Cost of Discipleship is Love

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Cost of Discipleship is Love

I didn’t choose the Gospel lesson for today. I can think of a lot of scriptures that are more welcoming for the Sunday we kick off our Fall schedule – like Jesus welcoming the children or healing the blind, or feeding the 5,000. And I could have just picked one of those stories for today’s Gospel. But as I wrestled with the texts assigned by the lectionary for today, I discovered that they have an important message for us today about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Now I recognize that after reading today’s Gospel, it would be fair to ask: “Really? Following Jesus means hating our mothers and our fathers? What happened to The 10 commandments? Especially #4 Honor your Father and Mother?

We’ll get there. But first a little context about the Gospel lesson: Jesus is in what an outside observer would say was the height of his ministry. He’s healed the sick, the blind and the lame. He’s cast out demons and restored lepers to community. He’s taught God’s word – and people came from miles around to listen. He feeds them out of nothing – two fish and 5 loaves – more than 5000 of them at a time. He really knows how to stretch a meal. Clearly, Jesus is at the top of the charts – and he doesn’t even have a guitar.

But then he tells this crowd about what discipleship means... and it doesn’t sound easy. It doesn’t sound glamorous. It doesn’t sound like a sunny day in the park feeding the crowd. It sounds too hard. It sounds unrealistic. It sounds impossible.

Fast forward just a few months. Jesus enters Jerusalem. Again, there are crowds. They are shouting with joy, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” But, by the end of the week, those same crowds are shouting, “Crucify him!” And the only ones left, standing with Jesus, are a few women weeping with his mom.

Following Jesus was too hard – even for the disciples.

Thankfully, that’s not the end of the story. Three days later comes God’s great surprise: Jesus is alive! But even the disciples didn’t believe it at first. They didn’t really “get it” until a stranger - who turns out to be Jesus - opens the scripture to two of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, explaining to them how Jesus was indeed the Messiah and how the prophecies were fulfilled. It was only then that they were able to see Jesus and to begin to understand that Jesus was calling them – and us – into a way of life that is not the way of the world.

You see, the way of the world in Jesus’ day valued family, status, and possessions. These are all good things. But discipleship means putting God and the way of Jesus first – above father, mother, spouse and children, above your possessions, your stuff, your status, your life. It’s not about shunning the 4th commandment which says, honor your father and mother. It’s about keeping the first commandment – love God – first. And not just academically – not just in your head. Discipleship is about living out the way of Jesus – and not the way of the world - in your life.

In his letter to Philemon, Paul is also lifting up the way of Jesus instead of the way of the world. Paul implores Philemon, a fellow Christian, to treat his former run-away slave, Onesimus, who has become a Christian and a friend to Paul, in the same way that Philemon would treat Paul. It was a big request. Slavery in Paul’s day was not the kind of slavery that we had in this country. Slavery was not based on race. Someone could be enslaved for not paying a debt – or be taken as a slave as one of the spoils of war. But still – there was a huge difference in status between a former slave and the slave owner – and the slave owner was not likely to overlook that -- especially since Onesimus was a runaway slave who had not yet “earned” his release.

But Paul is so confident that Philemon will do the right thing, and will abide by the way of Christ rather than the way of the world, that he sends Onesimus back to Philemon with his letter so that Philemon can welcome him back as a brother instead of as a slave.

We don’t know how Philemon responded. But what we do know is this: Jesus is still calling ordinary people – like you and me – into discipleship. Jesus is still inviting you to love God and live your life focused on the way of Jesus rather than the way of the world.

Because the way of the world hurts people. Moses calls it the choice between life and death. He warns the people back in his day “choose life by loving and living in the way of the Lord.” The other choice is death.

Brené Brown, the academic whose honest Ted Talk on the power of vulnerability swept her into fame, writes, “Ten years after I got sober, my breakdown spiritual awakening started. In addition to not drinking, I had just quit sugar and bread for the first time. I thought I was going to come out of my skin. I sat across from my therapist, Diana, and said, “You need to give me something for my anxiety. I can’t take it. There’s nothing to take the edge off anymore. I’m freaking out.”

Diana calmly replied, “What do you want me to give you?”

Infuriated by her calmness, I said, “I don’t know! Medicine. Something for the anxiety! I’m like a turtle without a shell. I have NO SHELL! No booze, no muffins, nothing! I’m a turtle without a shell in a briar patch. Everything in the briar patch is poking me and jabbing me. It hurts.”

She said, “Maybe we should talk about getting out of the briar patch?”

I was pissed. “Get out of the… briar patch? That’s your advice? Instead of giving me a new shell, you want me to live somewhere less prickly? Seriously?”

Diana said, “You don’t need to find a different place to live. Maybe we could just think about a different way to live. One that doesn’t require that heavy shell.”

Brene Brown doesn’t pretend that she has “made it.” She is still honest about the challenges in her life to living well. She quotes another author, Mary Karr, also a recovering alcoholic, “What keeps you sober is love and connection to something bigger than yourself.”

That’s what Jesus wants for you too. Jesus offers us love, a relationship with God and a way of life that is much bigger than yourself. So what does this look like for us? Maybe something like this…

Joe and Amanda met at a friend’s wedding. They began dating and it didn’t take long before they were seeing each other every day. Clearly they were in love. They seemed like the perfect couple.

But there was a problem. Our country had just gone to war in Iraq and Joe was a Marine, Special forces. He invited Amanda to his apartment for dinner. He told her that he had a confession to make. She said: “Your married, right?”

No, he laughed. But then he became serious, saying,“But I am committed to serving out my term as a Marine. I just got the call. It will be at least three years… maybe five. I don’t know when – or if I’ll be back. I’m going to a dangerous place and I do dangerous things. Then

he took her hand and said, “I love you. But we just met and three years is a long time. And it might be longer. I don’t expect you to wait – especially because there’s no guarantee that I’m coming back.

The next morning, as he got ready to board the plane, he saw her. She shouted from the gate. “I’m in. I’ll wait.” It’s a love story.

