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Arrogance Is Never the Gospel (May 21, 2017)

Acts 17:22-31

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For “In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we too are his offspring.’ 29 Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

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.

Have you heard of this apostle Paul? He is the one who opened up this new Jesus movement to the Gentiles. He’s the greatest evangelist of all time. He is credited with writing most of the New Testament. In this text in Acts, we get to hear one of this great man’s sermons. This famous follower of Jesus, after being chased out of two towns because his speaking about Jesus is so powerful, is now brought to this incredible venue to explain his views. The Areopagus in Athens, world-famous for its speakers and its court hearings. This is the big time.

Our bishop, Jim Gonia, preached Easter morning at Red Rocks Amphitheater this year. But as big a deal as that is, it can’t hold a candle to the Areopagus in Athens Greece in Paul’s day.

So here he is, on the biggest stage of his life, in front of a whole lot of people eagerly awaiting his speaking.

With all that heightened anticipation, he begins. And the response from the crowd is, “Meh.” Oh, a few were moved to follow Jesus. But the vast majority just kind of went, “What’s the big deal?”

To be honest, that’s pretty much my reaction too. Really, Paul? That’s the best you’ve got? You Greeks have a Unkown God, but we know who that God is? God doesn’t really live in statues? That doesn’t do much for me.

To be fair, perhaps Paul was having an off day. After all, the Thessolonicans won’t leave him alone. They’ve run him out of two cities now, and if they knew he was in Athens, they’d probably try again.

And this sermon was rather impromptu. He had been talking in the synagogue and then in the marketplace, which was his usual pattern, and those people whisked him off to the Areopagus, put him up on the stage, and said, “Go.” He had no time to prepare.

So we can cut him a little bit of slack. Even on his best day, no single sermon of Paul’s could ever touch everyone. Even Jesus couldn’t reach every person who heard.

But that really is true. Each person has unique experiences and histories. We’re all wired just a bit differently so that what has deep meaning to me is hardly worth hearing to you. That which reaches inside and touches the depths of your very soul might just sound like dogs howling to me.

The context of our lives matters. That’s the amazing thing about this gospel—it is good news in every context because it is solely about love and grace.

If it’s not sounding like good news to you, you’re likely hearing it from the perspective of someone else’s context. And if they’re telling you that what moves them and connects with them is the only way this gospel is real, they don’t know the gospel of Christ. They are putting their faith not in the gospel, but in their own interpretation of it as it touched them. And trying to make their unique perspective universal for everyone has got to be the height of self-centeredness. I can’t tell you that my history is the only one that matters. I can’t tell you that my interpretation of the gospel is the ultimate interpretation. I can’t tell you that what excites me has to, by my definition, excite you. And that if it does not, then you are obviously less, inferior, not as godly as me.

I’m glad some aspect of God’s love was moving to people who think that way, but no one can demand everyone else twist their lives to fit into one person’s perpective. Your life experiences are different than mine, so what would ever make me think that what makes sense for my life would have to make sense for yours before your life can be legitimate? What kind of arrogance is that?

The bottom line—and that which makes the gospel so universal—is that God is love. Which means you are worthy of love. So the question we need to ask ourselves is, “How has  love made a difference for you? How has love touched you and made you new? What does love look like for you?” This is the gospel. This is what Jesus came to show us. This is what God is like. And your story about this love, which is God, which is what Jesus is about, makes a huge difference.

Your story of love, of God, of Christ, is likely different than other people’s. Which means some may not be as moved by your story as you are. That doesn’t mean don’t speak about God’s love in your life, quite the contrary! It means you need to speak it clearly and boldly! It will touch someone! Just don’t be discouraged or upset if it doesn’t resonate with everyone. It’s not supposed to. It will touch some people, but it won’t—it can’t—touch every other person. No one’s story can do that. Christ is too genuine for that. Christ will reach other people with other experiences. We must affirm and recognize the validity of others’ stories of being made new in love too. They are genuine and just as legitimate as yours.

