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“True Peace – How to Start It”

Sermon – 05-24-20 – Easter VII – Memorial Sunday – Cycle A
Scriptures: Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35; 1 Peter 4:12-14 and 5:6-11
Sermon Title: “True Peace – How to Start It”

This is Memorial Day Sunday. How does one honor war? Today we are not honoring war; we are honoring the people who served in war in order to create lasting peace. Not only people who served in war or not only people who were preparing to serve in war and lost their lives doing so. No, not only those people, but on Memorial Day it is the custom to also pay homage to ordinary people who served their families in some way and we like to think there was peace in their lives.

The truth is that peace is quite elusive – hard to come by. It is a precious commodity. Peace. Peace outside. Peace inside. Can we have peace inside if there is no peace around us?

We live in a shaking, quaking world. As soon as one threat is conquered, another arrives. Peter’s words, in our Epistle lesson from 1 Peter 4, remind us of the harsh reality, “Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kind of suffering.” Sounds like misery loves company. Sometimes, our fears are lessened knowing we have company in our fears.

Do we or don’t we believe in an active devil? Well, do we admit that evil is active in the world right up to our front door and sometimes inside? Are we supposed to be fearful 24/7. Peter says, “Discipline yourselves, keep alert.” Fear! Think of the fear the drafted ones felt and continue to feel because the wars to end all wars did not end all wars. Think of the fear of the Jews in the Holocaust! Absolute terror! There can be no peace in our hearts until we work to provide justice for every single person. Fear for some should mean fear for everyone until the fearsome situation has been changed! Lest we think that kind of fear is in the past, think again. We can wear blinders. We can listen to our favorite questionable music to drown out the sounds of the hurting brothers and sisters.

Think of the fear today by persons who are trapped in homes that are not homes but places of terror when one family member has been cheated of any breath of peace in his or her life and whose only instinct is to react with violence. These persons’ minds and hearts are totally deprived of a better way of being. “Peace, peace” the trapped persons plead silently to whomever can hear silent desperation. Who can hear this silent desperation? God. God needs us to act with compassion and savvy to bring peace like a salve to the trapped persons. If we think the trapped persons are the injured people in the home, let us not stop short. The perpetrator of this evil is trapped in his or her explosive shell, probably fearing himself or herself.

Think of the fear of the eleven disciples after Jesus was crucified and their own lives were in danger. Then, the fear they knew when Jesus left the earth and returned to the right hand of the Father. Things were very unsettled – something a bit like our existence during this pandemic. We don’t know. The unknown tends to rouse fear in our hearts and minds.

Why can’t we just settle back, do the best we can as calmly as we can? Why does fear creep into our lives? It is very easy to let the outside fear – the fear around us – throw darts into our hearts. Peter says we shall discipline ourselves. Easier said than done. Fear springs up like weeds in a vegetable garden. Weeds need regular tending (a.k.a. pulling). If left to themselves, weeds take all the moisture, all the minerals, all the sun from the good plants. Such is fear. If left to itself, fear will take all the good things from our lives – all the calmness, the security, the kindness, the problem-solving ability, the creative spirit from our souls.

We can put our fear on the back burner while we feed the hungry, minister to the prisoners, give shoes that fit the children, sing songs to the sick and the dying. Hear this: we shall witness to our leaders and lawmakers. We who are not elected, we who are nobodies in the political arena, shall be creative and find ways to influence the treatment of our brothers and sisters. Generosity is like expensive therapy to clear our minds of fear. Action in positive directions is an antidote to rising blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, freezing in place like a game of statues.

On this Memorial Sunday, let us be mindful of the courage of the heroes not only in war with artillery and bombs, but the war against immigrants, the war against disease and illness, the war against discrimination. Let us shed our war clothing and put on the garments of peace. Let us shed our military style for the negotiating table. Let us look for the sameness of our enemy to ourselves.

Jesus prayed to the Father, “All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one.

What is it that we don’t like in the “other?” Name it. What annoys us? Why do we think we better deserve to be in a comfortable house more than the “other?” Jesus did not say that we should be identical or even that appearance has anything to do with anything. We do not need to be the same. But we all deserve clean water, a safe and decently comfortable place for our bodies; each person on earth deserves food and love; medical care and respect. That is how we shall be “one with each other.” How can each of us live into activating the peace that comes from doing what is right; the rightness in righteousness. Not haughty righteousness, but humble obedience to the will of God for the persons with whom we share this time on earth.

