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Following the God of the Living is Complicated (Nov 10, 2019)

Resurrection. Life after death. Like so many other aspects of faith, there are lots of differing opinions on what happens to us after life on this earth is done. The Sadducees, for instance, like many people today, didn’t believe in any version of heaven, hell, or life after death. And some people think that though their body may die, their soul never dies but simply goes to heaven. Others believe that when you die, you are dead until the last day—the day of resurrection when all are raised. Still others believe that upon death, our essence rejoins the elemental cosmos in universality. Some believe in a place, while others believe in a state of being. We all think about what happens after we die, but we certainly don’t agree on it.

Sometimes our beliefs are based on hope, sometimes on some scriptural references, sometimes on logic or reason, sometimes even on experiences. But the bottom line is that we really don’t know. So we can look at passages like this one and go, “ok. so?”

But let’s not write this off just yet. There are a couple of things that we can make a difference in our lives here and now.

One is Jesus seems to believe that whatever happens after death, it will be different than what we know here and now. So the Sadducees question in that sense doesn’t matter, because he says there is no marriage after you die.

But the other thing that Jesus points out, and that everything turns on, is when he says, “Now [God] is God not of the dead, but of the living.”

If our faith is based primarily on what happens to us after we die, that’s a faith based on dying, not living. If it’s based on doing things, saying things, or believing things to make sure we “get to heaven” when we die, that takes priority away from what God is doing with the living here and now. If our faith and our theology fail to prioritize living people, real people, what use is it?

As believers in the God of the living, as followers of the risen Christ, we are by definition about those things that bring life. Our emphasis is on lifting up life, improving life, helping the living—because God is a God not of the dead, but of the living. This isn’t easy, and it is not simple When we try to take a very complicated issue like lifting up, improving life for very present people, and pretend it’s a simple black-and-white issue, we become like the Sadducees—justifying ourselves through self-righteousness.

Lifting up life is not easy, and it’s not simple. For example, when my daughter was in college, she worked for a short time for an organization called, “The Feminist Majority Foundation.” Part of her job included working at a booth on campus where she would hand out information about women’s issues to anyone interested. Part of that information included abortion—the legalities, the emotional affects, and where to find help and support and counseling. The policy of the Feminist Majority Foundation was that if a woman, particularly a woman living in poverty, finds herself in the heart-wrenching situation of needing to terminate a pregnancy, she should be able to do it with care, with safety, and with awareness. Emily agreed with that position, and was happy to provide that information.

One night, after she finished her shift and had packed up her material and closed her booth, she started to walk across campus to her dorm. A group of young men began shouting at her, calling her a baby-killer and yelling at her that she was evil. She ignored them and kept walking, so they began throwing rocks at her while angrily shouting and cursing at her.

All alone, and facing a group of very angry men, she was terrified. Her life was potentially in danger. Fortunately, by this time she was close enough to her dorm that she could run for the security door and get inside. Who knows what could have happened?

On that night, in that situation, who was about those things that bring life? One was coming from a place of compassion and a desire to lift up women in poverty who find themselves in an extremely difficult situation. The others were coming from a place of anger and violence and self-justification.

I wonder, on that night, who was taking a stand for life? Who was actually lifting up life, making life better for very present and real people?

God is the God not of the dead, but of the living. And as we trust in this God for life not only after we die, but life right here and now, we are called to lift up all those who are living, not just the ones we like. And that’s not always easy, and certainly not always simple. We share a common desire to follow the God of the living, but don’t always agree on what that looks like. Which is why, as a community, we ought to be listening to one another, sharing our insights together, and learning together.

Not just when it comes to life issues like abortion, but capital punishment, not to mention poverty, disease, hunger, education. All issues that have consequences of life and death. And on this Veterans Day weekend, we consider also the issue of war—certainly an issue with life and death consequences. Again, these aren’t easy, and not simple. So we are compelled to wrestle together with these life and death issues, and together seek the guidance and the forgiveness of the God of the living.