Share your story of God’s love in Christ. And don’t let anyone tell you, no matter how famous they are, that because their story is different, it’s more legitimate than yours. Christ has come to you in love. Nothing is more legitimate than that. Recognize God’s love in your life. Claim it. Share it. And encourage others to do the same. Even if the way God’s love touched them is different than yours. Share your story with me. I’d love to hear it even if it’s different than mine. Who knows, I might learn more about Christ’s love from your experience. Wouldn’t that be great?

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2017 in Sermon

 

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“Easter Isn’t About Belief. It’s About God” (April 16, 2017)

Matthew 28:1-10

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see 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.

You know the story. Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, was raised from the dead 2000 years ago. Good news! Because it’s good news, we can ask what difference it makes in our lives right now, today? That’s a fair question.

Maybe the resurrection of Christ comforts you so that you can trust that there is life after you die. That’s good.

Maybe this story in Matthew helps you believe that there is a God who is more powerful than death. Again, that can be great comfort for when we face death. That, too, is good.

Or maybe these biblical resurrection texts help you find solace in a God who can work amazing, supernatural miracles. That’s good too.

If your faith is somewhere along those lines, and this Easter Day helps you there, that is absolutely wonderful! Keep it up. Continue to grow in your faith. Keep on your spiritual journey of trusting and believing. Keep going.

But again, if that’s you, you need to understand that you’re now  a diminishing minority. Fewer and fewer people find that kind of spiritual significance in the stories of Jesus’ resurrection. Fewer and fewer people take this text in Matthew literally. Fewer and fewer people consider Jesus’ resurrection from the dead very meaningful to their lives today at all.

If that’s you, and you find yourself struggling with the meaning of this Easter day, know that you’re not alone. What’s more, wherever you find yourself right now on these issues of faith and God and resurrection is not only OK, it is good! You are among a growing number of people who are thinking deeply and personally about this cornerstone of Christian faith, who are facing legitimate doubt with honesty and asking appropriate questions about the relevance of a claimed event 2000 years ago. Your thoughts and opinions on this whole resurrection thing matter. And you are worth hearing. Whatever you think about Jesus’ resurrection, whatever you believe about it is actually important! And it needs to be part of the conversation.

We need to  listen to each other and be open to what another person thinks about all this—whether the other person is devout in their Christian faith, or whether the other person has never been inside a church.

As important as those conversations are, and as helpful and inclusive as they need to be, here’s the thing: Easter day isn’t about what we believe, it’s about who God is.

Easter day should never have been about correct beliefs or right doctrine or coercion into a particular set of religious values that you have to claim if you want to avoid eternal hellfire. This day isn’t about that at all. Easter day isn’t about what we believe, it’s about who God is.

Whatever you believe about God, Easter shows us is that God isn’t a far-off, distance entity watching over the world and occasionally intervening if we ask nicely. Easter shows us that God enters into, is fully present, in the very fabric of life. God is already there in all aspects of creation. Easter is a declaration that there is nothing, there is nowhere, that God isn’t already completely and totally present. Nothing can keep God away. Nothing can keep God out. Not so much because God is more powerful, but because God is, and has always been the very essence of creation.

Easter day isn’t about what we believe, it’s about who God is.

What this story in Matthew tells us is that nothing can stop God from being present. Not political authorities who bring death. Not religious authorities who self-righteously call for death. Military guards who, out of fear, are now “like dead men.” A gigantic stone rolled over the entrance of the grave. Death itself. With God who is the essence of creation, life is real, it is absolute, and it is unconditional. Life is what God is about.

The resurrection of Jesus is the declaration of just one more normal thing for God. It is a continuation of what God has always done, of who God actually is. And nothing can get in the way of God being present and therefore bringing life.

In Genesis, God who was already there, breathed life into dead clay and it became a living person. In Ezekiel, God who was already there, brought dry, dead bones lying in the desert sun back together, and they became living people. Just a couple of weeks ago we heard about Jesus being present, restoring life to Lazarus, calling him forth from the grave. Life is what happens because God is there. Life is the way of God, central to who God is. Life isn’t earned, bought, coerced, bargained for. Where God is, there is life. And nothing can keep God out. God is in all things and through all things.