“Share” is a key word in our quest for peace. In the early church, there was sharing. The way of Jesus. As Jesus was about to be swept to the Father in the Ascension, Jesus told his disciples to “wait” in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to find them in big measure. So they waited. But “wait” was not a forever posture. “Action” was instilled in them by the Holy Spirit when it arrived. “Go tell!” “Go serve.”

Here is the big question! For us to be one with the other “ones” in the world, do we need to convert everyone to our Christian faith? Do we?? Can love be shared with non-Christians as well as Christians? Are all Christians loving? Did Jesus mean that only the people who follow him can be part of this “oneness?” “Oh dear, are we back to the fear and exclusion of the “other?”

Will peace fill our hearts if we exclude the hurting bodies, the tortured minds, the people who do not know the love of Christ? How are we going to offer them the love of Christ if we don’t help their worldly bodies?

In John 14:27, we find these words of Jesus. “I give you peace, the kind of peace that only I can give. It isn’t like the peace that this world can give. So don’t be worried or afraid.”

Ray Repp gave the world this song, “Peace I Leave with You, My Friends” To share God’s love is why I came, to show God’s kindness without end. Go now, my friends, and do the same, until I come again.

“Take my hand and be at peace; the spirit of our love I send. And with this love you will be free, until I come again.

“With this love now all will know that loneliness is at an end. Rejoice, my friends, although I go, for I will come again.

“Peace I leave with you, my friends, shalom, my peace in all you do. Peace I leave with you, my friends. I give to you so you can give to others, too.”

“The Mothers In Our Lives”

Sermon – 05-10-20 – Fifth Sunday of Easter – Cycle A
Scriptures: Acts 7:55-60, Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16, 1 Peter 2:2-10, John 14:1-14
Sermon Title: “The Mother In Our Lives”

The term “Mother” is in the title of this sermon because it is Mothers Day. However, from this point on, I will be thinking “Parents.” May all families have a joyous day today! That could be an obnoxious thing to say. A large percentage of families are suffering today – it will not be floating bubbles of joy. May God provide love and joy in the midst of suffering.

It seems to me that three threads run through a happy family: love, forgiveness, and faith. The faith is something to which we can cling. Rocks and stones appear throughout the Bible sometimes as helpful symbols, sometimes as hurtful symbols. We have the hymn, “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me.” We will explore some of these rock and stone references as we move through our scriptures today. Faith is akin to hope. I have been seeing the word hope in newspaper and magazine articles. Hope is founded on what is expected on the other side of the mountain or at the end of the rainbow or in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Love is a powerful, unseen power for good, for “getting along,” for transformation. As we sometimes say, “Love can move mountains.” Love can also trickle along like a tiny little stream but leaves an impression as it goes.

Now forgiveness is the hard one. Forgiveness is so hard. I personally try to avoid conflict so there does not need to be a forgiveness scene. We will find sometime extreme forgiveness scenes in our scripture lessons today.

Can every home be happy? Is there hope for joy in every home? Think about your home growing up. Would you say it was a lighthearted place to be? Or would you rather not have returned at the end of the day? In a home who can make a difference about the atmosphere? How can one person make a difference for the better? Let’s step into our holy book for a look.

John 14 finds Jesus in the Upper Room at the last supper before his trip to the cross begins. He is trying to explain things to the eleven disciples. Judas has already left to do his designated task. It seems to me that the last supper lasted long enough for three meals. Jesus talked so much and prayed so long. One of the neat promises that Jesus shares is that he will live after his ordeal. He will be called to the Father in heaven. He will prepare a place for each and every one of them and therefore for us.

Jesus declares that the disciples know the way. Thomas speaks up, “We do not know the way.” Jesus counters that statement with “Well you know me. I am the way!” Jesus continues, “Not only am I the way. I am the truth and the life on top of that!” Jesus goes on to mention that he and the Father are one; they are in each other. That is the extreme case of parent and child getting along with each other and being like each other.

Then Jesus gives us the whopper. Whatever we ask in Jesus name, he will do! In Jesus’ name, we pray. “Take it to the Lord in prayer,” we say. Do we take it to the Lord in prayer? Are we regular in our time with Jesus in prayer, not only when trouble raises its ugly head? Regular, over and over, thank you Jesus, help me Jesus, what a beautiful sunrise, Jesus, how am I going to pay the taxes, Jesus, what are you saying, Jesus, you say why was I not listening? Oh!