That’s what Jesus is inviting you into – a love story. For the cost of discipleship is love. Jesus is all in for you. Discipleship is about responding, in love, and living your life focused on the way of Jesus rather than the way of the world. Amen.

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Faith Lilac Way Lutheran Church

September 8, 2019

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The Lord’s Prayer

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The Lord’s Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer

“Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep.”

That’s the first prayer that I remember saying as a child. Maybe you said that – or a different one. The last two lines of the one I recited are meant to be comforting words:

 “If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” But, when we had children, we didn’t want them to pray that prayer. At that time, I didn’t want to hear my children reciting a prayer about death and salvation – I wanted them to know they were in God’s care. So instead of this prayer from my childhood, we taught them the Lord’s prayer.

Jesus’ prayer is a prayer that can be prayed at any time – morning or evening, at the start or close of a meeting, or any other times.  And we do.  Here at Faith-Lilac Way, we pray the Lord’s prayer at every worship, council meeting and many other times besides. And this is a good thing! The blessing of knowing a prayer “by heart” is that it is available anytime of day or night. The danger is that it can become “rote” –easy to say it without thinking. So today I want to look at the Lord’s prayer – hopefully with “fresh eyes.”

The prayer begins with an acknowledgement of our relationship with God: Jesus calls God “Father” and invites us into a relationship that is so close that it is like a child and their father – or their mother or grandparent or someone else who cares for them, someone who loves them no matter what.

I was blessed to have had a great dad. But I also know that the name “Father” doesn’t, unfortunately, always conjure up good images for everyone like it does for me. I remember, as a kid, my dad swinging me up in the air and putting me on this shoulders, a place where I felt safe and secure. I remember my dad calmly teaching me to drive. I have lots of good memories. But some hard ones too. And that’s because human fathers are… well… human. They make mistakes.

But there are some men who, instead of being loving, have been mean or abusive to their children. So sometimes, the name “Father” doesn’t bring to mind someone who is worthy of trust and an example of someone who loves you unconditionally. If that’s the case for you, the Bible describes God in many other choices: I AM, Holy One, Lord, Comforter, Redeemer, Creator, and Mother. God cannot be contained or defined by a name. What God wants is a loving relationship with you.

In the next petition, when we say, “Hallowed be thy name,” we are reminded that even God’s Name is holy.  And when we pray, “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done” we are saying that we desire God’s will – and not our own. Sometimes, when we are praying this prayer, I don’t think we realize what we are praying for, because what we are doing is setting aside our own desires and asking that God’s desires become our desires and not just in heaven but here on earth.

So what is God’s will? God’s will is that we love the way that God loves us. That means that we love God and share God’s love with all of God’s creation. That doesn’t sound so radical. But it becomes harder when it starts including people who don’t look like us, who come from other countries, who have needs. Then the fear mongers start saying, “those people are coming to take the jobs of your kids,” or “those people are coming to hurt you” or “those people are coming to take your money, use your resources.” Unfortunately, that’s when good people like you and me respond in fear. That’s when good people start to draw in close and start excluding others. That’s when we start putting our own will or security or fears first.

And yet we pray to God, “THY Will or YOUR Will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In praying this prayer, we are asking that not only do we want God’s will – and not our own – but we want God to guide us so that we do God’s will. It’s a pretty radical prayer.

Give us this day our daily bread. Martin Luther talks about “daily bread” as anything our bodies need – including food and drink, medical care for our bodies, money to buy the things that we need, shelter, good government, honorable relationships with our spouse, children and other people. It’s not only OK to ask for health and wellness and care for others – but Jesus encourages to care for ourselves too.

Then comes a hard one: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others. Or as another version of the prayer says, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Jesus forgives us freely and asks to do the same for others.

At Vacation Bible School this past week, I was teaching the Bible stories.  One day, I invited them each to pick up a rock.  

I told them: a rock is hard – kind of like sin. One isn’t so bad – you could put one in your pocket and forget about it. It wouldn’t wear you down much at all. But if you kept putting rocks in your pocket, soon those pockets would be full. Maybe you would put them in a pail. But if you were never ever able to set down that pail – but instead kept adding more rocks, more sins… it would be wearing on you. That’s what it would be like if you were never able to give or receive forgiveness. It would simply wear you down.

Not forgiving someone else wears you down just as much – or maybe more – than carrying around your own sins – your own rocks. 

Now I know that forgiveness can be hard.  Maybe someone has hurt you – or someone you love-- deeply. And they haven’t asked for forgiveness. So why should you forgive them? Why should you let them off the hook?  They don’t deserve forgiveness, right?

Maybe not. But… the problem is this: When you don’t forgive someone – you haven’t stopped holding onto that rock. Maybe you put the rock in your pocket and forget about it for a while. Maybe it doesn’t bother you at all. Except maybe at night. When you roll over in bed and there is this great big rock jabbing you. And then the anger comes back… and you are stuck with the problem again.  You haven’t released it; you haven’t forgiven yet. Worse yet, when you are holding onto one rock, it’s hard not to hold onto another, and another, and another. The weight of those rocks/ sins adds up.

Now there are times, when the pain is so great that you can’t forgive someone right away. Don’t beat yourself up about that. Sometimes it takes time. It certainly did for me. I was really angry at a doctor in a local hospital who gave up on my mom when she was first hospitalized. I don’t get angry often but I was furious. But… as I look back on that situation, if I hadn’t gotten angry at that doctor, I would never have insisted on a second opinion – and my mom would most likely have died five years ago.  Sometimes God works through bad situations to bless us anyway.

Just to be clear, I am not saying that bad behavior to you or to anyone else is OK. God wants you and all people to be safe, healthy and whole. Never ever ever does God justify people being abusive or manipulative or cruel to another person.  

The Bible sometimes talks about someone being hard of heart. Being hard of heart is what happens when something comes between a person and God’s way of love and justice and righteousness.  Hardness of heart means that you are following your own will – and not God’s. It’s what happens when people close themselves off from the love of God and refuse to receive it or to give it. It’s hard on them and sometimes it’s even worse for those who love you.

