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“Jesus Shows Up Anyway,” 3 Easter C, John 21:1-19

John 21:1-19

1 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. 9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. 15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

There are a lot of distractions in this text from John. But that’s kind of the way John is. There’s always a whole bunch of things going on at the same time. It’s easy to get sidetracked from the main point because there are so many fun little details that surely mean something.

Why was Peter naked? Why did he feel a need to put “on” clothes before jumping into the sea?

If Jesus was already cooking fish, why did he ask the disciples to bring some of theirs?

Is there some hidden meaning to exactly 153 fish they caught?

There’s a whole lot more. And, although they can be fun to play with, and sometimes even meaningful, the downside is that we can end up spending so much time on those details that we lose the main point the author is trying to make.

Which is that this chapter was added to tie up some loose ends, and in this text, particularly with Peter. Other than a quick look into the empty tomb, the last time we heard from Peter in this gospel was his denial of Jesus during Jesus’ trial.

Peter wasn’t a very good disciple, really. He never understands, never accepts things. He always messes things up and makes things worse. Plus, he not only denied knowing Jesus, he didn’t believe Jesus was raised, and he abandoned his discipleship.

So we get to wrap up some loose ends with Peter, since he was one of the leaders of this new, emerging church.

In this text, Peter went back to his old life, fishing, perhaps thinking he can be of no real use anymore. Even if Jesus is raised from the dead, Peter surely won’t be needed. So he abandons his discipleship.

Yet Jesus shows up. After Peter’s denial, disbelief, and abandonment, Jesus shows up on the seashore. Rather than reprimand Peter or demand he shape up, Jesus helps him with his fishing. “Put your nets out on the other side of the boat,” he yells.

And the catch of fish is amazing. More than that, Jesus fixes breakfast for them. And then he gives Peter this magnificent opportunity to understand that he’s forgiven. Jesus asks him to express his love three times, the same number of times he denied knowing Jesus. And he asks Peter to feed his sheep three times. Peter not only is forgiven, but has a new purpose with Jesus.

But that’s still not all. Jesus shares that Peter will die giving glory to God. And if it all isn’t clear yet, Jesus finishes with Peter by inviting him to follow him.

That seems like a lot of trouble for Jesus to go through, but that’s really the point. We may have given up on God, on Jesus, on the church. But Jesus won’t give up on us. We may think we’re too far gone to be redeemed. We may have lost hope that we can be of use, but Jesus shows up in our lives anyway.

It’s as if Jesus understands that we’re trying our best, and our best isn’t good enough. He understands that no matter how much effort we put into being faithful disciples, we just can’t seem to get it right. And that’s when Jesus shows up on our shore.

When we don’t understand, when we’re confronted with the realization that we aren’t such great disciples after all, that’s when Jesus calls out to us.

Jesus knows that we deny him when we hoard our possessions. He knows that when we make discipleship about us we turn our backs on him. And that’s when he meets us in a meal: fish cooked on a charcoal fire, bread and wine served in worship.

Jesus has seen us tear others down. He’s watched as we say unkind things about others. He’s fully aware that we put our own comfort and our own priorities ahead of his. And that’s when he gives us a chance to say we love him.

We’re no better than Peter, who denied, disbelieved, and abandoned Jesus. Yet Jesus shows up, loves us, forgives us, and invites us again to follow.

Who among us has ever realized we’re not the greatest disciples? Jesus is calling you.

Who among us has felt utterly helpless, lost, and doesn’t know where to go? Jesus is showing up for you.

Who among us has been afraid to even think about how we might be failing? Jesus is inviting you to eat a meal with him.

Who among us has yet to take our discipleship seriously? Jesus is asking you to follow him.

There’s the details of John’s gospel, but then there’s the main point. Jesus, the Christ, shows up for you, forgives you, eats with you, and invites you. Jesus comes to you, because he loves you. And you are worth it.

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2016 in Sermon

 

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Who *Really* Wants to Take the Kingdom of God Seriously? (Mark 9:30-37)

I want you to notice the difference between Jesus and his disciples in this text today. It begins here with Jesus and his disciples on their way through Galiliee, and Jesus “did not want anyone to know it”. Travelling incognito, unknown, quietly, without fanfare or recognition.

On the way he is teaching his disciples that he will be betrayed, killed, and will rise again. And this is the second time he’s told them this.

They get to the house in Capernaum, and the whole journey Jesus is trying not to call attention to himself, to lay low, helping them understand the role of suffering and even dying—tremendously humble and meek topics.