So what happens when we die? We still don’t know. But because God is the God of the living, the God who raised Christ to new life, we live here and now with that promise of new life. We live to lift up the lives of all those God loves. And ultimately, we simply have to trust in the words of Jesus today, that we will somehow be raised to new life where, as he says, “we cannot die, because [we] are like angels and are children of God, being children of resurrection.”

God is God not of the dead, but of the living. That will always include us.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2019 in Sermon

 

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The Resurrection, or Resurrection? (April 21, 2019)

Luke 24:1-12

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, [the women] came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The 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. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But 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.

This is Easter Sunday! The day of resurrection! This day is the pinnacle of our Christian faith. This day is the celebration at the very core of our identity as Christian people. And yet, we actually don’t talk about it that much.

I want to change that. Let’s begin with how we even use the word “resurrection. Normally, do you talk about “the resurrection” or about “resurrection”?

If we normally say, “the resurrection,” we’re probably talking about what happened to Jesus on that first Easter morning 2000 years ago. On the third day after his crucifixion, the women came and found an empty tomb and two men in dazzling clothes. We have all the different descriptions recorded in the different gospels. Because all of these accounts differ, we don’t really know exactly what we would have been able to video if we’d been at his tomb on that first Easter morning. But still, when we say “the resurrection” we’re likely referring to a Jesus event 2000 years ago outside of Jerusalem.

Many people extrapolate from this event that heaven is now open to us when we die. So the resurrection gives us on the one hand ß an event 2000 years ago, and on the other hand à the promise of heaven after we’re dead.

There’s more to it than that. But the point is that for a lot of people believing in the resurrection isn’t all that difficult because there’s nothing really in it today. This also means that for a lot of people dismissing the resurrection isn’t all that difficult because there’s nothing really in it today.

So for too many people, for a lot of different reasons, this central tenet of all of Christianity ends up as something that doesn’t necessarily affect their lives. For too many people, the resurrection doesn’t have much to say about their current relationships, their struggles, their failures, their worries. And if the resurrection doesn’t bring new life into those real-life issues, why do we use that phrase to talk about new life?

I said there was more to the resurrection than that, and there is. But because we tend to think about it as a 2000 year old event that doesn’t affect anything until after we die, we miss out on its significance today.

For instance, we don’t often talk about the resurrection as God’s seal of approval that Jesus revealed God’s reign, God’s way of living, God’s will for us. The resurrection is God’s validation of Jesus’ life of compassion, mercy, forgiveness, unconditional love, inclusion of those pushed aside. It is God’s endorsement of that way living is of God.

So the resurrection includes not merely an isolated incident in history that can just as easily be believed as dismissed, but is a confirmation by God that Jesus shows us God’s intention for our lives. The resurrection means that in Jesus, we are shown the will of God for human life and all creation. When taken seriously, that is a game changer.

If that’s true, then for those of us who are disciples of Jesus, the resurrection calls us to also live this will of God. If we follow Jesus, we are also to show Jesus’ compassion, mercy, unconditional love, inclusion of those on the fringes. The resurrection means this is God’s will for our lives too.

So as important as the resurrection is, we can’t be casual about it because it’s too easy to make it irrelevant. Instead, we need to talk about not just “the resurrection,” but “resurrection.” Not just the resurrection as a one-time-event where God on one occasion reached down and raised one guy from the dead. But “resurrection” is something that is continuous for God. If God is a God of life, then resurrection is who God is and what God does.

Talking about it that way can free us up to live the life Jesus calls us to live. Because resurrection doesn’t just mean life after you die, but an ongoing newness that is to be lived every day.

Resurrection means that there is real life on the other side of whatever pain or difficulty we encounter.

Resurrection means that God goes with us right through hardships that we are sure cannot be overcome.

Resurrection means God brings us out with new life on the other side of those things.

Resurrection is a game-changer, affecting every aspect of our lives here and now. More than history or a promise of eternal life, when we talk about “resurrection” we’re talking about new life beyond what might seem like overwhelming hardships for each of us, and for the whole world.