A neighbor of mine has tended toward seeing the glass half empty for a long time, but when she fell a couple of years ago, her rage at the world increased. Right now, she is not able to see any blessings, anything that is positive in the world. It’s hard on her; it’s really hard on her husband. He is at his wits end. It’s not the way that God wants her or him to live.

The way out of that kind of despair and negativity is forgiveness. Forgiveness means forgiving both the other person – and yourself. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean forgetting completely. But it does mean that you are free from holding onto the pain and sorrow that the action caused. Because after forgiving someone, the deed that caused you sorrow no longer has power over you. And… while you don’t dwell on it, you also have become wiser, and hopefully develop some appropriate boundaries so that  you become more resilient.

At the end of the prayer, Jesus tells a parable and a story. He explains that God is better than the best father or the best neighbor – and wants the best for us. Even in those times when it feels as if God is not listening, God is not hiding.  God wants a relationship with us.

Prayer is a gift – from God. It’s a way to be in relationship with God, to bask in  God’s love ad God’s grace. Prayer is a journey of discovering that you are the apple of God’s eye every day at every stage of your life… And that’s a promise you can hold onto. But prayer does not always come naturally. Like any habit, it takes time – and practice. And there are many ways to pray – but that’s a different sermon. So… if prayer is something that you struggle with – and would like help with – please let me or Deacon Kirsten or Vicar Becca know – or write it on your green sheet. Whether it is in a sermon series or in a workshop or class, we want to help you as you seek, ask, yearn for a deeper relationship with God.

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What Do You Want? Exploring God’s Way for Your Life

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What Do You Want? Exploring God’s Way for Your Life

Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." But Jesus said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" And Jesus said to the crowd, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." Then Jesus told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And the rich man thought to himself, "What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' Then the rich man said, "I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, "You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” The Gospel of our Lord.

What Do You Want? Exploring God’s Way for Your Life

Rabbis in Jesus’ day often served as judges and arbitrators as well as pastors, priests, and teachers. So it is not unusual for someone in the crowd asked Jesus to settle a dispute. But the question is - what did he want? Is he just asking for his fair share? Or… is it something else? Jesus warns the whole crowd - not just him - about the snare of an abundance of possessions.

If that was all the Gospel said today, that would be a good word for us today. In our country and culture, we are inundated by “stuff.” My sister and I have been going through my mother’s estate - and it is easy to become awash in memories with every dish, every picture, every item. So while the memories are wonderful, the stuff can be overwhelming. And I don’t think I’m alone. According to the LA Times, the average American home has 300,000 items. And we keep buying more.

At some point, it becomes too much. I think this is why Marie Kondo’s book, “The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up” has become so popular. Kondo urges you to get rid of all of your “stuff” that does not bring you joy. She provides a good antidote to our desire for more and more and more. In response to the question, “What do you want?” Kondo asks, “What brings you joy?”

I like some of Kondo’s methods - I learned from a YouTube video a great way to fold a shirt and store it, for example. I enjoy beautiful clothes and yearn for clean and organized drawers. But for all of the benefits of “tidying up,” I’m not willing to call it “life changing magic.” I want something more from life than just a tidy drawer or even a tidy life. Jesus wants more for you and me too.

Jesus tells a parable - a story with a message. A rich man had a bumper crop. And so he asked himself what he should do? His solution was to build bigger barns and silos so that he could have enough stored up that he could retire.

Growing up in a farm community, I wondered about this parable. After all, wasn’t it a good idea to store your crops? Isn’t it a good idea to prepare for the future?

But Pastor Elizabeth Johnson, a friend of mine who is now a professor, suggests that the problem for the man in the parable isn’t that he is preparing for the future or that he wants to retire or even that he is rich. Instead - as I hope you noticed from the way that I read the Gospel - his attention, his focus - was completely on himself. Did he thank God for the abundant crop? No. Did he think of how he could share the crops with others? No. Did he think of anyone other than himself? Again, the answer is “no.” 1

So what does the man in the parable want? He wants stuff, he wants to be rich, but even more than that, he wants to be in control. The rich man assumes that the one with the most stuff wins and that once he puts aside an abundance of stuff, an abundance of money, and an abundance of resources for himself… then he will be untouchable. He will never have to worry. He will be in control.

Except… he’s not. There was one very important thing that this rich and supposedly “successful” business man had not planned for - his reckoning with God. God said, “ "You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you.” How valuable are those treasures then? What does it matter how big your bank account is? What does it matter what kind of job you have? Or whether your sweaters and shirts are properly folded? Or whether you have lots of stuff?

The rich man in the parable learned what the writer of Ecclesiastes realized, “You can’t take it with you.”

And with that thought, Ecclesiastes begins to despair, “Perfectly pointless” he exclaims. Or, in the traditional translation, “Vanity of Vanities, everything is vanity.” The teacher realizes that everything he worked for, he will have to leave to someone else.

At first the writer of Ecclesiastes thinks that he is so wise that he can see what others cannot and he turns to despair. What’s the point? It’s all vanity - chasing after wind.

But despair, giving up on life, declaring it all hopeless, is another temptation. It’s a temptation that many of us fall into as well. All you have to do is listen to the news. It can get depressing - more gun violence. The one in Texas is by a white nationalist - age 21? What are we teaching our children? Despair can be tempting.

But while the writer of Ecclesiastes first despairs at the temporary, pointless, mortal nature of his life and all he thinks he has worked for, he comes to realize that God has not given him cause for despair. Instead, he sees that he has a reason to rejoice, because he is not in control and God is.

This is what Jesus teaches too. Jesus reminds the crowd - and us - that God is our true security. So instead of searching for security and purpose and joy from stuff, money, or status and instead of giving up and despairing, Jesus invites you into relationship with God. Jesus invites you to let God’s way, God’s vision be what you want.

For when we align our lives towards God’s grace and God’s kingdom instead of our own selfish passing desires, then we find blessing upon blessing - even in the hard times.