The disciples, meanwhile, too frightened to ask him about all this, had been arguing about which one of them is the greatest.

Humble, suffering Jesus. Frightened, boasting disciples.

Jesus deflecting attention from himself to God’s will in the world. Disciples who want recognition, deserved or not (and it’s definitely not).

Jesus: it’s all about others. Disciples: it’s all about us.

What the disciples never seem to get in Mark’s gospel is how differently God works in the world than we usually do. Jesus is continually trying to teach and show his disciples what God’s kingdom is actually like. It is so opposite of what they experience that they just can’t seem to understand it. Today’s verses shine a light on that misunderstanding.

In God’s kingdom, Jesus says, the greatest are the servants. The least in our world should be treated like Christ himself. The one who serves others has their life given to them. The one who is ignored is the one in the center.

If God had God’s way, this would be the normal way of the world. The disciples never seem to catch onto that.

When Jesus goes on about how different God’s way is, it just doesn’t click with the disciples. All this “serve others, love enemies, forgive everyone, last are first, weak is strong” business Jesus tells them may as well be “up is down, red is green, and squares are round.” It doesn’t connect with them.

As I suspect it still doesn’t with us. God’s way is soooooo different from how the world actually operates that we usually find it easier to just kind of ignore it.

Think about if everyone took Jesus seriously when he says that the greatest of all is the servant of all. That would mean that the night janitor at McDonald’s has more status than any of our current presidential candidates . . . (OK, maybe a bad example). It would mean that everyone would accept that the homeless alcoholic man with a cardboard sign at the traffic light is just as valuable in the world as the person in the Mercedes who gives him money and food. Or the totally nerdiest kid in school is elected student body president over the most popular kid.

If everyone took Jesus seriously, can you imagine how badly it would turn out if we actually did love our enemies? Makes it kind of hard to fight a war, don’t you think? Capitalism kind of falls apart.

How about Jesus taking a child, the most powerless and most vulnerable person in his society, and telling us to welcome these as if they were Christ himself? If everyone actually welcomed and embraced the most vulnerable, most powerless people in our culture, imagine the changes in immigration and how we’d deal with the Syrian refugee crisis?

Then there’s the whole suffering and dying thing Jesus talks about. Can you imagine if everyone trusted so fully in God that they would go to that extreme for the sake of others?

Hard to even imagine that, isn’t it? God’s ways are just too different. The world would turn upside down if everyone took all that stuff seriously. And let’s be honest, not everyone even wants God’s ways, much less be willing to live them.

No, not everyone will. Hardly anyone. Maybe no one.

This is where the church comes in. Jesus calls his followers to do it. We are the ones Jesus sends into the world to be last of all and servant of all. How about if we, as Lutheran Church of the Master, were willing to suffer as a congregation because showing God’s mercy and compassion for others was more important to us than our own comfort or even survival?

God is so committed to this that God keeps removing the barriers that get in the way of following Jesus. So God keeps forgiving us, coming among us, giving us gifts, equipping us, and loving us so that we can love others.

Do you think we’ll do this perfectly? Nope, not gonna happen. But we can serve someone today. Then stand up for someone else tomorrow. Then show love to an undeserving person the next day. Sometimes it will cost us. Sometimes it will be hard. Sometimes we won’t benefit ourselves at all. But God is seen. Jesus is lifted up. God’s kingdom is exposed. Maybe without fanfare or recognition. Usually with humility and meekness. Not everyone wants it. May we be among those who do.

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2015 in Sermon

 

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Today is the Day: Open Your Hearts (2 Corinthians 6:1-13) Charleston, Lakewood, and LCM

Emanuel-AME-Church-Shooting

There is some resentment and pain in the Corinthian congregation. Someone, apparently, has acted in ways that have been harmful to the church, and Paul had called that person out on it. So Paul expresses his open love to them, no matter how they feel about him personally. His heart is open to them, because he is first a recipient of God’s grace. It is this that opens his heart so that love flows forth from him even toward people who resent him.

So he encourages them. Do not accept God’s grace in vain: open wide your hearts.

Easier said than done, Paul. Opening our hearts makes us vulnerable to being hurt. We all are pretty selective around who we open our hearts to. If we’re open and vulnerable to the wrong person, we are giving them power over us, potentially even to hurt us.

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC opened their hearts and their doors on Wednesday to a young man who they believed needed help and prayer. As a result of opening their hearts to him, he brutally killed nine people inside the church. Opening our hearts certainly risky.