Think about what that means. If God is a God of new life, of resurrection, then we are completely free to live this new way in our world. We can face whatever the world throws at us. We can live this new life that is validated by God in Christ in our culture.

As we live resurrection lives, we reveal some pretty powerful hope to a world that for too many seems hopeless.

As we live resurrection lives, we show the world God’s intended way of compassion, mercy, unconditional love, and inclusion of the excluded.

As we live resurrection lives, we reveal the living Christ in the world.

As we live resurrection lives, we bring, along with the risen Christ, God’s hope and newness into the world.

Resurrection means hope for the whole world right now. This is Easter Sunday! The day of resurrection! This day is the pinnacle of our Christian faith. This day is the celebration at the very core of our identity as Christian people. God is a God of resurrection! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed. Hallelujah!

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Resurrection Life: No Longer Fighting for Scraps (Easter Day, April 1, 2018)

Mark 16:1-8

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

This is it! The big day! The day of resurrection! The day we celebrate with joy Jesus being raised from the dead! We sing, we shout Alleluia! We proclaim victory! Jesus has triumphed over the grave, he is vindicated, the powers of this world ultimately couldn’t hold him down!

This is great news. It is central to Christian faith. For those of us raised in the church, we have been taught about this from our very earliest days. The resurrection of Jesus is a cornerstone of our life in the church.

What’s interesting, though, is that as I listen to Christian people who are willing to be honest, not everyone agrees on all points of Jesus’s resurrection. There’s a rather wide spectrum of views about it. Like it or don’t, but it’s true. We’ve got this foundational pillar of faith, and, quite a bit of diversity as to what Christ’s resurrection from the dead actually means, what it’s actually about, and, quite honestly, what actually happened that first Easter morning. Right, wrong, or indifferent, that is the reality of faithful people in Christ’s church.

I’m actually grateful for the richness of interpretation on this. Because with each person I listen to who shares their perspective on resurrection, I gain a fuller awareness of God’s gift of new life that scripture describes. This is about what God does, and not so much about what we believe about it. It’s become clear to me that resurrection life isn’t just going to heaven after we die. The scriptural witness is that resurrection life is God’s gift to us here and now. It is the assurance through Christ that God has the last word for us. That word isn’t death, it is life. It is new life. And it begins now.

Resurrection life means we are no longer tied to our own self-serving attitudes. We are new in God’s gift of resurrection life to serve the other.

Resurrection life means we are no longer dominated by the powers that try to dictate who we ought to fear. We are new in God’s gift of resurrection life to love the other.

Resurrection life means we are no longer isolated, struggling to make sure we get ahead—even if it’s at the expense of another. We are new in God’s gift of resurrection life to reach down and lift up the lowest.

Jesus came to show us this new life. He came to reveal what God’s gift of new life looks like. And when he faced the powers of this world—that keep us oppressed in our fear, they arrested him.

And when he faced the forces that keep us separated from each other in mistrust, they tortured him.

And when he faced the violent tendencies of our world that keep us killing each other, they killed him.

And when he faced the powers of death itself, God’s gift of resurrection life still couldn’t be stopped.

That’s the gift that is for us today. Resurrection life isn’t a retooling of an old life of selfishness and isolation. It’s not just protection from things that cause us fear. It’s not just reducing violence to manageable level. Resurrection life is a completely new way of being in this world. It is freedom from the forces that keep us from loving and serving and showing compassion to all. We are made new, and this new resurrection life doesn’t look at all like the old life. It looks like Christ.

Take a look at these little scraps of material. You can do a lot of different things with each one, but they remain torn scraps. Wash each one, iron each one, dye each one a different color if you want. It’s still just a different version of an old scrap. You can use them to clean up a small mess, or to plug a hole in drywall. They can do some good things, make some adjustments, try harder. But no matter what, they are still small scraps of material.

Until they are given a new life.

Marilyn Karsten took a bunch of old worthless scraps like these that were not much good for anything and gave them a new life. Look at this beautiful quilt made from throwaway scraps of material!

These are no longer little scraps. They are now beautiful! They are no longer old, but completely new. No longer torn, but re-created. No longer separate, but whole.