For the man in Jesus’ parable, I wonder if realignment could have begun with changing the pronouns, and his focus from I/Me/My to God/s Will/ God’s Way/ God’s fields/ God’s vision. Could the story have had a different ending if he had paused to THANK God for the abundance of gifts he was given; thought about who in his community might have been in need; asked God to instruct his heart, his life, his soul.

Jesus told parables for a purpose - to get people to think outside of their own story to hear God’s message for their life. And that is true today too.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, may God’s way be your way and God’s vision be your vision. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


1Elizabeth Johnson at Working Preacher

https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4048

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God’s Love is FOR YOU!

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God’s Love is FOR YOU!

God’s Love is FOR YOU!

Today has been declared, “Father’s day.” It is a good day to thank and honor and remember those men in your life who have encouraged you, challenged you, supported you and been an inspiration for you – even if they were not your birth father.   When I was young we always gave my father one of two gifts – a tie – or socks. And if it was a good year… he got both! I do have the secret to the best gift to give to a father…and it isn’t socks… but I can’t tell you yet…

Instead…. I have a question for you:

How many of you were encouraged by your father to boast when you were growing up?  I don’t think the word “boast” was even in my father’s vocabulary. He was such a humble man that I can’t imagine him boasting.  If he did something well, he never talked about it. And if he was caught doing something well, he would just say, “Thank you – you would have done the same thing.”

When I was growing up, I was taught NOT to boast. We were supposed to be humble – right?  And yet Paul is encouraging the Roman Christians to boast! He says, “we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”  And then he says, “we also boast in our sufferings.”

This didn’t make sense either. So I wondered what Paul was talking about when he encourages the Romans to boast. It turns out that the word “boast” could also be translated as “rejoice!” It makes much more sense to rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.  But…when you are in pain or suffering, how many of you boast? Do you rejoice?

I don’t.  I complain. I certainly don’t seek out suffering – and I wouldn’t wish suffering and pain on anyone else either – and I certainly wouldn’t tell them to rejoice in their pain.

So what is Paul saying?  He isn’t masochistic – he doesn’t love pain. But….Paul does know that we live in a broken world and that pain and suffering happen in our world and in our lives.  

He also knows the story of Jesus and God’s great love. God not only took on human flesh and blood, but God revealed God’s love through the suffering and death of Jesus, his own Son on a cross, an instrument of terror and a symbol of shame.

In itself, Jesus’ death would have been have been incredibly powerful – and sad. But the cross is not the end of the story. God took what was shameful, painful and seemingly hopeless …. and turned it around to give us the incredible gift  - of grace, peace, hope, love and everlasting life. Where there was sorrow, death and despair, God brought joy, life and hope.

And this is not just what we believe about in our heads. This is how God works in live our lives. God is present with us – even as we struggle in our faith and in our lives. There will be suffering in our broken world. But, God promises to be with us even in the midst of our suffering, and just as God made joy, hope and life come out of sorrow, death and despair in Jesus, God also works in our lives, pouring love into us. God works through our suffering to build in us endurance and character and a capacity to hope.

It’s Father’s day today… and yet… it was hard for me to read this passage today – and not think about my mother Marilyn who we buried yesterday in the family grave in Wisconsin. As many of you know, she died recently after living with cancer for five and a half years. Those years were not without suffering and pain.  And yet… my mother taught me how she could rejoice – not for the pain – and yet rejoice…despite the pain and suffering. Like Paul, she could rejoice, because she knew three things:

First: she knew she was not forsaken by God. Her cancer was not a punishment. Cancer is part of the brokenness of our world. And God was with her through it all.  

Second: she knew the story of Jesus who brings life and hope.

But perhaps most importantly,  she knew what the story of Jesus meant for her life. She knew that she was a child of God. And, because of the love and support of God, and her Christian community… she knew that suffering and pain would not be what defined her life.

It was the witness of her parents, especially her father Spencer, that taught her endurance in the midst of suffering and pain. Their house burned down when she was about 8. For about two weeks, they lived with her father Spencer’s parents and aunts and cousins who lived at the top of the hill – maybe a mile away in a very big well maintained farm house. But then… they moved back to their farm and into a woodshed, for five years, while Spencer cut the trees, let them dry, planed the wood and built the house.  She learned endurance from her dad.

They could have been bitter. After all, their grandparents and cousins lived in relative luxury while they lived in a woodshed in which the water froze in the bucket under the sink on winter nights.  But they didn’t complain. In later years she wondered why, when her aunt lived in the big house at the top of the hill, that everyone came to their woodshed house for any celebration. Perhaps it was because her parents welcomed everyone… and just put up another sawhorse table when more people showed up. They didn’t just endure in the woodshed, they built character and shared the love of God with everyone.

I think it is because of the mentoring of her father – and others – that my mother learned to look at her situation, and even her cancer, as an opportunity.  

She told me that there was a bell in the cancer clinic that people would ring to celebrate the end of treatment when they were cancer free. On one day when one of her newfound friends was ringing a bell, my mother must have looked especially happy. A man turned to her and said, “When will you be ringing that bell? Sometime soon, I hope?”  Marilyn turned to him and said, “No, I will never ring that bell.” He was embarrassed and said, “Oh I’m so sorry – I just assumed that since you have had to endure so many treatments it would be your turn soon.”

Marilyn looked at him and smiled as she said, “I am glad for these treatments. They are what are keeping me alive!”  She rejoiced – not in the suffering but in the hope that she had of living fully another day.

Her cancer had made her more aware of the preciousness of life. It was because she knew that her days were numbered that she took time to tell stories, gather with friends and family, travel and enjoy life to the fullest.  Her prayer life deepened too.

Her intentionality of living a faith-filled life produced not only endurance, but character and the belief that life was worth living. This gave her hope, a hope that sustained her.  

Marilyn had hope – an audacious joy-filled hope - because she knew the story of Jesus – and what it meant for her. She knew she was a child of God.

Marilyn was a remarkable person – but so are you. As Apostle Paul’s said to the Romans, so I say to you: God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

You have received the gift of God’s love – and here is the double blessing of God’s love – it grows when it is shared.

