone is not necessarily to do something for them. It is to reveal to them their beauty.”[1]

To love someone is not necessarily to do something for them. It is to reveal to them their beauty.

Which is exactly how Jesus loves his disciples on his last night alive. He shows them how beautiful they are when he says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. You are the flowers. You’re beautiful. You’re beautiful.  You are how the world will see me and know that I am alive. Because when you love one another, when you reveal to another person just how beautiful and beloved they are…that fruit off your branches will make this life taste sweeter. And it will feed and sustain the world.”

I am the vine, but you – you are the branches.

And here’s the thing – I think got to see this beautiful teaching of Jesus lived out in that marvelous story we heard from the book of Acts.

The story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch.

An angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”

And when Philip does, he encounters someone whom a Minnesotan might describe as ….interesting. Or, you know, different. Spoken with just the tiniest sprinkle of disgust to get the point across.

Philip encountered an Ethiopian Eunuch.

Note first, the man is given no name. He’s just this nameless guy, from Ethiopia, which for Philip was the same as someone being from Timbuktu[2] – so far away, it might as well be the edge of the earth. Or in short, this man was a foreigner.

But not only that, he was a eunuch. A man castrated either by injury or enslavement, and no stranger to being despised and humiliated.

In fact, all we have to do is read some more of the bible to get a clear sense of what kind of place in society this eunuch would have had.

Hold on to you hats for this one, folks. According to the law of God in Deuteronomy 23, “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.”

Would anyone like me to say that again?

I’ve yet to see someone pick that as their confirmation verse.

Or just take Exodus 12:43 – “no foreigners shall eat of the passover.”[3]

No eunuchs. No foreigners. The law of God says. That’s two strikes against him, and we’ve just met the guy.

Now, the text also says that he is the treasurer to the Queen of Ethiopia, he is riding in a chariot (meaning he’s got a driver) and he possess his very own scroll of the book of Isaiah. All of which suggest he’s a person of great importance and influence in his society.[4]

So, we could imagine that he’s someone who has lived the treachery of the divided life. On the one hand, he’s a powerful person, close to royalty with great importance. And yet, on the other, every time he catches a glance at himself when getting dressed in the morning, he’s reminded of what his scarred and incomplete body says about him. In the eyes of his faith, in the sacred temple – he’s not even a man and he is not welcome.

And yet, he’s a person of faith. Here he is riding in his chariot and reading from the scroll of Isaiah. And the angel of God says to Philip – “Go to him.”

Which raises a question for me. Why didn’t the angel of the Lord just go to the Ethiopian Eunuch? Why send Philip?

Because Jesus said, “I am the vine, but you – you are the branches. You are how the world will know I am still alive.”

So, Philip is sent and Philp goes. And when he gets there, the Ethiopian Eunuch is stuck on a passage from Isaiah 53.

“Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

“How can I, unless someone guides me?” he replied.

Then the Ethiopian Eunuch invites Philip to join him in his chariot. Which I can only imagine felt a little risky for Philip – crossing such a social and religious boundary. And yet once again – Philip goes.

And he sits right next to this man, to have this spontaneous bible study. And if you listen closely, you might get a sense of why this passage stopped this Ethiopian Eunuch in his tracks.

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.

 We all long to find ourselves in the story of God, and with his heart beating just a little bit faster, the Ethiopian Eunuch thinks he may have just found his story, recognized and named right there on the page of God’s story. He knew humiliation. He knew being denied justice. He knew what it is like to have his life, his future, his lineage take away from the earth.

The prophet Isaiah is describing his life. Which explains his next question.

Is the prophet talking about himself here, or could it be somebody else? He asks Philip.

Philip took this opportunity to tell him about Jesus. About another man who knew what it was like to be humiliated. Another man who knew what it was like to be a sheep lead to the slaughter of injustice and have his life taken away from him and from the world.

Oh, and this Jesus? He is the very heart of God beating outside the body of heaven, and he abides in his followers and has sent them to be his light and life, the branches of his beautiful love in this world.

That seemed to be enough for this Ethiopian Eunuch. He wanted his life to be stitched to that life for the rest of his days. But could he be included this time? Was there room in this story for someone in his…situation?

Exodus and Deuteronomy were clear about this. God had drawn a line. No foreigners. No eunuchs.

The interesting thing, though, is something changed when it comes to the book of Isaiah. Philip and this man were reading from Isaiah 53, but I have to believe that they read on just three chapters to Isaiah 56, where it says,

4For thus says the Lord: To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, 5I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.