Well, Stephen was listening to Jesus. Stephen became part ot the beginning church of Jesus Christ after Jesus had left the earth to go to his Father’s home. But Stephen had heard the message. Jesus is the Son of God! Jesus is our Savior! Stephen was so filled with the Holy Spirit that he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father surrounded by glory, whatever glory looks like. But the Jewish people did not want to hear about this glory. They started stoning Stephen. Stoned him to death as a matter of fact. Through this terrible scene, did you hear what Stephen said to Jesus. “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Then he died.

We know those words from the cross. “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Yes, you are right. Jesus says these words of forgiveness. Lately, I have been reading about groups of people who are wronged. Instead of revenge, they choose forgiveness against these enemies and now they are no longer enemies. In a family, wounds can be healed with the salve of the words, “I am sorry, forgive me.” While witnesses wait without breathing, they finally here the hurt person say, “I forgive you.” Maybe an emotional hug, maybe not. But the words are out there. The words were heard. Love can move into that empty space where it can grow and spread.

I mentioned stones. What do stones have to do with family life? Stones can be tiny or huge. Stones in creeks make the moving water sing. Stones can designate borders to make boundaries clear. Stones can be deadly weapons. Think Stephen. Remember little David and the Giant and the little stone. On the other hand, I have a stone on which one of you painted a cheerful flower for me. Stones can serve as foundations. Stones can fill empty spots to make them safe. Stones are used to keep weeds from growing around houses.

Moving to big stones. When life goes awry, the image of a big rock is unmovable, dependable, something solid when we feel we are in quicksand. You may remember that Jesus named Peter The Rock of the Church of Jesus Christ. Peter did live up to that image. Ever since Easter we are reading about Peter winning souls to be baptized in the name of Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Well this same Peter lives to approximately the year 60 AD. That is about 30 years after Pentecost. He has accumulated much wisdom and lost some of his impulsiveness. He is experiencing success in building the church of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. His writings near the end of his life are filled with guidance for the church, for the holy people. He is not taking credit. He is saying that Jesus Christ is the living stone. He uses earlier words from Isaiah 28:16, “See I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” And from Psalm 118:22, “The stone the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner.”

Yes, the cornerstone. A stone sitting on the corner of the sidewalk? No, the most important stone in the building. Jesus is the Cornerstone of our faith. Not only is he the guiding stone for the church, Jesus is the stone on which we build our own lives and on which we build our family.
Jesus is truly the way, the truth and the life. How can he be that if he is a stone? He is a living stone and Jesus wants us to be living, loving stones not to be filling empty spaces but to be walking and talking and being witness by our lives, within our families and without, once we are free to be in community once again. As witnesses we shall remember the praying. Don’t worry and fret. Our praying to Jesus is the salve that will bring life abundant to our families and neighborhoods. Amen

“Walking in the Paths of Righteousness”

Sermon – 05-03-20 – Easter IV – Good Shepherd – Cycle A
Scriptures – Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10
Sermon Title: “Walking in the Paths of Righteousness”

Righteousness does not equal “perfectness.” Righteousness indicates walking on the path toward Jesus instead of following worldly ideas, events, and practices. It means following the Shepherd Jesus. Following Jesus does not mean enjoying a perfect life. Wanting to do what Jesus wants us to do is the beginning of righteousness. There are rewards. There are hardships and sacrifice.

Deciding what is valuable, deciding what we really need is the tricky part of being righteous. Does God provide for us so we can be selfish with our possessions – food, time, money, medical care? Does God provide for us so we can waste our money – buying expensive meals, wanton living, borderline or outright ludicrous activities?

Well that is not us, or course. We are thrifty with our money; some of us really and some of us like to think we are. We know which words are vulgar and unnecessary and we avoid using them. We bring food for the food pantry. We are diligent in bringing offerings to worship. We like to think that we are kind to people and most of the time we are. Righteousness. Following Jesus.

If we are following Jesus do we need to remain a “following” type of person. What about leadership? Does this world need leaders or just followers?