Remember that I promised to tell you the best gift you could give today?  The best gift that you could possibly give to any father or anyone else for that matter -is the gift that our Heavenly Father gave to us – the gift of love and the assurance that God’s love is for them too.

God’s love is poured out without measure and without price for you – and it is given for you to share.  This love allows us the courage to rejoice – to boast – because we know that God is with us always and will be with us regardless of any challenges that we may face… and that gives us endurance… which gives us character… which gives us hope…and allows us to love…because we know God’s love is given for us. Thanks be to God!


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YOU are witnesses.

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YOU are witnesses.

Luke 24:44-53
24:44 Then Jesus said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you--that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled."

24:45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,

24:46 and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,

24:47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

24:48 You are witnesses of these things.

24:49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."

24:50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them.

24:51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.

24:52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy;

24:53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

 

YOU are witnesses.

 “The Nurturing Place” in Jersey City is a daycare run by Catholic sisters for children of homeless families.  Like the families that some of you helped care for this past week through Families moving Forward, a program that houses homeless families in churches, the children of these homeless families did not have many opportunities; none of the little ones had even been to the beach – even though it just was a short distance away. So one day, the sisters took the preschoolers to the Jersey shore and then shared what happened.  

Can you imagine: The little legs of the 3 and 4 year olds scrambling up the sandy dunes, falling down in the sand and then giggling as they climbed back up again. It seemed like climbing a mountain. Finally, they reached the top of the dunes.  And then… they could scarcely believe their eyes: there it was - the ocean – with water as far as they could see.

Those little preschoolers – as eager as any child would be - slid down the hill and ran towards the waves, running in and out of the water, laughing, splashing. What happiness! What joy! The children played and played until the sisters said it  was time for lunch.

They left the beach and went to a park – not far away. But, after lunch, the children begged to go back up the sand dunes. No sooner had the sisters said yes than One little boy named Freddie took off. He outran the rest and climbed his way to the top. He looked out, then turned to the others and shouted, “It’s still there!”1

It’s still there. In Freddie’s young life, so little was “permanent” that he wasn’t sure that anything would last – not even an ocean.

We may not wonder about the ocean… pretty sure that is going to be there… but with melting glaciers we may wonder about the ocean levels -- or about the stability of other things. With 40 tornadoes pounding the heartland of the US in May and blizzards hitting us – last year in April and this year in May… the weather feels less predictable, less certain than in the past.  The whole world feels unsettled… not only in our country but also the world – I mean, what’s up with Brexit? In our ever-changing world, it sometimes feels as if we are walking on shifting sands.

The disciples may have felt like they were walking on shifting sands too. They had been following Jesus for three years, watching as Jesus healed people; listening to his teaching; rejoicing in his triumphal ride into Jerusalem; then despairing as Jesus was crucified, died and was buried. But …Easter morning, they suddenly hear reports that Jesus is alive – and Jesus appears to them.

It is no wonder that the disciples are unsettled …to say the least. Perhaps they were afraid. After all… some of them had run away when the Romans came. Others had stood at a distance. Maybe they felt complicit or anxious… certainly confused... and clueless as to what was coming next…

Into this anxiety of unknowing, Jesus does three things:

First he opens the scriptures, like he did for the disciples who had been on the road to Emmaus. and like he had for them time and time again as they were traveling with him. So Jesus interprets for them – and shows them how his death and resurrection fulfills the prophecies.

Secondly, Jesus proclaims repentance and forgiveness, beginning in Jerusalem…with them. Jesus knows their fears and anxieties and forgives them. Remember… they were standing there… certainly blaming themselves –and probably each other for letting Jesus down. But Jesus wipes all that away and proclaims forgiveness, not only for them and for all those in Jerusalem who had condemned him but for all the nations.

And then… Jesus proclaims to them… and to us: You are witnesses. You are witnesses. What does that mean?

The role of a witness is to tell the truth, to proclaim to others who have not seen, who have not heard – like Freddie telling his friends, “It’s still here!”

Being a witness means you can’t keep silent. You have a responsibility. As it says on my cross, “Christ is counting on you.”

So did Jesus’ make a PR mistake? I mean… counting on a bunch of fishermen? I guess they were turned around. But what about today? Is Jesus really counting on people who have been taught – at least culturally - that faith is private, personal – live and let live- don’t bother your neighbor… don’t make waves… ?  

But maybe Jesus’ didn’t make a mistake. Have you ever heard the legend of the invention of chess?  The story goes that the emperor was so pleased with the inventor of the game of chess that he said to the inventor – “Name your reward!”

The man responded: “Oh emperor, my wishes are simple. I only wish for this: Give me one grain of rice for the first square of the chessboard, two grains for the next square, four for the next, eight for the next and so on for all 64 squares, with each square having double the number of grains as the square before.“

The emperor agreed, amazed that the man had asked for such a small reward. Until, the next week when his treasurer came back and informed him that the reward would add up to an astronomical sum, far greater than all the rice that could conceivably be produced in many many centuries!”

The legend of the grain of rice is the story of how sharing the Good News of Jesus works.  After all… who has been a witness for Christ in your life? I’m not asking who was the first person who told you about Jesus. I’m asking, who have you seen living a life of faith?

For me, it has been many people – certainly in the beginning my mom Marilyn and dad Ardell and my grandparents, Mabel and Spencer, Martha and Albert, and my Sunday School teacher Elsie Olson and my pastors Rube and Dave and Anne. But that is not all. The witness that I have seen continues with my family and friends and with all of you.  After all, what are you doing? You are showing up to worship, encouraging me – and one another. By living a life of faith, you ARE a witness.

This is what it means to be a witness. It means “practicing” your faith inside these walls, but not just inside these walls. It also means taking it outside to the places where you live and work and play.  

Maybe Jesus did not make a mistake in entrusting the message to his disciples – and they, in turn, to each person that they met.  After all… if one grain becomes two… and two becomes four… soon 1000 becomes 2000. Good News can multiply too. 

Jesus did one more thing: he blessed his disciples. They responded - not with dread or anxiety because of the weight of responsibility that Jesus placed upon them, but -- with joy, blessing God.