I bet that is the most beautiful piece of Scripture the Ethiopian Eunuch had ever heard. A piece of Scripture, and a branch off the vine of Jesus sitting right next to him, showing him for perhaps the first time in his life his own beauty.

With that life-saving word right in front of them, it is no wonder what happened next. After hearing about this Jesus, this vine from God who gives life to the world, and after hearing that he, this Ethiopian Eunuch, could be a branch on that vine, he was all in. And at the very next pool of water, he asked Philip to baptized him. And Philip did.

That’s the story. But I am left with one question. What could have happened to have caused such a shift in the story of God to let in this Ethiopian Eunuch? We’re not sure. All we know is that according to Scripture, long ago, God drew a line in the sand for who was in and who was out. But then God’s heart hurt so badly for the those on the other side that God went ahead and crossed God’s own line in love.

Maybe God’s still learning.

Maybe God has a hard time making decisions too.

It is almost as if God is standing there looking at every person in the world, these beautiful creations, with such joy and delight that when the heavens ask, “Have you made your choice yet?”, God can’t help but say, “All of them. I just want all of them.”

Amen.

[1] I am indebted (once again) to Alan Storey for this quote and insightful connection. http://www.aslowwalk.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/2015-05-10.mp3

[2] Fred Craddock, The Collected Sermons of Fred Craddock, pg. 223. .

[3] Barbara Brown Taylor, “Philip: Welcomed to Belong”, recording.

[4] Matthew Skinner, Intrusive God, Disruptive Gospel, pg. 61.

Sunday, April 15th, 2018 – God’s Scars and Ours, a sermon on Luke 24:36b – 48

Luke 24:36b-48
36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence. 44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 


Prayer: Spirit of the living God, come now and thaw out our hearts with your fire of love. Come and open our eyes to see that it really is you hidden within the people we meet today. Come and strengthen our love and deepen our hope. Amen

I invite you to close your eyes for just a moment.

Raise your hand if you have a scar somewhere on your body.

Look at that – who knew scars were something so many of us had in common.

Certainly our scars don’t all fit in the same category. I have a friend who has a scar on his abdomen from donating his kidney to a woman he barely knew. I also have a friend who has a scar on her neck from the seatbelt that saved her life in the car accident that took her father’s life.

Life has a way of leaving its mark on us all. Our bodies can often tell our stories.

I have a scar on my left thumb and the continuous tingling nerve to remind me of the time I used a knife to open a package but did not follow the rule of cutting away from myself.

If I had much shorter hair (which I’ve heard is on the wish list for some of you), you would see a scar across the top of my head from when I was 4 years old and in trying to impress my babysitter, I hung upside down by my knees on the bar in my closet, only to then fall head first onto a toy fire truck. My mother said it was quite a mess.

I wonder what stories your bodies have to tell. I’m sure that among us some of them are hilarious and some of them are crushing.

I have been thinking a lot about scars this week. And a story I cannot get out of my head comes from this past fall. This past October on Reformation Sunday, some of you will remember when we had that Reformation Hymn sing down at Imminent. One of the members of the group who lead the Hymn Sing is Rolf Jacobson, Old Testament Professor at Luther Seminary. He is also a child of this congregation as his dad was one of the pastors many years ago.

And, as some of you will know and remember, Rolf doesn’t have any legs. Early on in his life, on two separate occasions, he was diagnosed with cancer, each time leading to the amputation of a leg.

Well, my son Elliot was at the Reformation Hymn sing where Rolf was leading us in song, and after it was all over and people were cleaning up, Elliot saw Rolf for the first time. And in his beautifully inquisitive and brave way, Elliot leans into my ear and says, “Daddy, how come that man doesn’t have any legs?” He had never experienced this before.

Not entirely sure how best to explain this to Elliot, I asked Rolf what the best practice was when a child is curious about someone living with a disability. And he graciously said that the best practice for him was to ask him about it.

So right there, my son asked Rolf about his legs and Rolf explained to my son about how he got cancer in both of them which meant that the doctors had to cut them off.

After Rolf said that, we could tell that something wasn’t computing for Elliot.

Finally Elliot asked, “So what did they do with the holes?”

“What holes?” Rolf asked.

“The holes in your legs,” Elliot said.

“They sewed them up,” Rolf said.

“But how?”

“With stitches.”