Easter day isn’t about what we believe, it’s about who God is.

And like it or not, believe it or not, trust it or not, the God of Easter day is present in you and gives life. To everyone. Even you. Especially you. Isn’t that what we witness every day in creation? It’s what we witness in our own lives. The very presence of God. All creation sings with life because God is fully present there. We sing today of new life because God is fully present with us.

Easter day isn’t about what we believe, it’s about who God is.  

We celebrate today because we recognize the presence of God: the source, the essence, of life. Life that cannot be stopped by politics, military, graves, fear, or disbelief. This is the good news of Easter day. God is here. Fully and completely here. That means there is new life here. That means there is hope for creation here. Hope for us. Hope for you. God is here. God is life.

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2017 in Sermon

 

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The Good Samaritan, Fear, and Transformation (July 10, 2016)

video of this sermon can be seen at: http://www.facebook.com/lcm.lakewood

Luke 10:25-37

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

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.

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting pretty tired of the divisions that seem to be deepening around us and among us. The “us vs. them” mentality seems harsher then ever. The black and white thinking of “I’m right, you’re wrong” seems more entrenched. We seem to be less open to dialogue, moving instead to argument. We have come to believe that our opinions are facts, by virtue of them being our opinions,. We demonize and attack anyone who disagrees with us because, if they disagree, they are not only wrong, but evil, unpatriotic, ungodly, or just “one of those people” and can therefore be written off and disregarded.

That was apparently happening in Jesus’ day too. It’s what’s happening in the parable of the Good Samaritan. “A lawyer stood up to test Jesus,” we began. If he wants to test Jesus, he believe he knows the answer, right? He wants to see if Jesus knows what he knows, believes what he believes. He wants to know if Jesus is “one of us” or “one of them.” So he tests him to see if Jesus is right, which will be revealed if Jesus agrees with this lawyer’s interpretation of the law regarding eternal life. I don’t think the lawyer really cares about eternal life. I think he believes he has the right answer and wants to know if Jesus can be counted on to back him up.

We don’t ever find out what happened to this lawyer. But one thing we can be pretty confident about: Jesus didn’t pass his test right then. This man is not an attorney like we understand it. He’s a teacher of God’s law, a religious expert. And Jesus’ answer to “who is the neighbor?” wouldn’t be what a teacher of the law would believe. Jesus says that a heretic, a Samaritan, reveals God better than a priest or a Levite—both of which are religious experts too.

Samaritans had a falling out with Jews centuries before, when the Northern Kingdom of Israel was overthrown. Samaritans, from Samaria, were the Jews who were left behind and weren’t killed off. Left behind in Israel, they corrupted the Jewish faith by intermarrying other religions and incorporating some of those practices into their own. By Jesus’ day, Samaritans represented everything that was abhorrent and opposed to God.

Yet Jesus chooses in his parable to lift up a Samaritan as the one through whom God’s mercy is recognizable. A Samaritan! One of “them!”

Part of Jesus’ point, it seems to me, is that God is seen, revealed, can work through anyone. Even those we consider wrong, or evil, or “one of them.”

Have you ever recognized God in the words or actions of someone you disagree with?

I initiated several conversations with friends on Facebook about gun legislation. Yes, I did that. On Facebook. On purpose.

I started badly. I called out a government official with whom I disagreed and used the word “disgusting.” Not a great way to start a conversation. Like the lawyer in this parable, I was testing people on Facebook to see who agreed with me and who didn’t. When someone from this congregation took offense at my language, and called me out on not wanting to have a conversation, it eventually caused me to rethink my approach. After, of course, I said a few more argumentative statements. At least the lawyer had the good sense to shut up when Jesus called him out.

So I deleted that post and tried again with others. This time, actually listening and acknowledging the possibility that perhaps I needed some transformation too. Maybe I needed to see what God was doing beyond my own opinion. Perhaps I could recognize the voice of God in the words of those I disagree with.