This quilt is something new. This is God’s gift of resurrection life. It’s nothing like the old life that the powers of this world can offer. The best the forces of our culture can do for us are ways to be better scraps. As scraps, we can improve, try hard, we can even be useful and do good things. But we remain separate. And as individual pieces, we will always be ruled by fear: fear of not having enough, of not being good enough, of not being safe enough, of someone taking what belongs to me.

Resurrection life cannot even be compared with that. With this new life we are set free from fear, We recognize the value of every other scrap of material and know we are bound together with them. The beauty of this new life comes from giving away our identity as scraps because we are remade into the body of Christ. We are new, we are free to love and be loved, We live Christ’s compassion for others—not because we try harder, but because it is now who we are.

And the best thing of all is that this new, resurrected, whole life has already been given to us. We are already joined with Christ in a new life. Today is the day we get to let go of the scraps. Today is the day we get to see the beauty of what we now are. Today we get to love the unlovable because they are part of this new creation. Today we get to live Christ’s compassion because Christ lives in us. Today we get this new life. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2018 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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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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A Community Filled with Resurrection Life Reveals Generosity

Easter 2
Acts 4:32-35

The first generation of the Christian Church was entering completely new territory. They had walked with Jesus and were witnesses of the resurrected Christ, but without Jesus right here with us, who are they as his followers now?
They knew the resurrection of Jesus made everything different, but weren’t sure exactly what that meant for them and for the world around them. There was no precedent here, no previous group to pattern their community life after. They were making this up as they went along. Jesus was raised from the dead, yes. He reveals what God is like, yes. There is life and forgiveness in him, yes. But what does that mean for them as a community? What do they do without Jesus physically present to lead them? What does their life together as disciples look like now?
Their world was certainly different than ours, but these early Christian disciples can give us some glimpses into what a community filled with resurrection life looks like. They don’t give us a prescription or steps to follow. Just glimpses of their journey as a resurrection community and how it changed the way they lived and worked together in Jesus’ name. Resurrection life is different. This first generation church was shaped by that and lived it. Through the New Testament book of Acts, they allow us to peek into how the resurrection of Jesus changed them as a community, how it filled them, gave them purpose, and united them in this resurrection life.
We’re going to spend the remaining six weeks of this Easter Season catching some glimpses of their life and ministry together. We’re going to discover some clues about the difference resurrection makes in the life of a Christian community.
This small piece of the fourth chapter of the book of Acts sets the tone. Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul. Whatever they were going to do, they were going to do it together. They shared a common purpose that defined them as a community.
It goes on to explain that purpose, with great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. That’s what they did. They existed as a community to be a witness in Jerusalem of the resurrection of Jesus. Every decision they made, every movement, every prayer, every conversation as a community revolved around being a witness to the resurrection of Jesus. They were a community filled with resurrection life. And the first glimpse we get in this text of that community life is generosity.
There was not a needy person among them. As a community filled with new, resurrection life, they shared and gave and provided extravagantly. People selling their property and donating all the money to this church? This kind of generosity as a community is certainly a different way to live. You think this didn’t attract attention?
A community filled with resurrection life reveals generosity. Everyone participates. With one heart and soul, everyone gives extravagantly; and in so doing, this new resurrection community testifies, by its very life, to the resurrection of Jesus.
Not being dictated by money or possessions, this resurrection community lived differently because they were filled with new priorities, new life, new motivations. Filled with resurrection life, they gave. They took care of one another. Made new by resurrection life, they gathered all their individual finances together in order to be able to be a generous community.
Generosity testifies to the resurrection of Jesus because it is a new way to live. Generosity is, by definition, for the sake of others. Being filled with resurrection life is the opposite of selfishness, of personal agendas, of mistrust. Generosity is what happens when a whole group who believes are of one heart and soul in order to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Generosity is the first glimpse of resurrection life in a faith community.
As a Christian congregation, our purpose is to testify, to be witnesses in our neighborhood to the resurrection of Jesus. We are a church filled with resurrection life. Which is why we do some pretty outrageously generous things that few others would do. For example:
We let lots of different neighborhood groups use this building and we don’t charge them for it.
We give away 11% of each Sunday’s offering.
As a congregation, out of our funds, we matched the $565.69 from our “noisy offering” for Denver Fisher House. Which means we are donating $1131.38 from last week.
As a congregational community, we really do show this sign of resurrection life. We are resurrection people, and our generosity testifies to something different. Jesus Christ is raised from the dead and has given us new life.
If you’re not participating in this congregation’s resurrection generosity, let me encourage you to do so. It’s a different life. It testifies to resurrection. It’s why we are here.
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul . . . everything they owned was held in common. . . there was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold . . . and it was distributed to each as any had need.
A community filled with resurrection life reveals generosity. Thanks be to God, LCM is filled with resurrection life!
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