Which is why we often set up barriers to protect our hearts. No one wants to put themselves into a situation where they could be wounded. We protect ourselves, restricting the openness of our hearts. Which means we restrict  who can access our hearts, but it also restricts what comes forth from our hearts.

This has taken me a long time to realize this truth, and probably will take a lot longer to live into it more deeply. There are all kinds of hurts we can try to protect ourselves from.

My dad left our family when I was eight years old. I remember crying hysterically, blocking the door to prevent him from leaving. “You belong here!” I screamed. “You can’t leave, I love you!”

Without uttering a word, he gently moved me aside, opened the door, and walked out. I felt such love and admiration for my dad that I thought the injury to my heart was irreparable. The pain of that abandonment was so deep that I decided, at eight years of age, to never let anyone get close to my heart again. I developed habits and patterns around how I dealt with people that kept my heart protected. Even now, without me being aware of it, those patterns keep emerging and I sometimes come across as uncaring.

And yet, Paul says, “open wide your hearts,” even to people who might hurt you: whether with a gun, with abandonment, or gossip.

I think Paul understands that. And I’m certain the people of the church in Corinth do. Without a doubt the people of Emanuel AME Church do. But God, Paul tells the church, loves you and keeps loving you no matter what. God’s grace opens your hearts so that you can show love for each other. And as you love each other, that is the love of God at work. And opening our hearts and pouring out God’s love is the only way to stop the hate, stop the violence. It is the only way to proclaim the gospel of life.

Paul says, that is why I will love you, even though you are angry with me. I will love you with God’s love, without condition, without regard for whether or not I get hurt. I will endure afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger and more. If that’s what happens to me because I love you, then so be it. I will love you.

Paul explains that they already have everything they need for open hearts. They have God’s grace. They have God’s love. They have God’s forgiveness. They have God’s generosity. Paul has seen it in them. Paul commends them for it over and over. God’s love is already there. As you open your hearts to recognize that love that is already there, that love can also pour out to others.

Emanuel AME Church is opening their doors this morning. They are opening their hearts and having Sunday School today. They are opening their doors for worship today. God’s love, already present in their midst, is pouring out of their hearts this morning.

So why wait? He writes. You already have everything. There’s nothing left to achieve or fix or adjust. Right now, he says, right now you are loved. So right now is the time to love. Open wide your hearts, he urges. There’s nothing left to do but love. Our resentments, grudges, gossiping, divisions, prejudices, conditions gain us nothing anymore. They simply close off our hearts. The people of Charleston, SC are seeing that happen among them today as Emanuel AME opens today.

Yet we do these things to try and keep our hearts safe and protected. We push people away, spread rumors about them, judge their behaviors, keep our distance, all the while believing this separation will keep us safe and less vulnerable and thereby protect our hearts from being hurt.

I’m here to tell you it doesn’t work. I’ve tried for decades to protect my heart. All that’s happened is that I’ve had to work through a heart that’s been closed to giving and receiving love. I’m inspired by Emanuel AME Church today. If anyone has reason to protect themselves, it is this church. But they are opening their hearts!

God is still opening my heart. Some days are more open than others. But the single most valuable way God is opening my heart is by being loved—persistently and without condition. Especially when I know I’m not being very easy to love. I think that should be the experience of being church, but it isn’t always. Yet God opens our hearts through that kind of love and for that kind of love. We’re called to do that for each other, we’re called to do that for the world. Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is showing us what that looks like this morning.

We have everything we need: all the love, all the forgiveness, all the peace, all the happiness, all the generosity we will ever need. Right now.

Open wide your hearts, Paul urges us. Share the life that comes with loving and being loved. You already have it all. Today is the day to open wide our hearts. Let the world know they are loved—no matter what. Amen.

Opening Hearts, Opening Doors

Opening Hearts, Opening Doors

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2015 in Sermon

 

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Exercising Faith: Living a New Life (2 Cor. 5:6-17)

When I was in 2nd grade, I was chasing my sister through the house. She, of course, had done something that completely justified it. Just as I was about to catch her, she ran out the back door, which had a large pane of glass in it, and it clicked shut just as I put my hands out to push it open. My hand went through the glass and cut my hands and left wrist pretty seriously. The tendons and nerves were severed in my wrist and I underwent surgery to try ad repair as much as they could.