Meet Freddy, one of the sheep in the flock that is following Jesus. As Freddy’s hooves follow each other while he nibbles grass here and there, he should be content. The sheep around him are content. They know their lives depend on being a follower. They sense that it would be foolish to pull out of line, to wander away. They are automatically being righteous – following this calm, caring leader, Jesus. These sheep around Freddy seem fine in this role. But Freddy is not fine.

His legs want to go faster than the shepherd is moving. He questions the path the shepherd is taking and the wisdom of the schedule. Freddy does understand when the shepherd needs to help certain sheep. Freddy even wants to help with the problem. He really is a kind sheep and he respects Jesus. “But, why am I not content,” he says to himself.

Jesus, being Jesus, knows Freddy. Jesus senses that Freddy is not content. Jesus calls Freddy’s name and invites Freddy to walk close to Jesus. Jesus talks to Freddy and Jesus listens to Freddy. Well, if you are a practical person, you are not buying Jesus listening to a sheep. If you are a more imaginative person you simply accept that Jesus could have a conversation with a sheep. However, here is where the bud blossoms into a flower. Think of Freddy as yourself if you are thinking how Freddy seems like yourself. Are you content to be a follower? It is fine if you are. This world needs followers if the leader is Jesus or a follower of Jesus.

But you may be a person who was created to be a leader instead of just a follower. Let’s see what happens to Freddy. There he is walking beside Jesus. He can see what is ahead and on both sides. Freddy hears the voice of Jesus explaining things to him; why Jesus takes this path instead of that path; why Jesus chooses to have the sheep drink from this stream and not that stream; why it is time to rest instead of push to the limit. Jesus asks Freddy to watch for any sheep who seem to be dragging or limping or being bullied by another sheep. Did one of the sheep follow the green grass and forget to stay with the group? Did each sheep get a good drink of the fresh water?

Freddy is learning to be a leader, not by being bossy, but by learning why choices need to be made a certain way, why a leader also needs to be a follower of someone with more wisdom, more experience, more intuition, more knowledge, more spiritual relationship.

If you are a leader type, think of yourself somewhere in the ladder of leadership. Now think of the leader on the next rung higher. You are accountable to that leader. Does this leader have the qualities I just stated? Most importantly, is the leader above you following a good leader? Is the head leader worthy of being followed? If the head leader is not Jesus, one of the three persons of God, then maybe it is time to step off the ladder before we are too high to jump safely.

Sometimes we pull out of the flock and find ourselves in trouble behind a leader who is not righteous or even trying to be righteous – doing what is right. Recently, I have heard people say, “It is the right thing to do.” Right. Righteousness. It is the kind thing to do – you know, we shall love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Good but not enough! We shall love our neighbors as ourselves or better still the goal should be to love each other as much as Jesus loves us.

Are you following a leader who is guided by what is the right thing to do? Or did you happen to hitch your star to someone who is questionable? No leader is perfect. But is your leader hitching his or her wagon to a leader who wants to do the right thing, the fair thing, the loving way? Sometimes we need to endure leaders who are not connected to a good leader themselves so that we can earn a living. We shall continue to be on the lookout for a better way to earn a living, or a better place to have recreation, or a better non-profit in which to serve where the leader has the kind heart of Jesus and cares for the volunteers in a kind shepherd-like way.

Think of the leaders in the world. Think of the leaders in your life. Which ones seem to do the best job? The ones who are arrogant or the ones who look to other people for guidance, the ones who look to God for their wisdom and strength.

With elections filling the air in competition with COVID-19, are we seeking persons to be leaders who are following Jesus’ style of thinking and being, or are we looking for the opposite? Would Jesus make a good president or a good judge or a good head of the police department or a good mayor? You think so? You think not? Hmmm . . . Maybe it is time for us to put on our righteousness binoculars and start screening candidates by righteousness. Is the person trying to do the right thing? Does the person know how to bring the best out of people? Is the person basically kind so that the people who are following that leader will feel good about themselves?

Maybe we should each take a turn walking with Freddy the sheep beside Jesus, the master leader. Amen

“Is It Really True?”

Sermon – 04-19-20 – Easter II & Easter III – Cycle A
Scripture – Easter II: Acts 2:14a, 22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
Scripture – Easter III: Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35
Sermon Title: “Is It Really True?”