Jesus blesses you and me too and sends us out to bless others. In the words of the song we are about to sing, we join heaven and earth in responding with JOY “for in your life and mine is shining the glory of God; your life and mine unite in the love of God and your life and mine will always bear witness to God.” 

Thanks be to God!

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Love One Another

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Love One Another

The Holy Gospel is from John the 13th Chapter.

When Judas had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, "Where I am going, you cannot come.'  I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."The Gospel of our Lord.

 

Do you remember those pastel-colored heart shaped candies stamped with phrases like: “Be Mine,” “Hugs” “Love you”? Called “Sweethearts,” they weren’t known for their sweet taste – they actually tasted kind of chalky. And yet, until the company was sold this year, every year people bought 8 billion of these little candies just for their little sweet sentimental messages.

But in our Gospel lesson, Jesus is not being sentimental or sweet when he commands his disciples to “love one another.”  These verses are taken from the scripture we read on Maundy Thursday. The disciples are gathered in an Upper Room for the Passover Feast in Jerusalem. Lots happened this week. Jesus came into Jerusalem, riding a donkey. People hail him as Lord and Messiah. People from other places want to see Jesus. This should be a time of triumph, a celebratory dinner, a feast!

But Jesus, knowing that he did not have much time left with his disciples, wanted to teach them a lesson that they would remember. So he took off his robe, wrapped a towel around himself, and, like a servant, began washing their feet. Remember, Jesus had just been proclaimed King and Messiah! This was a job for servants.  And yet, when Peter protests, Jesus insists. He wants to demonstrate servant leadership and the length that he will go because of his great love for them.  Washing their feet was just the beginning.

Jesus also fed them – taking the bread – giving it to them and saying, this is my body… take and eat… and he took the cup and gave it for them to drink, saying, drink this – all of you… All of you, even Judas. And then, after giving Judas a piece of bread, Jesus sent him out, knowing that Judas was going to betray him.

It was only then... after Jesus had demonstrated servant love – by washing their feet and feeding even of the one who was about to betray him – that Jesus gives his disciples the commandment: “love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

These were Jesus’ chosen disciples. They had been traveling together. Together they witnessed Jesus’ miracles. Together they heard Jesus’ teaching. Together they ate and drank and slept. One might assume that they were all one big band of brothers, all best friends. But, that’s probably not the case.

At a conference this past week, I was reminded of just how different Jesus’ followers were from one another and how challenging it must have been for them to get along – let alone love one another. Take a look with me at just a few of them.

Peter –  a fisherman by trade, had no screen on his words – he just said whatever he thought.  Sometimes it was inspired and sometimes… not.  He would not have been the easiest person to get along with on a road trip.

And what about James and John?  Jesus called these two brothers, “Sons of Thunder.” That could be a clue to their personality. Luke reports that they asked Jesus if they could call down fire and thunder upon the unbelievers. Jesus said no.  They also asked Jesus for a favor – out of earshot of the rest of the disciples – if they could claim the seats of honor, and sit on his right and on his left when he came into his kingdom.  These two were not real team players. Again… Jesus said no.

And then there was Simon the Zealot. Zealots believed God gave the kingdom to Israel and they had the right to get it back – by any means. The ulta-Zealots were the terrorists of the day. They carried a knife with them at all times and were prepared to assassinate traitors and those who sold out to the Romans… like tax collectors…

Speaking of tax collectors, you may remember that Jesus’ disciple Matthew– at least before he met Jesus -- was a tax collector. Most people despised tax collectors both because they often collected extra fees to line their own pockets and because they were seen as Jews who were in league with the Romans.

So you see they were an untidy little group of followers. Really, the only thing that held them together was Jesus. And now he was going to leave them.

Jesus knew it would be hard for them and so… Jesus told them – no, he commanded them:  Love one another. They were to love one another, not only for their own sake as a community of believers, but also as an example for the whole world. He commanded them to love one another so that others would be able to recognize them, not for their differences… not for their preaching… not for the quality of their teaching… but… for their love.

We live in a time that is becoming increasingly polarized – especially politically, but in other ways as well. The media that you watch and listen to influences how you think about issues and what interpretation – some call it “spin” – you give to an event. This is tearing apart our country. Even within families, people are starting to take sides. One of my aunts has outlawed in her home all conversation that is political in nature – and if Ethel says something – everyone listens. 

But I wonder if silence is the best response. Certainly it is if the alternative is name-calling and demonizing. But I wonder if we can live into being the loving respect-filled community that Christ calls us to be. I wonder if we can show the world that we can speak respectfully together – even when we disagree – just because we take seriously Jesus’ command to love one another as he loves us.  

The world needs our example. After all, where else is there a place in which people who differ from one another by age, by class, by gender, by race, by nationality and in so many other ways… can come together to share and be united by Christ’s body and blood?

We are doing that today. Where else can people be welcomed into your family just because God loves them? We are doing that today as we welcome Eli as a brother in Christ in God’s family.

Today, Jesus calls us, all of us, to LOVE ONE ANOTHER and to love ALL of our Brothers and Sisters in Christ as Jesus loves us – and to do it so that all the world will see and will know that we are Christians by our love.  And I believe that we won’t do it perfectly and that we will need to forgive one another – a lot– when we hurt one another. Still… Jesus still calls us to love one another... and we get to start again, each day, to do just that.  A poet said it this way:

"Life is short. We do not have much time,

to gladden the hearts of those who journey the way with us.

Be swift to love & make haste to be kind."

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

1https://www.tweentribune.com/article/tween78/sweethearts-candies-wont-be-available-valentines-day/ 

By Brigit Katz Smithsonian.com

2by Henri Frédéric Amiel, Swiss moral philosopher, poet, and critic.

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Mother's Day

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Mother's Day

John 10:22-30  At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.  So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah tell us plainly.”  Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.  What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” And not only do the sheep know Jesus, but as it says in our Gospel today “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me.”

Jesus gives us – all of us – a promise,“ I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”

That’s a promise. Jesus has got your back. No one and no-thing can come between you and Jesus.  You belong to Christ Jesus.