And the conversations were civil, mostly. I respected the opinions of those I disagreed with and they respected mine. And I learned a few things, and I heard God’s voice.

It’s not that anyone’s mind was changed. It’s more that I saw and heard something we have in common that God was addressing. Gun rights advocates and gun legislation advocates are both afraid. We’re all looking for something to bring security in the midst of that fear. Fear causes us to test others and see who rallies to our position. Fear causes us to blame others for the things that are wrong. Fear causes us to label people, to jump to conclusions, to scapegoat, to draw lines of division. If we’re afraid, we seek the security of closing borders to “them,” to keep “them” away. Police shootings of two black men in Baton Rouge and in St. Paul bring out our fear. Snipers mowing down police at a peaceful march in Dallas bring out our fear. And it is our fear that separates us.

In scripture, whenever God is going to do something big, why do you think the first words God speaks are, “Do not be afraid”? Because fear separates us from each other—and from God. And the point of this parable of the Good Samaritan is that God works through “them” just as well as God works through “us.” And that is the part we need to pay attention to, to be open to.

But I’ll tell you, when we’re open to God’s activity, we will be changed, transformed. Isn’t that the heart of this whole Jesus thing anyway? New life? Death and resurrection? Dying to the old and being raised to the new? That can be uncomfortable, even frightening. We’re back into fear. So, to comfort us in our fear of being changed, we use Jesus to defend our opinions and positions. Too often we use our religion to prevent change instead of initiating it. We must be transformed, which is the work of God and the purpose of our faith. And transformation comes when we embrace God’s activity, even when it is revealed by those we disagree with. Even if it is done by those we hate. Even if God speaks to us through those we are afraid of.

The violence and division are eroding us, diminishing us, enslave us in fear. It must stop. God is in the midst of it doing something new. That’s what we need to watch for, what we need to pray for. “Do not be afraid.” We will be changed. God is at work. Even through our enemies. Even through those we fear. Even through those we disagree with. Even through us. The neighbor, Jesus says, is the one who shows us God. Go and do likewise.

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2016 in Sermon

 

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What Are Your Resurrection Stories? (March 27, 2016)

Luke 24:1-12

 

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8Then they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the 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’s a saying in some of my circles which goes, “It doesn’t matter what the topic is, if you get three Christians in a room, you’ll have four opinions.”

That’s true for everything about our faith. We all have different experiences and backgrounds. Because we each have a different starting point, the Spirit of God leads each of us on a different path. This is also true for  the resurrection of Jesus. Believe it or not, there are lots of different opinions about and interpretations of this event.

We have a tendency to think of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead as a right/wrong, black/white, yes/no, either/or dichotomy. But if being human teaches us anything, it’s that there are as many different ways to experience resurrection as there are people. We do a disservice to the resurrection of Christ if we don’t acknowledge the reality that we understand it differently and experience it differently. So no matter what your experience of resurrection is, it is valid and it is necessary in the conversation. Otherwise, this amazing experience we all have ends up nothing more than a happy ending to a nice 2000 year old story. Then we can forget about it and go find our Easter eggs and eat our chocolate bunnies. To know the power of Jesus’ resurrection, we need to listen to each other’s experiences of dying and rising.

What are your resurrection stories? You have them, you know. How has this Jesus event become real in your life? What does your new life look like, and how is it different?

Let me share one of my death and resurrection experiences. Many of you know that I’ve had a struggle in my life with depression. It’s a chemical imbalance that can affect my outlook and my energy. But it’s in depression that I’ve experienced resurrection. Let me explain—

My experiences with depression have made it very clear that I can’t handle everything alone. It’s not healthy to do so, and we aren’t built for that—no matter how much we may think we’re the exception to that rule. No one can be strong all the time. So I reach out for help now. I’m closer to my wife. I lean on trusted people when I need to. That’s a whole different way to live for me, connecting with people in a more authentic way. Not just me serving or helping, but a real relationship where there’s mutual give and take. I see the world with entirely new eyes. It’s a whole new life. I would never have experienced this newness without going through the difficulty of depression.