“But how?” Elliot just couldn’t comprehend how this was possible.

And then Rolf did this profoundly gracious thing.

 He said to my son, “Would you like to see?”

Elliot quietly nodded and there in the middle of everything going on, Rolf opened up his pant leg to let my son touch and see his scars. So that Elliot would understand.

In that moment, there was something profoundly human, and vulnerable, and at the very same time sacred.

I’ve been thinking about that story and about the scars we carry with us in our bodies because of what happens in our gospel reading for today.

Our reading for today comes right after the road to Emmaus story. The story when on Easter evening two disciples are walking alone on a road, exhausted and defeated by the news of Jesus’ death and confused by the rumors of Jesus’ resurrection. And it is there, on the road, along the way, that the Resurrected Jesus appears to them as a stranger. They don’t recognize him. It is a story that gives us that great promise that Jesus can still be with us even when we do not recognize him.

But then it gets dark out, and being faithful Jews, these two disciples offer hospitality to this stranger among them. Stay with us, they say, for it is evening.

And then at their meal together, Jesus takes bread, blesses it, and breaks it for them, just like he did at the Feeding of the 5000. Just like he did at the last supper. And it is in that moment, of breaking bread, of table fellowship, of eating together, that their eyes are opened and they realize this is Jesus among them, God in their midst.

Immediately, Jesus vanishes from them, and these two rush back to Jerusalem to tell their friends that Jesus has appeared to them.

Once all the disciples are gathered together, swapping stories of the resurrected Jesus appearing to them, all of sudden Jesus’ is standing among them again.

And they’re terrified, because despite the ways he has appeared to them already, they still think they are seeing a dead man. Jesus, the friendly ghost.

But to show them that it really is him – alive, in front of them – he doesn’t tell them that one story about that one time with the disciples that only Jesus could have known. He doesn’t say, “Listen to the sound of my voice – it’s me!”

No. Jesus does this profoundly gracious thing – he shows them his body. And not just his body, but his hands and feet bearing the bruised scars of crucifixion.

He let these fearful and doubting disciples touch and see his scars. So that they would understand. So they would understand it was really him and would understand something about the Resurrection.

As one preacher has said, we tend to think of Resurrection as this moment of fixing everything, of making all things right, making all things new, this state of perfection.

And yet… the Resurrected Jesus bears scars.

Think about what that means.

It means that what happened to Jesus in his earthly life still matters in his resurrected life. It means that the whole human life, scars and all, are welcomed into the kingdom of heaven and life of God. It means that the human body and what happens to the human body is not forgotten by God but matters deeply to God. It means that the divine life participates in the human life – fully. Scars and all.

Two theologians, whose theological work has centered on the topic of disability, think Jesus’ Resurrection wounds are significant to showing God’s commitment to all of creation.

Roy McCloughry writes that Jesus “has taken up the marks of disability into himself” and that “his body, in showing how he suffered, offers solidarity with all who remain disabled.” Similarly, Nancy Eieslund says, “Resurrection is not about the negation or (the erasing) of our disabled bodies in hopes of perfect images, untouched by physical disability; rather Christ’s resurrection offers hope that our nonconventional, and sometimes difficult, bodies participate fully in the (image of God) …”[1]

With scars on his hands, we are assured that whatever the Resurrection is, it is not a disembodied spirit, floating in the heavenly ether. But rather Resurrection has something to do with this world. Resurrection has a body. Resurrection has scars. Resurrection includes flesh, and frailty, and food. Resurrection includes the whole human life. Even the broken parts. Resurrection will be found in the ordinary.

And in case that wasn’t clear enough, Jesus does perhaps the next most human move of all.

He says, “You got any snacks? I’m kind of hungry.”

And then they share yet another meal together, this time of broiled fish.

Which wouldn’t be my choice, but Jesus didn’t ask me.

We learn that resurrection is not escape from this world; resurrection is solidarity with this world.

And then Jesus does this wild thing. He takes those disciples whose faith was a mixture of joy and doubt and wonder, and he says to them, “You are the ones to bear witness to this now. I am sending you and your scarred bodies to go and be the presence of my scarred body in the world.”

Father Greg Boyles tells the story of a gang member named Sergio who at a very young age, lived an abused life at the hands of his mother. Sergio says that his mother would beat him every day “with a lot of things you could imagine and a lot of things you couldn’t.” Everyday his back was bloodied and scarred, so much so that he had to wear three t-shirts to school just to hide the bleeding wounds.