On Easter Sunday, we spoke about the reunion that the disciples had when they met the risen Christ in Galilee. In this Matthew account, the disciples are now feeling a revived spirit. Something new is happening. They have a sense of being accepted for a serious goal: to start the church of Jesus Christ. There is new energy mixed with “Jesus is asking us to do what?”

Then, strangely, last Sunday, our designated gospel took us to the gospel of John with the table scene. In the first table scene, Jesus comes through a closed door and shows the disciples his nail wounds and he eats and drinks to prove that he is not a ghost, That scene lacks one of the disciples. It is Thomas who is missing. Later, he will not believe his co-disciples that Jesus appeared to them – the real Jesus. So Jesus, needing all 11 disciples on board for the great mission, appears again when Thomas is present. Thomas learns it is true. It is the Risen Christ.

We had that striking picture of Thomas on the bulletin cover last Sunday. Now he believes! This is the real Jesus! We tend to make fun of this Thomas when we call him doubting Thomas. We tend to lay a coating of humor over Thomas. However, you know how it is when we point a finger at someone, the other fingers are pointing at us. Do you believe everything that you hear or read? Do I? We are actually encouraged to do research, to investigate instead of falling for every opportunity.

We could say that there should have been more investigative Thomases when our virus started. Aha! Again I am pointing a finger. So let us lift Thomas today to a position of honor instead of ridicule. He is one of the eleven who are elevated to lead a lowly life while spreading the truth about Jesus Christ, the Son person of God. The disciples shall go forth, make other disciples, and baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These are their walking papers.

Now today on the third Sunday of Easter, we are taken to the Luke Easter story where two disciples are walking along the road toward a town called Emmaus. A third person comes along and joins them and asks them what they are discussing, then starts telling them the whole story from Moses forward through the Old Testament, saying this Jesus had to be crucified. It is part of the plan. The two men still do not realize that it is Jesus walking with them. Quoting from our gospel passage today,

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.

These two disciples, not of the eleven, but followers of Jesus none-the-less, hurried to Jerusalem to find the eleven disciples to share this news.

So our gospel lessons find us meeting with Jesus after the resurrection, either around tables or at a mountain. Moving forward from the mountain scene, we find at least some of the disciples pulsing into the “Go Tell” command of Jesus. That is what the book of Acts is about. Sometimes called “The Acts of the Apostles,” this book is written by the same Luke who wrote the Gospel of Luke. The main characters in this Book of Acts are Peter and Paul.

Acts starts with repeating the end of Matthew and the mountain scene and the Ascension of Jesus Christ. Ten days later comes the Holy Spirit from heaven symbolized by jumping flames and a mighty wind. After that gifting of the Holy Spirit, Peter is the one who starts with dynamite. He gets right out there on the streets telling this story and how each person who is listening is invited to become a believer of this Jesus instead of ridiculing him. Peter is such a dynamic speaker that about 3,000 persons are baptized and become part of the Church of Jesus Christ.

You may have caught something in the Acts reading last Sunday and today that seemed as though Peter were accusing this crowd of being responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. Even today, there is the thread among some Christians that still blames our Jewish friends for the death of Jesus. However, listen carefully. Peter says to the crowd, “. . . this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucifed and killed by the hands of those outside the law, but God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.”

I am increasingly in awe of the thread of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, running through the whole Old Testament, the Hebrew scriptures. Some learned people try to diminish the significance of these references to the One who finally appeared on earth as a baby. In the part of Peter’s preaching last Sunday, Peter included a passage from King David, the significant ancestor of Jesus. Peter is saying, “Since [David] was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.’ ” Peter goes on to say, “This Jesus God raised up, and, of that, all of us are witnesses.”

God led me to a book about which I am excited and for which I am thankful. It is called, Making Sense of the Bible by Adam Hamilton, the same person who wrote the book Half-Truths which some of us read at the beginning of Lent for a combined study group with St. Paul’s. Adam Hamilton brings the thread from Adam to Jesus. To me it seems like a fluorescent path, or perhaps I should be saying a path of sunshine, through the darkness of the Old Testament.