At the funeral, Pastor Eugene Peterson, the translator of the Message Bible, his son, Leif Peterson – recalled his Dad’s message to him: It's the same message over and over: 'God loves you. He's on your side. He's coming after you. He's relentless.'"

Jesus will never give you up – because He loves you.  And… he promises Eternal life. This is Jesus’ promise to you too.  

Up until she was diagnosed with cancer, five and half years ago, my mother Marilyn was busy – really busy – with work and with lots of other things. But when she went into treatment, suddenly she had more time on her hands. And one of the things that she did was take time for devotions.

Her favorite devotion – that we read almost every day after she entered hospice – came from the high school teacher of Rev. Corrine Chilstrom:  Every morning lean thine arm awhile upon the windowsill of heaven, and gaze upon thy God. Then with the vision in thy heart, turn strong to meet the day.”  

Isn’t that beautiful? Lean upon the windowsill of heaven and gaze upon thy God.  Know that God loves you. God has claimed you. You belong. God loves you – and the whole world.

Jesus loves…even though the world and people in it rejected and crucified Jesus. Jesus loves… even though the world and people… including people like us still behave in ways that are judging instead of loving, that are hurtful instead of helpful, that are condemning of people who don’t look or act or believe exactly like us – instead of welcoming everyone into God’s kingdom, now.  Despite all of this… God’s response is: love.

Our response is clear too.  After you have that vision of God as our Good shepherd who loves you and calls you by name and who gives you eternal life… THEN…with that vision in your heart,  “turn strong to meet the day.”

“Turn strong to meet the day” because Jesus the Good Shepherd has given you the gift of life for today and for each and every day.

So what does that look like?  It’s not what you might think. It’s not showing force or power. Instead, Corrine Chilstrom commends to us three things for the morning First:  read scripture and devotions – many of you do this already – and if you don’t, see me and I will give you some suggestions both here and online.

The second is to do what Jesus did. In Mark we read, “While it was still very dark, Jesus got up, went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”  You can pray any time and any place. But putting prayer into your morning routine is a great thing to do so that you can turn strong to meet the day.

The final thing she suggests is to sing – or at least read the words of hymns.  Music and the poetry of music can reach us in ways that mere words cannot.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, join me in singing words of faith, trusting in the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given you abundant life, eternal life, a gift that lasts – forever. That’s a promise that’s worth singing about. Thanks be to God. Amen. 

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Doubting Thomas - Peace

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Doubting Thomas - Peace

Doubting Thomas – Peace

John 20:19-31

Have you ever done or said something you regretted? Have you laid awake at night, thinking what you might have said instead, going over and over the scene in your head?  I wonder if Thomas felt that way, under the scrutiny of the other disciples, after doubting their word about having seen Jesus.

Wouldn’t we all, after denying their story initially, perhaps in the hours and days to come, question ourselves?  We don’t know what was happening among the disciples in the week following Jesus’ appearance that Easter evening. Were they bickering, or maybe sitting in sullen and fearful silence?

We can only guess, but there’s more going on than the words printed in this periscope. So let’s unpack it…..

Holed up in a locked house, we find the disciples, hiding, afraid for their LIVES.  Just that morning, they’d heard from Mary Magdalene that Jesus had appeared to her and spoken to her. The disciples were likely perplexed, and uncertain of what steps to take, if any.  They believed that Jesus, who they thought was the Savior of the world, was dead. How did their journey with Jesus come to this? They were so sure he was the one!  Now they didn’t know what to do or think.

In the midst of this tension and anxiety – imagine the thickness of emotion in that room –  Jesus shows up among them and says, ”Peace be with you.”  But it’s not clear whether the disciples recognize Jesus until after they’ve seen his wounds. Then they rejoice! This person who is only noticed when he speaks, is indeed the Risen Christ!

Jesus says again, “Peace be with you.” He tells the disciples that he sends THEM as he has been sent by the Father, and breathes the HOLY SPIRIT onto them, sharing God’s POWER with them. 

But it doesn’t appear that any of them have moved.  Jesus returns a week later to the same house – the disciples still there, and Jesus says again, “Peace be with you.” Which really means, “The peace of Christ is here now……..the peace of Christ is here, now!”

And Thomas is given what he requested, to see and touch the injured flesh of Jesus.

On doing so, Thomas’ proclamation, “My Lord and my God!” is the highest affirmation of Jesus’ identity in John’s gospel, making clear that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God….

I think Thomas has gotten a bit of a bad rap. The writer points out that he is called “the twin,” but he is remembered throughout history as “Doubting Thomas.”

He didn’t ask for anything the other disciples hadn’t already received. They all SAW that it was Jesus before rejoicing his return to the living.  And Jesus didn’t express any consternation over the disciples need to experience his presence.

Realistically speaking to the human condition, to doubt isn’t an either/or.  Doubt or believe. No. To doubt is to question, to wonder, to feel uncertain or to lack conviction. Really, all the disciples were doubting. Thomas was simply bold enough to say so.

The people closest to Jesus doubted! And sometimes, so do we.

But Jesus’ response to their uncertainty – our uncertainty – was to provide what was needed to believe, to strengthen their faith, and demonstrate the permanence of what Jesus did for all humanity on the cross.  Doubt will not separate us from God’s love. Nothing will separate us from God.

So doubt is not an absolute negative. Doubt might bring us to question out loud, and questions generate conversation, and talking about what we believe, or don’t believe, can bring clarity and understanding.

When we are open about what we believe, we build Christian community. We grow together, we strengthen or reform our beliefs, we plant seeds of faith in the curious or misinformed. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds.

I call it theological conversation.  To wonder about God and the mysteries surrounding Jesus – how does God act? Where is God? How does Jesus show up in a locked room? What does God want from us or FOR us?

These are the questions of little children and grown-ups, of new Christians and biblical scholars. Theology is the study of God, so when we think about God, when we wonder about God with each other, we practice theology. We are all theologians.

From John’s gospel we see that God comes to us no matter how big, or tiny, our faith. Even at our weakest, when we might feel the furthest away from God…God is with us. And we have our own stories to share within God’s story.