What are your resurrection stories? You have them, you know.

Where are you asking different questions than you’ve asked before? What’s changed that has brought about new questions? That’s a sign of something new going on. That’s a sign of a death and resurrection experience.

Where do you have a new understanding or new perspective? What are the experiences that have led to that new outlook? Chances are, there’s a death and resurrection story in there.

I’ve come to the realization that resurrection is normal for God, though no less miraculous. It’s part of who God is. And since we’re created in God’s image, it’s actually normal for us too. We experience little deaths and resurrections throughout our lives. What matters is that this is God at work in us. This is God’s gift of new life for each of us. This is who God is and how God comes to us. Resurrection from the dead. New way of living when an old way of living no longer makes sense. New perspective, when our previous views don’t hold water any more. More openness to love, when the things that have divided us become irrelevant. As God brings life from death, we get caught up in that movement and become part of God’s normal resurrection activity.

What are your resurrection stories? You have them, you know.

Still, we hesitate to acknowledge our resurrection stories, or see them as good. Because in order for there to be new life, something else has to give way. E.g., if you get married, you can no longer be single. If you move to the 3rd grade, you will never be in 2nd grade again. Resurrection involves death. Living a new life means part of an old life can no longer exist. Before Jesus could be raised from the dead, he had to die.

That can be frightening. Sometimes we cling to the old and familiar because that’s more comfortable. A new way of living is unknown and, well, new. We aren’t always sure what that will be like. So we don’t always jump into it with enthusiasm.

But resurrection, again, is normal for God. Therefore it’s going to happen—even to you.

Some of us here right now are in that process of resurrection and rebirth. Maybe you don’t see any new life yet. Maybe something old is still dying and you aren’t ready to give it up. But resurrection, again, is normal for God. Therefore it’s going to happen.

Perhaps you are longing for something new, yet it is slow in coming. You want to die to something old and move past it, but it won’t let go. But resurrection, again, is normal for God. Therefore it’s going to happen.

Regardless of where you are or how it happens, know that God is with you in the journey. The God who raised Jesus from the dead is the God who is raising you to new life too. We don’t have to be afraid of living a new life. This is the day of resurrection. For Jesus. For you.

What are your resurrection stories? You have them, you know.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2016 in Sermon

 

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Life Comes into the Midst of Death (All Saints Day, Isaiah 25:6-9)

I’m noticing more and more in our culture a denial of death. We usually don’t talk about people dying; instead we say they “passed,” or “left this life,” or “gone to heaven.” Even in the church we talk not about death but about someone having “completed their baptismal journey.”

Hospitals talk about people who “expired.”

In war we talk about “casualties.”

Mortuaries use make up artists and hair stylists to make the dead look more alive. And even when we bury bodies, we no longer lower the casket and place dirt on it. We leave the cemetery and other people fill in the grave alone and quietly.

But anyone who has lost a loved one knows these are just tricks, semantics. Death is real. And it is hard. And it is permanent. The more we love someone, the harder their death is on us.

The texts today recognize the reality of death. They talk about tears and about mourning, crying, and pain. They speak of a sheet and a shroud covering us up. The biblical authors knew about death. They suffered in the grief of losing loved ones.

No, death is all too real. The grief, the loss, the emptiness, the sadness, the loneliness, the sleepless nights, the tears that won’t stop, the despair are all very real. There’s no denying it. Not for anyone who has been affected by the death of someone they love.

Yes, these texts speak of death. But they also speak of life. God is the one who destroys death. In the Isaiah text, God gathers up all people for a feast beyond imagination, with the riches foods and best wines. While all are enjoying this amazing feast, did you notice what God is eating? God swallows death. God comes on that day and destroys the shroud covering all people. God eliminates the mourning, and the crying, and the pain. God comes and wipes the tears from our grieving faces and assures us that death is not the last word.

God takes care of all of God’s people, and not even death can get in the way of that. God comes to us here, on this All Saints Day, when we open up our grief and our sadness. God comes and gently wipes the tears from our eyes. And God promises again that those we love are in good hands. God, who created them and loved them and forgave them is even now taking care of them.