Moving from Peter’s fiery speeches which converted thousands of people to this same Peter’s letters to the multitude of Christians as the years passed, we find Peter emphasizing love instead of blame. Which one of us is free from blame? How many times have we reneged on an opportunity to spread the word, or to be kind to someone, or the times we were actually mean to someone? Were we crucifying Jesus so to speak? Peter’s words to those 1st Century Jews are salvation for us today. Repent, reaffirm our baptism, be willing to be transformed, always carrying love as a blanket. Silver and gold are not the tools of salvation. Jesus Christ alone is our salvation. We just sang to Jesus, “I want you more than gold or silver, only you can satisfy; you alone are the real joy-giver and the apple of my eye. You alone are my strength and shield; to you alone may my spirit yield. You alone are my heart’s desire, and I long to worship you.”

“The Reunion in Galilee”

Sermon – 04-12-20 – Easter Sunday – Cycle A
Scriptures: Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4; Matthew 28:1-10
Sermon Title: “The Reunion in Galilee”

Bryant took his family for granted while living at home, going to high school, playing sports. There was always food prepared or food to be prepared in the refrigerator, clothing laundered or a handy washing machine, someone around to share the disappointments or the joys of the day. Leaving home to go to college was exciting. Freedom shouted loudly from the skies. That was Day 1 and maybe Day 2. Then the duties and responsibilities peeped their lovely heads from around the corner. But still, it was good.

Then came classes. Some were interesting and kept Bryant alert. Some were like “this class costs how much and how am I going to stay awake?” And the dining room food! This is suffering without a doubt! Absolutely no calling it quits yet. So one day after another. No going home on the weekend with 400 miles between the haven of love and the upper bunk in the dorm.

Bryant is not a spoiled, upper middle class college kid. He managed to work for money a bit each week, his family saved and saved and he and his family will be paying for this college expense way into the years ahead. Quitting after a month at college really is not an option. But by the time Thanksgiving comes, this kid is beyond ready to hitch a ride to the bus depot to catch the long-distance bus that goes to the city near Bryant’s home. He is definitely eager for the reunion that is waiting for him.

Well, hugs were always available when one wanted them but they were usually not desired by a high school male. This is different. With the pumpkin pies exuding their fragrance somewhere behind the more important mother, father and even younger sister, this college male reaches for the hugs. This first reunion feels so good. It is time for rejoicing! The time together has a fresh feeling as well as a time of renewed memories from the past 17 years. Bryant discovers a new, strong feeling of belonging and trust and hope. Bryant can revel in this familiar family nest but it is not grabbing him long-term.

Bryant has been out of the nest long enough, spread his wings over unknown land, met new people, gained new self-confidence even though he did not realize this was happening in the space of time from September through November. But as Thanksgiving vacation comes to a close, Bryant feels ready to assume a new persona, with newly acquired knowledge and new ability.

Let’s move the feelings of Bryant to the disciples of Christ. The feelings of disappointment, hopelessness, even rejection. The disciples of Jesus the Christ had made the leap from familiar to totally unknown when Jesus called. Here there was no top bunk even. No, most likely there was bumpy sod for a bed. It cost them money just as college cost Bryant and his parents money. The disciples had given up their income and even their families in a moment, according to the story. Did you ever wonder how the families survived?

Did the disciples ever have reunions with their families? Strange, don’t you think. Did their families understand that this Jesus calling was not a simple desertion as husbands and fathers? How about parents who expected these very men to support them in their old age? The whole lives of the disciples were consumed by the charismatic man of God. Almost like being in quicksand, once in that spot of following Jesus, a disciple could expect to be drawn into that bond ever more deeply. Think about the women who followed this band of men led by Jesus. The women gave their lives to be part of this ministry. They helped to provide what goods the men needed because some of these women were wealthy. They sacrificed time and money to support this new, real thing happening.

Both the devotion and action of these disciples and the supporting women involved their hearts, souls, minds, and bodies. It certainly was not a vacation in an exotic place. But it was not an ordinary life by any means. And these were no ordinary man. There was no college degree at the end of these three years or no business success. And yet they followed or, more honestly, they were drawn.

But as three years are coming to a close, they find themselves in Jerusalem. What a place! Loud, full of people. No wonder. It is the observance of the Passover; a very sacred time to remember how the Israelites were told to wipe the blood of animals on their doorposts to save their children. Every year the Jews (Israelites) are expected to walk or ride animals to come to this holy city to offer animals as sacrifices in thanksgiving to God for this saving of their children.