As Sergio grew into an adult, he said that he still wore three t-shirts a day, because he was ashamed of his wounds. He didn’t want anyone to see them. “But now,” he says, “I welcome my wounds, I run my fingers over my scars. My wounds are my friends. After all…how can I help others to heal if I don’t welcome my own wounds.”[2]

How can I help others to heal if I don’t welcome my own wounds? That’s the solidarity of God lived in a human life.

Jesus said to his friends, “Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is me.” Showing them that his resurrected and wounded body is in solidarity with their bodies. That all of who they are is welcomed into the divine life that will be touched and seen and experienced in this world.

As I have been reflecting on this story this week, something dawned on me for the first time. The bread we use for holy communion, regardless of whether it is real bread or that wafer thingy…it too is scarred. Have you seen it? There is a mark, a cross, an X on the top of the bread, the wafer. And I’ve always thought it was just a cross – you know to symbolize Jesus. And let’s be honest, that’s probably why it is put there. But this week, I’m seeing that cross tipped on its side, as an X. As a mark, as a scar on the body of the Resurrected One who is among us. Feeding us and sending us as his body to live the resurrected life, of God’s solidarity with the world.

You know, I find myself in the same spot as the disciples this Easter season, in both great joy and in utter disbelief at the resurrection.

And yet my heart burns within me knowing that the Risen Christ is the Crucified Jesus. Knowing that in the mystery of living as Resurrection people, my past isn’t erased but rather is welcomed and held fast by God.

Perhaps yours scars are known and visible to the world already or perhaps they are known only to God. But know that God reaches out to you, showing you God’s own scarred hands and feet, saying with love, “Me too. Me too.” Amen

[1] Jonathan Evens, “Beautiful Scars, found at https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/smitf/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/24153304/april-19-je.pdf. Jonathan misnames Nancy Eiesland as Nancy Eisler.

[2] Gregory Boyle, Barking to the Choir, pg. 54.

Maundy Thursday, March 29th, 2018 – A New Commandment: To Be Loved, a sermon on John 13:1-17, 31b-35

John 13:1-17, 31b-35
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.” 

Beloved people of God, grace, peace and mercy are yours as we begin these three days.

Can I really make any difference?

That’s the question he asked. Can I really make a difference?

A couple of years ago, I was talking with a soon-to-be college graduate and he was considering a year of volunteer service – through the Peace Corps. If he accepted the opportunity, he could be sent to Mexico or Guatemala or Israel. His excitement was palpable. He desperately wanted to live out the new commandment that Jesus gives to his disciples – that we love one another as Christ has loved us. He wanted to go and wash people’s feet, so to speak, through a year of humble service, on his knees and in the trenches with those on the margins.

But I could also sense his hesitation. After a moment of silence, he finally said, “I guess what I am wondering is…do you think I should do this? Is this a good thing for them? Can I really make a difference?”

Fresh out of colleges classes, this young 20-something was sharp and thoughtful about this sort of volunteer work. In this world we live in, it can be important to slow down and wonder what good our volunteer acts of service or our charitable donations do.

We live in a complicated world where what looks like a good benevolent act of service, can sometimes cause more harm.

One example is Tom’s Shoes. Tom’s is an organization that, for every pair of shoes purchased, donates a pair of shoes to an impoverished child. Because of this, Tom’s Shoes were all the rage in 2007 among my white, middle-class friends. By purchasing a pair or two, we felt like we were doing something good for the world and we felt good about ourselves.

However, it was a few years later when people started questioning how good this actually was. What happens to the shoemaker and her business when suddenly a truck load of free shoes start showing up in her impoverished town.

Is this a good thing for them and their economy? Can we really make any difference this way? It is an important question to ask. A question that in fact has now led TOMS shoes to work toward a business model that creates jobs rather than disrupts local markets.

Or perhaps a little more personal example. In 2005 I was on leading a mission trip in Green Bay, WI with a group of middle schoolers. We were there to help out those in need in the name of Jesus. We were there to do some good. We were there to get down on our knees and wash the feet of those in need through serving in soup kitchen, leading a day camp for children, repairing people’s homes and cleaning up the neighborhood. We were there to give back and we felt good about ourselves.

But the tone of this service trip changed in a split second. One day when we were painting the garage for an elderly woman who was confined to a wheel chair, a man came riding down the sidewalk on his bike and when he passed us, he yelled, “Oh goody! The white Christians are here to help us black folks again!”