My wrist was immobilized in a cast for 6 weeks. After that, my left hand had no feeling and no movement. None at all. Nonetheless I started physical therapy to see how much mobility I might regain. There were no promises as to whether I would regain any sensation in my hand or any movement. I remember being terrified when my little 7-year-old hand couldn’t even grasp a tennis ball.

Therapy went on for three years. Slowly, through continual exercises, I began to regain some movement. After a few months, I could hold a tennis ball, then a golf ball, then I began to play with Tinker Toys–working to grasp those small sticks and maneuver them. Two years later, with continuous therapy and exercises, I began guitar lessons in order to exercise the fingers on my left hand to form chords on the frets.

Ultimately I regained full mobility. The feeling will never come back completely, but I’ve regained most of it. Not a day goes by, 50 years later, that I don’t deliberately move the fingers of my left hand and marvel that it works.

The repair work done in surgery was a gift to me. The neurosurgeon, Dr. Gerald Bergera, was way ahead of his time and reestablished nerve connections that few other surgeons in the country could do in that day. I am grateful for the gift he gave me that made it possible to use my left hand all these years later.

I was given the gift of nerve and tendon repair through complicated surgery. But that gift wouldn’t have made any difference without the physical therapy that followed. As much as it hurt, as frustrating as it became, as slow a process as it was, those exercises allowed me to experience the gift.

Paul is telling the church in Corinth that their faith is a gift. God has given it to them freely in Christ through the power of the Spirit. It is theirs, it is done. They are forgiven, loved, and made new. That has happened and it is God’s gift to them. They are fully restored. Trust it, he writes. Walk by faith and not by sight, he urges them.

And we experience the gift by exercising it.

The exercise of the gift of faith is a life-long process. We don’t see immediate results. But that doesn’t mean the repair work hasn’t been done. It doesn’t mean the gift hasn’t been given. We are made new, and we need to move forward and live that new life. For we walk by faith, not by sight.

  • We exercise forgiveness, no matter how difficult it is, because it is the gift given to us. Christ urges us on, Paul writes in v. 14. We keep exercising it.
  • We exercise mercy, no matter how long it takes, because it is the gift given to us. We regard no one from merely a human point of view any more, Paul writes in v. 16. Through God’s gift, we begin to see them as Christ.
  • We exercise love, no matter how painful, because it is the gift given to us. So if anyone is in Christ, Paul writes in v. 17, there is a new creation. We flex our love, practice our love because we are made new.
  • We exercise our new life in Christ, because it is the gift given to us. Everything old has passed away, writes Paul in v. 17, see everything has become new. We continue to practice living as Christ, over and over, day after day, year after year, getting stronger and more flexible.
  • The gift of faith, a spiritual life, a new way of living has already been given to us. The surgery has happened; Christ died for all.

Now we continue in long-term spiritual therapy, exercising that gift of faith. Slowly, gradually, sometimes even painfully we live a new life, walking by faith, trusting a God of love and life who cannot always be seen.

Exercise your faith, walk by faith and not sight. Expand and grow and strengthen your faith.

My new spiritual therapy exercise is to pray every day for those on our prayer list. I will also pray for each of you, day by day, one name, one household at a time. We walk by faith, not by sight.

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2015 in Sermon

 

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Holy Life Together (Acts 2:43-47)

There are a couple of different things going on here: some miraculous healings, and this band of disciples’ community life together.

Here’s what’s remarkable about this very early community of disciples: everyone was in awe, more and more people were coming each day into this fledgling movement. But it wasn’t because of the signs and wonders. It was because of the way these disciples lived together. It was the things they did as a community together that caused the surrounding neighborhood to sit up and take notice.

They shared all things in common.

They sold their possessions and gave the proceeds away to anyone in need.

They were continually spending time in the temple together in worship and prayer.

They ate together (pot lucks?)

They did all this with glad and generous hearts. They had fun together.

They enjoyed being together. They celebrated time together. It was how they lived that revealed Christ to the broader community.

The signs and wonders were cool. But as is still the case, the impact of signs and wonders is short-lived. I’m sure the wind and fire of Pentecost was astounding, but you can also bet the amazement faded.

Have you ever experienced something you might consider the presence of God, being in the presence of the Divine, or even miraculous? A sunset, a healing, a moment of inspiration, a time of calm in stress.

Those moments are inspirational! They are awesome! They carry you, sometimes for quite a while. We need to share these experiences with each other because they are so inspiring!