The disciples know this year is different. Their master has tried to tell them that something dreadful is going to happen to him. It is hard to comprehend. Harder than the college classes Bryant was handling. The disciples soon learn the hard way. They have a final supper together. There is talk about eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood. “Oh dear!” they probably say to themselves. Then there is this business about someone betraying Jesus. One of them! Jesus tells Judas to go do what he must do. Well later some of the disciples are in the garden with Jesus when Judas kisses Jesus. That kiss sets the soldiers into action and the disciples disappear into the night. The trial. Dragging the cross up the hill. The hanging of Jesus on the cross. The final dagger in the disciples hearts wherever they are hiding at the 3:00 afternoon earthquake and death. Final! No bus to catch for home in this scene. Total despair! Not only does it seem like a waste of three years. This were their master, their protector, their leader, their mentor. Now what!

In the version of the Easter story that we are using this year from Matthew, as two women are approaching the tomb where Jesus had been placed on Friday, an earthquake and an angel arrive together. The guards shake! The angel rolls the stone from the entrance of the tomb. He invites the women to see the empty tomb. Does this mean that Jesus arose and escaped through the stone? The angel says,”Go tell the disciples that Jesus lives and they shall meet Jesus in Galilee!

While the women are spreading the message to the disciples, Jesus appears and repeats the angel’s direction. “Meet me in Galilee!” It seems that Jesus is very anxious to leave this city – Jerusalem. He had to be here. It was God’s plan. So Jesus came, went through the ordeal; the Father is pleased with his Son, and now it is time for the reunion. It is time for the disciples to come from their hiding places.

Each of the four gospel writers write the reunion differently. We are using Matthew today. Matthew does not include a table scene. Matthew’s dramatic reunion scene in Galilee is at a mountain. There Jesus charges the disciples to begin the church of Jesus Christ. His last words indicate a permanent reunion. Jesus says, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
[This sermon will continue next week when we explore how the disciples’ new energy is like Bryant’s experience of a new self, a new purpose.]

“The Great Divide”

In my sermon for 04-05-20, I seemed to make light of the quarantine we are experiencing.  I made light of the cooking that is now possible for the “haves;’ when so many people don’t have food and/or don’t have time to make the food. Worse yet, many families are not together in this strange time.  Those of us who are together, are not very mindful of the families who are apart, not getting to bond, not even getting rest.
These are the workers, the people who happen to have the jobs that are needed the most.  They are driven to produce, to work until exhausted.  Even if their pay has increased, money cannot equal rest and sleep and relaxation.  And who is caring for the children?
And always the danger!  Being right there in the midst of the minuscule droplets of the disease.  While young people went off to Florida for spring break.  They are paying now!  The people they infected are paying now.
The great divide.  The selfish from the unselfish.  The exhausted from the rested.  The abundant pay checks from no pay checks.  The people who can breathe from the people who cannot get each breath.  The people who are spending time with families from the people whose children don’t even get to see their parents for days or weeks on end.
The people who think the leaders are great from the people who think the leaders need some wisdom and humility.  The governors and their legislators from the federal leaders and their legislators.
The trillions of dollars that are seemingly coming from thin air.  From where does this money come?  From whom are we borrowing this money?  To whom do we actually owe our allegiance, on whom are we dependent, really?  On whose mercy are we surviving?
Well we have God, our stronghold.  Even if we perish or especially if we perish, we belong to God.
Merciful God, we pray for the suffering that evolves from a sunken economy.  Lift the fear from hearts and minds as businesses have dark windows, as workers feel helpless without work, without pay.  Comfort the people who are pressed into more service than they ever expected and wanted.  Some of us will still fall into darkness.  Wherever we are in the sliding scale, may your light shine before us.  Help some of us to shed our skin of complacency and make a difference whether we are more like snails or more like rabbits, just move us to help and not hide.  In the name of the Lenten Jesus we pray.  Amen

“The World Was Turned Upside-Down”

Sermon – 04-05-20 – Palm Sunday – Cycle A
Scripture: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 21:1-11
Sermon Title: “And the World Was Turned Upside Down”

Makes you think of pineapple upside-down cake, doesn’t it? At our house, the oven is being used, the frying pan is being used, the roasting pan will soon be used. All because my son has more time now and I can’t use restaurants as my regular place of retreat. We have water and heat. There are towns in this country where there is no drinking water available and no water for keeping clean. We are very blessed. But did we check our neighbors? The possibilities are endless for what is good about this pandemic and what is truly disastrous.