It stopped us in our tracks. Any good feelings we carried for the service work we were doing were crushed in that moment, as we all feared and knew that there was some truth in what this man just called out.

Is this a good thing for them? Can we really make a difference here? By parachuting into an impoverished city for 5 days of painting garages and weeding sidewalks and then leaving?

It is an important question to ask.

Tonight, we heard Jesus say to his disciples, “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.” 

The Church has gotten a lot of mileage out of that text alone. It is a go to text for what we are called to do in this world as Christians. We are called to love one another. And in fact, it provides the primary image for what we might call servant ministry – the image of kneeling down and humbly washing the feet of another person. As Christians, we are called to a life of service.

So much of our ministry, so much of our faith is centered around serving others. In fact, for a good portion of the year, we end our services with “Go in peace and serve the Lord.”

Serve the Lord…by loving our neighbors as ourselves. By giving generously of our time, talent, and treasures to those in need.

And we know what that looks like. It looks like signing up to help in church when your hospitality group’s turn is up. It looks like donating to the local food shelf. It looks like bringing a pan of bars for yet another funeral. It looks like waking up early to fry some bacon for kids who shrug off school and responsibility because they’ve too have been shrugged off by the people their life. And sometimes this servant ministry looks like going on a mission trip or giving up a year of your life to help out those in need.

These are just some of the ways we live out our faith, washing the feet of others in humble service.

But there is also problem with this kind of servant ministry – it only addresses half of Jesus’ new commandment.

If all Jesus wanted his disciples to be were servants and to wash people’s feet, he could have just told them that. Jesus could have simply gathered them for a last meal and said, “Okay, folks. This has been fun. Don’t forget to be good, humble servants and be sure to wash people’s feet.”

But he didn’t do that.

Instead, before he said anything, Jesus got up from the table, he knelt at their feet and with their feet in his hands, he asked them to be recipients. Recipients of his love and grace.

In his last night with his disciples, Jesus doesn’t just command us to love. He commands us to first be loved.

And that is the part of the command that is the easiest to dismiss and the hardest to embrace. Peter tried – Lord, you will never wash my feet. But Jesus wouldn’t let him avoid it.

 Peter unless I wash you, you have no share with me.

You see, too often, we hear Jesus’ commandment to love one another as asking us to give, give, give, give away love to others. When in fact, he is also asking us at the same time to open ourselves up to receiving love from those others. To see the people around you not simply as people in need of your love, but as people who just might have love to offer you.

Wash each other’s feet Jesus says. Which means at some point, you’ll have to stick out your feet and allow yourself to be loved.

Which can be the hardest part. We either don’t think we are worthy of such love, or we feel guilty thinking that there are other people who need it more.

As pastors, we hear all the time from people who don’t need our time or our help because they think those other people need it so much more.

Oh, how we avoid being on the receiving end of love. Lord, you will never wash my feet.

When we do this – when we only see ourselves as givers of love and avoid seeing ourselves as recipients of love – we get stuck in our presumed roles of servanthood and we set up a power dynamic in servant ministry that corrupts.

The healer stays the healer and the wounded stays the wounded. The helper stays in power and the helpless stay powerless. The generous ones stand above and the needy ones stand below.

And as a result, the givers of love grow tired of being called upon all the time – can’t someone else help for once? Tired of still seeing poverty and hunger despite their regular donations. Tired of not seeing any change in a person’s life after all the help they’ve given.

Meanwhile, the recipients of love grow tired of never being seen as having anything to give.

That’s what the man on the bike in Green Bay was calling out. Why are you white Christians always the generous ones and I’m always the needy one? Don’t I have something to offer you?

When we love others as Jesus has asked us, but never allow ourselves to be loved by others, this love becomes a one-way street and this ministry of compassion withers and fades. Because “compassion (and love cannot be) a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It (can only be) a covenant between equals.”[1] Where both can love and be loved.

In his powerful book, Tattoos on the Heart, Father Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest tells stories of working with gang members in LA. And in the very beginning of his book, he says this,

“I was born and raised in the ‘gang capital of the world’…but as a teenager, though, I would not have known a gang member if one came up and, as they say, ‘hit me upside the head.’ I wouldn’t have been able to find a gang if you’d sent me on a scavenger hunt to locate one. It is safe to declare that as a teenager growing up in LA, it would have been impossible for me to join a gang. That is a fact. That fact, however, does not make me morally superior to the young men and women you will meet in this book. Quite the opposite. I have come to see with greater clarity that the day simply (will not) come when I am more noble, have more courage, or am closer to God than the folks whose lives fill these pages…There can be no doubt that (these people) have returned me to myself. I’ve learned, with their patient guidance, to worship Christ as He lives in them.”