But let’s be honest. After a while usually we end up close to where we were before the sign and wonder experience. “What have you done for me lately, God?” we ask. Few people change their view of God in any significant way after an amazing spiritual experience—signs and wonders. They are astounded, they are amazed, they are moved, they may even remember, but rarely changed in any deep way. Signs and wonders are not how disciples are made. And signs and wonders are not how a community of disciples lives.

But, the way we live together, the way we celebrate together, the way we treat each other is how Jesus is most deeply revealed to our neighbors. It’s through us as a community.

Does the LCM community live any differently than any other community? Are we the people that live together with generosity as normal, forgiveness as assumed, giving each other the benefit of the doubt is what’s expected? Do we rush to protect each other from rumors or ridicule? Is our knee-jerk reaction a willingness to make a personal sacrifice for the sake of the LCM community?

Well, sometimes. We’re a mixed bag. We certainly don’t do so perfectly. We hurt each other and hold grudges sometimes. But today, I want to point out and emphasize that whether we feel like it or not, whether we exhibit it all the time or not, we are a community created in the image of God. We actually do reflect Christ. Not because we try so hard to do it, but just because we are bound together by Jesus.

When those Christ-like things happen it is a sign of the presence of Christ binding us together. And it is our relationships to one another that get the long-term attention of our neighborhood. Because it is our relationships to one another in this place that come from and reflect our relationship with God.

Look around this room. Look into the faces of all these gifts God has given us! Look at how blessed and holy we are together! Look how the Divine is real right in this room!

Who here has ever experienced holy care or comfort or support through your association with LCM? Who here knows God better because of your relationships here? Who has ever been a recipient of holy generosity through LCM? Who has been forgiven by someone in LCM? Who is loved by someone at LCM?

Who, then, can do anything but call this congregation holy? We’re a mixed bag, but don’t ever deny our holiness. When we lose sight of the holiness of this congregation, we risk losing sight of God. But the reality is that when we gather together, we gather in the presence of holiness. The way we live together bears that out, for the sake of the world.

 
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Posted by on June 1, 2015 in Sermon

 

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One Flock, One Shepherd, One Voice (John 10:11-18)

(This sermon was preached at Faith Lutheran Church, Seward, Nebraska, on the occasion of their celebrating 50 years of ministry)

50 years? Really?  Congratulations on 50 years of revealing Jesus. 50 years of the voice of the good shepherd being proclaimed through this congregation. 50 years. No one ever said following Jesus, the good shepherd, was going to be easy. If they did, they lied. It’s not easy. Listening to the voice of Jesus and following is extremely difficult. Yet, this congregation has been serious about that for 50 years. It’s astonishing. But it’s being done. Because you are a flock that knows the shepherd.

For the first time, I noticed in this text that Jesus doesn’t say anything about individual sheep. He loves the flock, cares for the flock, lays down his life for the flock, will gather all the sheep into one flock. It’s not so much about individual sheep, but more about the flock as a whole. “Sheep” is plural throughout this chapter.

Of course Jesus loves each individual sheep, but the emphasis here is that he lays down his life for the flock. And he will bring in the other sheep too so there will be one flock, one shepherd. One flock, for whom he lays down his life.

This changes everything in this text for me. We’re not just individual sheep, each of us trying to discern the voice of the shepherd. We are first a flock for whom the Good Shepherd lays down his life. It’s not “you’re a sheep” and “I’m a sheep,” so let’s get together and create a flock. No, it’s “we are already a flock!” and we belong to the Good Shepherd. We are part of something bigger than just us. That’s who we are. Our identity comes not from being an individual sheep who chooses a shepherd’s voice, and then seeks out other individual sheep who agree on that voice, and call ourselves a flock. No, our identity comes from already being part of the flock for whom the shepherd lays down his life. We are already included. It’s already done.

Now, if that isn’t cool enough, there are implications as to what this means about our life together as a flock.

Most importantly, Jesus the Good Shepherd is enough. As a flock, the Good Shepherd is all we need. We are enough right now. Faith Lutheran Church has enough, you are enough, right now. Because, as a flock, the Good Shepherd lays down his life for you.You have been called, gathered, and cared for by the Good Shepherd who sees the wolf yet will always stay with you. The shepherd saves you. Saves us. The whole flock. He knows you and lays down his life for you—as a flock.

He says there are other sheep who do not belong to this fold but who he will bring into the flock. Sometimes we can get frantic about that, and think our primary purpose is in seeking them out, thinking that we have to get them in our doors. So we sometimes put a lot of energy into calling them.