If we think too hard our brains go upside-down. There is no way to plan. The only way to exist is to give it to God and be attentive for his answer and outright guidance. Isaiah 41:10 CEV says, “Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Don’t tremble with fear. I am your God. I will make you strong, as I protect you with my arm and give you victories.” The NRSV says it this way, “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”

So there is no need for some of us to be afraid. We can prepare our gardens and lawns; gathering the sticks, the branches. Rolling the lawn with a very heavy drum of some sort. Spreading weed-and-feed from the local gardening store if it is open, of course. Raking the leftover leaves and the no-good walnuts and hickory nuts that even the squirrels won’t touch. These nuts are no longer useful, just waiting to damage the lawn mower. Twiddling our thumbs is not necessary. There is so much to do. Now that we are home we can’t help but see the dirt, the streaky mirrors and windows. Why did we ever think we could take the easy road and skimp on cleaning?

We can take time for rest to examine our souls. Think on the things we have said. Think on the things that should have been left undone. Think on the things that should have been done. It is self-examination time! It is time to discard things in our homes. It is time to discard things in our minds and hearts. What is still useful? What is sentimental? Isn’t it important to keep sentimental items? On sad days don’t they make us feel good?

Right about now, I cherish empty floor space, empty table tops, empty closet floors, and a heart cleared of clutter; a heart empty to receive the Lord Jesus Christ in all of his glory!

But, we are still walking with Christ when the glory is hidden. Oh, there is this parade on the donkey between the walls of people who lay coats and palm branches on the ground. Yes, hosanna it is! Hosanna in the highest! Glory to his name! But, why is this man not riding on a white stallion? We think he is supposed to be our king – the king to save us from Roman rule! Why are we not waving flags for this candidate for king instead of palm branches?

The truth is that humility is the word for Jesus, not glory. Jesus is taking on the servant attitude. He knows he is approaching an unpleasant time to say the least. He knows he will not be the earthly king for which these people long. We heard these words from Philippians. Being found in human form, Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.

So to receive this humble king into our empty hearts, we need to wear a cloak of humility. The humble king is not going to filter through a proud heart, an arrogant heart, a self-serving heart.

I have been reading how people, in this time of the COVID-19 virus, are either being humble or arrogant. We are either helping our neighbors or we are arrogantly spreading the virus with indifference for our neighbors.

We heard the reading from Isaiah today. In this passage Isaiah is called the suffering servant. Isaiah is being a model, a type, for Jesus. Isaiah is saying that he turned his back to be hurt more and he offered his cheeks for his enemies to pull out his beard. But . . . Isaiah knows that God is near. God will vindicate Isaiah. “Let my enemies confront me,” Isaiah says, “It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty?”

With this same servant attitude, Jesus rides into Jerusalem, the city of his crucifixion, the city where his enemies will confront him. But Jesus knows, he knows that what he is doing is part of the plan for the salvation of everyone who believes that he is the Son of God – that he truly is the Messiah, the Savior. This is not a fake pageant. This is real pain and shame. In the Garden of Eden and again on the Cross we hear Jesus asking God to “Take this cup from me” and “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

All through the fear and jealousy of the religious leaders, Jesus endures just as Isaiah and other prophets endured as the years moved along through the “before Christ” years in history. In this human form, Jesus humbles himself and becomes obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.

The cruel people taunt Jesus to save himself. Even the robber on one of the three crosses cries to Jesus, “Save yourself and us if you really are the Son of God!” But . . . the other robber said, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” You know what Jesus replied, “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”

Just as when Jesus is being tempted by the devil in the wilderness in the beginning of his ministry, Jesus does not give in, he does not allow himself to be tempted, just so here on the cross, Jesus does not expect God to save him from death. That would be spectacular! Jesus is not about spectacular. He is about humility.

That is how, on Easter Sunday morning, on the third day, he is sneaky about his resurrection. He arises to an empty garden. So humble. But this is where the world turns upside down forever after. This is where the second part of our Philippians reading shines.

Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father!

When we read and hear that our world will never be the same for the people who survive the virus of 2020, will it be anywhere as dramatic as the Easter Resurrection experience? Will our world be a good upside down or a not-good upside down? We could be fearful, yes we could. But we have the upside-down world of the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord to keep us alive in Christ on earth or in our heavenly home.

Remember, in Isaiah 41:10 we have this assurance, “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” Amen