What I love about Greg’s story is that he went into this ministry to love and serve gang members in LA. And along the way, he learned that a critical part of his ministry, of following Jesus’ new commandment, was learning to stick out his feet and be loved and served by them. They have returned me to myself, he said.

Beloved people of God, we have too often missed half of Jesus’ commandment. We are not simply called to love one another. But we are also called to open our hearts and be loved. By God and by one another.

I wonder what would happen if that college graduate went abroad for a year, to Mexico or Guatemala or Israel, not first to love others who needed his help. But rather to experience and receive the love and wisdom and gifts God has given this community of people to share with him.

I wonder what would happen if we the Church saw opportunities of service and ministry not simply as a way to give back to those in need, but also as a way to receive from those who have much to give.

I wonder what would happen if tonight we would all kneel down and stretch out our hands to receive the grace and love of God that God so longs for us to have. Amen.

[1] Greg Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart, pg. 77.

Sunday, March 25, 2018 – A Preacher Thinks about the Donkey, a sermon on Mark 11:1-11

You can listen to this sermon here.

Mark 11:1-11
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, 

“Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

I would like to begin this morning with a prayer that comes to us from the Iona Community. Please pray with me

Liberator Christ,
you came into a holy place
and read the sacred word
about sight for blind folk and freedom for prisoners.
Come to this place now.
Read these words to us
till our own eyes are opened, our faith is unlocked,
and we can see the world as it is,
and as it could be;
till the yearnings of ordinary people are taken seriously,
and the visions of the young are valued,
and the potential of the old is released;
till your kingdom is celebrated everywhere,
and your church is good news to the poor.
Amen.

Well. Welcome to Holy Week.

A couple of weeks ago, I said that we put a lot of pressure on the Bible.

I think we do the same with Holy Week.

Or at least I do. This expectation creeps up in me that I am supposed to feel something extraordinary and transformative this week. And then as one of your worship leaders I have this overzealous expectation that the same needs to happen for you. That we need to help make sense of this most sacred of weeks so that you will know all of the details of Jesus’ last week, you’ll understand theologically what each part means and why, and in the midst of all that heady stuff, you’ll feel something extraordinary and transformational at each service of this week too.

That your life will find purpose again on Maundy Thursday as Jesus commands us to love one another we have been loved. That your heart will shatter on Friday when God’s beloved is taken out, silenced, assassinated, pierced by the Empire’s bullets of power, control, and fear. And that your soul will burst back to life on Easter Vigil and Easter morning with resurrected trust in a God whose love for you and this world cannot be destroyed.

And then come Monday morning, you’ll think to yourself, “Wow. Holy Week at my church is awesome!” And then you’ll tell your co-workers about it and they’ll be so moved by it, that they’ll just have to join you at St. John’s Lutheran on April 8th, when worship times at 8:30am and 10:45am.

That’s a lot of pressure to put on one week.

But I have a different approach for myself this year. And maybe it can be for you too.

Perhaps we live out this week together not to make sense of and explain it all. But rather just simply to remember. To remember this central story of ours. To hear it again. And in remembering, begin to trust in the slow work of God that over time meaning for our daily lives out there will be found.

You see the act of remembering was so important in Jesus’ day. Not simply because they were an oral culture, receiving their stories and their news by word of mouth, but also because remembering their story and the people who have gone before plugged them back into the long-arched story of who they were as a people. And to what kind of God they belonged.

In fact, the day Jesus entered into Jerusalem on a donkey was all about remembering. It is the beginning of Passover, the Jewish festival which remembers the time when the Jewish people were freed from their slavery in Egypt. Do you remember the story of when Moses says to the Pharaoh, “Let my people go!”? They would remember that story – their freedom from slavery – in Jerusalem that week. It is one of the ways they kept the third commandment – to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. In Deuteronomy 5, part of keeping the Sabbath it says is to remember that you once were a slave in Egypt, and remember that God set you free from that empire. Which is to say, do not forget who you are and to whom you belong. You are a freed people who know the struggles of this world and you belong to God. Remember that.

That act of remembering matters. It re-members us. It draws us back to each other.