But Jesus says they will listen to his voice, not ours. It’s his voice they will follow, not our individual baaaing and bleating. So when we speak to sheep who may be outside the fold, we do so as part of his flock, taking care to use his voice, his words, doing so in his character—that of the Good Shepherd, which has already embraced us, loved us, forgiven us.

We know the sound of his voice. His voice is always that of love, forgiveness, grace, compassion, a willingness to lay down our lives, our agendas for them. That’s the voice they hear; that’s the voice they will follow.

So as a flock belonging to the good shepherd, we love other sheep, whether we consider them inside or outside the flock–because that ultimately not our concern. It is the concern of the shepherd. So we love all sheep, without strings and without conditions. They will listen to that voice. We show them compassion and mercy—even if they haven’t deserved it. They will follow that voice. We forgive those who offend us. That’s the voice of the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the flock.

Nobody can ever say that listening to the voice of the shepherd is easy. No one can tell you that following the good shepherd is comfortable. And yet, Faith Lutheran Church has been doing exactly that for 50 years. That is impressive.

I hope you can take this opportunity, as you celebrate these 50 years of faithfulness, to begin to look to the next 50. The good shepherd knows you, and knows you are listening to his voice. Amen.

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2015 in Sermon

 

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Life Can’t Be Contained (Mark 16:1-8)

Of the four gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection in the Bible, this one in Mark is my favorite. Most scholars agree that the text we read today is the original ending of this gospel, “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” The end.

There are no resurrection appearances, no putting away doubts, no assurances. Just an empty grave and some frightened women, who, even though they were the only ones who stayed at the cross while Jesus died, now they run away in terror. It’s simply stated that Jesus isn’t here, he’s raised from the dead, and that he will meet them in Galilee. So, go tell his disciples and then get on the road to Galilee if you want to see him.

As faithful and courageous disciples, these women came to the cemetery early in the morning expecting Jesus to be there–at least his body to be there. They are ready for that encounter. They brought all the appropriate spices for anointing. They are on a mission of love and compassion. They aren’t hiding, they aren’t playing it safe, they aren’t giving up. They are expressing their love for Jesus by coming to the cemetery where they expect to find him and where they can perform this act of service for him.

The only problem is that he isn’t where they expect. He’s not contained in the grave. He’s gone on ahead of them. If they want to see him, they need to go where he is, not just where they think he ought to be. If they want to perform acts of love and service for him, they need to follow him back to Galilee, not stick around a cemetery.

So Mark’s point isn’t that we had better believe this account of resurrection. This gospel’s point is that Jesus isn’t to be found in a cemetery just because we think he ought to be there. He isn’t safely tucked away in a convenient place back where we left him. No, Jesus is raised and goes out ahead of us, to Galilee—the place where our lives are.

Too often, I think, we come to a church on a Sunday morning looking to find Jesus. Because, we think, that’s where he ought to be! Don’t you expect to find Jesus in a church? So we put on our piety and our best behavior to show Jesus we love him and believe in him. Even though we may be nervous about entering a church building, we do so. It’s brave, it’s showing respect and love, and it’s where we think Jesus ought to be found.

That’s wonderful! But Mark’s gospel will tell us that Jesus can’t be contained in a church building on a Sunday morning. He’s not just where we expect him to be. He’s risen, he’s gone ahead of us to our homes, our schools, our neighborhoods, our workplaces. He’s gone ahead of us to Galillee. There we will see him. In our homes we will see his unconditional love. In our workplaces we will see his grace and compassion. In our schools we will see his forgiveness that defies explanation. In our neighborhoods we will see his unexplainable generosity. There we will see him.

And what’ more, there we will join him in loving the world. We get to reveal new life in Galilee. There, too, we get to live out the forgiveness he gives. There, too, we get to see his new life in loving others, in forgiving others, in being generous to others.

Whether we believe a particular view of resurrection or not isn’t Mark’s main thing. This gospel’s point is that nothing can contain this risen Christ. Not a building, not a church, not a belief system, not a doctrine, not a religion. Wherever we go, Jesus has arrived there ahead of us. When we leave here today, Jesus leads the way. Are you going to brunch from here? Jesus is there waiting for you! Gathering with family today? Jesus is part of it. Heading out for a quiet afternoon in the mountains? Enjoy your time with Jesus, who’s there already. He’s already gone to Galilee. There, too, you will see him.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2015 in Sermon

 

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