Death is not the last word, God says. We can trust this because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. God has the last word. And the last word is life.

And until that last word of life is spoken again, God comes and sits with us in our grief. God comforts us in our sadness. God doesn’t leave us alone in our mourning, but is present with us gently wiping our tears.

Today is All Saints Sunday, a day to open up our grief and sadness because of death. But it is also the day to hear again God’s promise of life, abundant life, joyful life.

All Saints Day is the day to claim those promises and entrust our loved ones into the hands of the God who has given them, and still promises them, life everlasting.

I invite you to light a candle for someone you’ve lost to death. Write their name on a card and place that card in the basket. We’ll take as long as we need to do that. And then we will read aloud the names of those we have lost to death and commend them all into God’s care, trusting in the power of resurrection.

Please make your way to the candles and the table.

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2015 in Sermon

 

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A Community Filled with Resurrection Life Passes on the Faith (Acts 3:12-19)

This early, fledgling church in Jerusalem is trying to find its way. Resurrection life matters, but they’re trying to figure out exactly how it matters.

Right before this text, Peter and John had healed a lame man in the name of Jesus, who then began jumping around, dancing, and praising God for this miracle.

Everyone around heard the commotion and came running to see what was going on. As they came, they recognized the walking man as the one who was formerly lame. And they were, obviously, amazed and curious. They see a man jumping around who couldn’t walk, and they hear him praising God for it. Obviously some kind of unexplainable event, and obviously this man, and probably many others, believe that God is responsible for it.

So the text today begins with words that bring fear and trembling to many. Today’s text starts with “When Peter saw it, he addressed the people.”

Oh, dear. Peter is going to talk. What is going to come out of his mouth this time? What mess will he create that we’ll have to clean up later? Often that’s the case with Peter, who apparently never has an unexpressed thought.

But Peter, although kind of crass and maybe even rude, does OK here. What he’s doing is sharing with those who now see a man dancing around who couldn’t move before that this is why resurrection life is important. He’s making sure he’s connecting this man’s healing with the resurrected Jesus.

This isn’t just a generic God thing. This man who is made whole right in front of you was healed specifically in the name of Jesus, whom you also know. Remember Jesus, he says? The one crucified by Pilate just a few weeks ago? Well, guess what? God raised him from the dead–we have seen him–and he is the cause of this man’s healing!

You may not have known this about Jesus, Peter continues. But he is the suffering Messiah you’ve heard about all your lives. He’s the one. Yes, Jesus. And this shows you what a difference the resurrection life has.

Resurrection life is different than anything you know. It helps us start anew. It brings forgiveness. It wipes out sins, it restores and renews. And it comes through Jesus.

All Peter is doing is sharing what he has experienced. The resurrection of Jesus brings new life. It is drastic. Peter is passing on insights gained from his resurrection experience. He is passing on his faith.

Notice he doesn’t say anything about doctrine, or about the correct things we have to believe. He’s simply passing along his own experience of the resurrected Jesus. He doesn’t pit Lutherans against Presbyterians, or Jews against Gentiles. He has some experience of the reality of resurrection life, and is passing it on. Those who saw this sign of resurrection and may be wondering about it now have the experience of Peter to go along with it. Jesus, crucified, risen, brings life, healing, newness. That’s what Peter has experienced, so that is what he passes on to the crowds.

That’s what passing on the faith is. It’s not teaching doctrine or memorizing the catechism (though those aren’t in-and-of-themselves bad things). But passing on the faith is experiencing resurrection life and sharing that experience.

“Here’s what I know about Jesus,” we can say. “Here’s where I’ve been given a new beginning, a new life, a new chance, a new hope. And it’s because of the resurrection of Jesus that I recognize these things.”

A community filled with resurrection life passes on the faith any time we share our experiences of resurrection. Made new in Christ, we can’t help it. We are filled with resurrection life! We share our experiences.

Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

 
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Posted by on April 19, 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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