 
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Posted by on April 12, 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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Like a Seed (John 12:20-33)

A seed is planted in the ground. The darkness is a difficult place to be. In the darkness you are alone, isolated. In the darkness, none of the things that used to work, that used to bring light into your world, will work any more. In the darkness none of your strategies will bring the light, none of your efforts make any difference, none of your talents or knowledge or experience have any impact. Even everything we thought we knew about God is useless in the darkness. You are helpless and cannot find the light, much less be a light. It the darkness it just won’t work.

Sometimes the darkness descends on us individually. Other times the darkness descends on us collectively. Maybe you are living in the dark today. Our whole world can seem dark sometimes. Some feel that this is the experience of LCM, that darkness has descended on us as a congregation. Many things that used to bring life is working. Some of our efforts seem to be failing. We keep trying different things to recapture life and light, and yet the darkness doesn’t lift. We desperately look to what we know and what we trust to get us out of the darkness.

We fix worship styles and music styles, but there is no new life.

We seek to reinstate a dead Sunday School institution because it used to work, but there are few kids.

We want to start new programs, correct our doctrine, get the new members to bring life and energy. But the darkness isn’t lifted.

We cling to memories of the magical days of the 1960s, or 70s, or 80s, or whenever, wondering why those days seemed so bright and today seems so dark.

We tweak and we work and we struggle in the dark. We argue and we look for someone to blame and we defend what we love, and the darkness still permeates.

When you are in the darkness, nothing you do or know or try has any effect. You can die in the darkness.

So it makes sense that we would cling to anything, to everything that we think can give us life. We cling with desperation to the things that made sense before the darkness descended. We even cling to our former notions about God and call that faith. But the more we cling, the deeper the darkness.

Eventually, in the darkness everything will be stripped away. All our notions and preconceptions. Our pride, our justifications, our desperation, our knowledge, our certainties. Even what we know–or thought we knew–about God will all die in the darkness.

And then can new life emerge.

Like a seed.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Some Greeks came up to Philip and wanted to see Jesus. Jesus replies, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” If you want to see Jesus, it will involve darkness. “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” To see Jesus, to follow Jesus, to live in Jesus means a journey into the darkness. Like a seed being planted in the darkness of the ground.

A seed can cling to anything in its former life as a seed. Sunshine, birds flying by, life hanging out on a branch or a stalk. But clinging to that won’t bring it life. A seed has to be buried in the darkness of the earth in order to spring forth in its new life, a life bearing fruit.

The very core, the very breath, the very heartbeat of Christianity is that there is a God who brings life out of death, light out of darkness.

Like a seed growing up from the darkness of the ground.

Like a crucified body rising up to life from the darkness of a tomb.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Are you in the dark? Is the world around us in the dark? Is LCM in the dark? What is being stripped away in the darkness? What is being opened up, made new, given new life in the darkness? What is emerging from the darkness that will bear much fruit?

What is dying in the darkness so that something new and fruitful and alive can be brought forth? This is what God does. This is what we say we believe. This is the heartbeat of our faith: God brings life from death. God brings light from darkness.

Like a seed. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit,” Jesus says. Then he goes on, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

We have a God of light who is with us in the darkness. And new life comes.

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2015 in Sermon

 

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