Families whose loved one has died know this well.  When I meet with families that are grieving and, in the midst of that grief, are planning a funeral, we always take time to just start telling stories.

Tell me about your dad, I’ll say. Or What adjectives would you use to talk about your mom? Or what drove your crazy about your husband?

And what amazes me is that everyone in the room doesn’t have to remember everything. Every story. But rather each person offers up their own little contribution to the quilt that was this person’s life. And it is in the midst of remembering that meaning starts to take shape. When the detail or the story happened years ago, they couldn’t tell you what it meant. But now in remembering it, suddenly a deep cavern of meaning starts to open up from the tiny details of a human life.

Like the fact that Myron Solid would write upside down for the sake the student seated across from him. Or that Wes Pearson would walk home for lunch every day. Or that Thelma Nitz Lee saw just about everything as “perfectly good” and worth keeping.

And so during this Holy Week, I want to invite you into the spiritual practice of remembering. Find one thing during each of the services to remember from this sacred story of ours. Not to make perfect sense of it, but to carry with you. And trust that in time, meaning will arrive.

This morning, I am remembering that young donkey that has never been ridden. Did you catch that little detail? Jesus sends two of his disciples to be donkey-fetchers – not a highly sought after job, I suspect, for these hand-picked disciples. But Jesus says to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a donkey that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it.”

Now this act of Jesus riding on a donkey – that would have triggered a memory for everyone there. They would immediately remember what the story – their story – from long ago when the prophet Zechariah said, Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations.

And in remembering that story, the meaning of this moment for them would become clear.

This moment, during this time of Passover, when on the opposite side of the city, the Roman brigade is entering the city on war horses, with shields and spears, you know to keep control of this little freedom party these Jewish people are having…it is in the midst of that that Jesus arrives into Jerusalem as a king long awaited. Your king. And he comes to you. But he is a different kind of king than the world has ever known. He comes triumphantly and victoriously without a chariot or war horse. Without a battle bow, without a weapon. Without a military parade to show off our killing power. No, he comes triumphantly on a donkey in peace.

And the painful truth of this scene that we already know is that this prophetic, protesting march, is a really funeral procession. A funeral procession for the King willing to die for this peace and for the people he loves.

And all I can think about, all I can remember is that young donkey, that has never been ridden, whom Jesus chooses as his vehicle of choice.

Maybe I cannot stop thinking about that donkey because I am having a hard time avoiding the connection between what is happening in our churches today and what happened in our country yesterday.  Today we gather in our churches for a march lead by Jesus, during Passover, which reminded the people of their pain and suffering and slavery in the past. And the people shouted, and we shouted, “Hosanna!”, meaning Lord, save us.

And then yesterday, the young ones among us gathered people all over the country. They gathered in the streets and at our capitals (our Jerusalems) and they marched against the pain and suffering that is in our all-too recent past. That of gun violence in our country and in our schools.

And the shouts and chants at this parade sounded a lot like Hosannas….Lord, save us. And do you know what people were carrying on big signs? Pictures and names of those who have died by gun violence.

So that we will remember.

So that we do forget who they are. So that we do not forget who we are and what has been done to us. And, truthfully, what we have done to ourselves.

The timing couldn’t be more profound for those of us who remember and begin Holy Week.

And so maybe that’s why I can’t stop thinking about the donkey that has never been ridden. Because sometimes Jesus calls on the young, and the vulnerable one. Sometimes Jesus calls on the one who has never been called on. Sometimes Jesus calls on the inexperienced ones who were never trained for this work and asks them to carry him into the center of our lives.

I heard a poem by Mary Oliver this week.

On the outskirts of Jerusalem
the donkey waited.
Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,
he stood and waited.

How horses, turned out into the meadow,
leap with delight!
How doves, released from their cages,
clatter away, splashed with sunlight.

But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited.
Then he let himself be led away.
Then he let the stranger mount.

Never had he seen such crowds!
And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen.
Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.

I hope, finally, he felt brave.
I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him,
as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward.

Today, I’ll be remembering that donkey. And all the young and untrained ones through whom God is at work in our world. For yesterday, Jesus entered our national story carried on the backs of our students. It’s a burden they do not deserve to share alone.

May we all have the ears to hear Jesus call out our names. And may we have the sturdy legs and the strong back to carry Christ to the center of the city and all the places we go.

May God bless you and encourage you in our re-membering this week.

Amen.