When my husband, KC, had what he now calls his “unpleasantness,” which was a rupture in his ascending aorta, Medical staff told me it was a good thing he made it to the hospital, and that if he made it to surgery, he had a better chance of surviving. They were telling me there was a high chance he wouldn’t live through the hours ahead!

But I wasn’t fully hearing them. I felt as though my feet weren’t really touching the floor, as if I was being held up, somehow. I heard their words and I remembered, but I felt as though I might be in a cocoon – everything just slipping by me – almost dream-like. 

On some level I was terrified of losing my husband, but on another deeper level, I felt an extreme peace that told me, no matter what happened, God was with both KC and me, and whether he survived or went on to a new kind of living, everything would be OK. I remember telling my pastor at the time, the only words that didn’t feel like a jumbled mess, “God is here.”

What I experienced, I believe, was the PEACE of Christ, extended through everyone around me. The ambulance driver who waited for me at an entrance that was a shortcut to KC in the ER.

The gentle explanations of the doctors, my family who were suddenly there to support us, and stayed through the evening. My nephew who drove to bring my son home from school, which freed me from that worry. And the many friends who texted me they were praying.

God comes to us in ways we’re able to comprehend in that time and situation. God meets us where we are and guides us through fear, or sorrow, and into joy, into new beginnings. 

We see this in the story of Thomas, whose belief came to fruition by the revelation of Jesus.

God revealed God’s self to Thomas and the other disciples in the flesh of Jesus, and to us through the telling of Jesus’ story. In Christian community God reveals God’s self to us through one another.

We have NOT seen and yet have come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and through believing may have life in his name.

Not only life as in from birth to death, the lives the disciples feared for. That life in Greek is psyche or bios, the life span of every living creature, in body and mind.  Life that comes from believing is a different word in the Greek – zoe – which is life given to those who believe, to those born of God. Zoe, is life that transforms us from just plain life to living in the abundance and eternity of God.

Over the course of our earthly lives, faith is not static, and humans may come to believe at any age. But God extends to us the peace of Jesus Christ, which surpasses understanding, and frees our hearts and minds to live into God’s abundant eternal life. Peace be with you.  Amen.

Sermon, Easter 3, May 5, 2019  Deacon Kirsten Kessel

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Jesus is the Best Gift for the Whole World

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Jesus is the Best Gift for the Whole World

Jesus is the Best Gift for the Whole World

The Gospel according to Luke, the 24th chapter:

C: Glory to you O Lord…

1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they 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. The Gospel of the Lord.

C: Praise to You O Christ

Jesus is the Best Gift!

P: Let the people shout Alleluia! C: Alleluia!

P: Christ is Risen! C: Christ is Risen Indeed!

Today we joyfully proclaim that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. We shout our Alleluias and sing praises to the Lord that Jesus the Christ, the anointed one, our Messiah and Savior has defeated the power of death and given us the gift of resurrection.

But the first Easter morning didn’t start out that way. The women were grieving as they made their way to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ dead body with spices. But instead, they saw two men in dazzling clothes –– angels – and they were terrified. Wouldn’t you be?

It wasn’t until the angels reminded them of Jesus’ words, “the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again” that they believed what they thought – up until that moment – was impossible. It was the third day – and Jesus was raised from the dead.

But when they told this good and amazing news to the disciples and the others, they laughed and called it an “idle tale” – and ridiculed the women.

Except Peter… Maybe something triggered his memory…. But he didn’t laugh. He took off running and then… when he saw that the tomb was empty…he went out to proclaim the good news!

No. That’s not what he did. He went home. Amazed. But saying nothing. The end.

Except… it’s not the end. Because, if this was the end of the story, we would not be celebrating today. But, thanks be to God, the message doesn’t end there. Instead… Jesus appeared to the disciples and then to the disheartened followers walking the road to Emmaus. He reminded them of his words – and the words of scripture. And they believed. And then the Holy Spirit came and empowered the disciples and the followers of Jesus throughout the years so that today…even a child can proclaim that the BEST Gift is Jesus.

The best gift is Jesus, because Jesus, raised from the dead, has defeated the power of death and has given us the promise of eternal life with Him. So, brothers and sisters in Christ, let the people praise God and shout Alleluia!

C: ALLELUIA!

P: Christ is Risen!

C: Christ is Risen indeed!

The disciples had been traveling with Jesus for three years. They had heard him teach that he would be rejected and die and rise again. But they had to be reminded of Jesus’ words before they could open their eyes to see the gift that God has given to us– and so do we.

A few weeks ago, Pastor Kate from the University of Minnesota Lutheran Campus Ministry spoke at a Conference meeting. She said that when students come to college, they are challenged with lots of competing values and ideas. Pastor Kate challenged us to help our young adults develop and be able to articulate an “elevator speech” – a statement short enough to clarify, in just a few minutes, what they mean when they say “I am a Christian.”

I was intrigued by Pastor Kate’s challenge for young adults, but after a conversation with our adult education class, I realized that it wasn’t just young adults that needed to have a faith “elevator speech.” We all do. We are at a time in history in which it is easy to assume that everyone knows the story of Jesus; everyone knows what a Christian is. But… unfortunately… not everyone knows the Jesus that we know. The Jesus that I know – and I hope you know -- is not coming with fire and brimstone to judge the world in anger. The Jesus that I know has already come and will come again to bring joy and the promise of resurrection and new life to all people.

But it is challenging – even for me - when asked, on the spot – in an elevator or elsewhere – why and what you believe. So… I thought, long and hard, about what would be an elevator speech about what it means to be a Christian.

We – you and I ___ are beloved Children of God who loves the whole world, and each person in it. And because of God’s love – not because of anything we have done or said - God forgives us, and makes us whole. That’s Grace. And, out of God’s great love, God gave us the best gift, Jesus Christ, to be the savior of the WHOLE WORLD. This is Good News – and God calls us to share it so that everyone may joyfully experience God’s abundant love.

This is what we can share about what it means to be a Christian. But if it’s a really short elevator, you can make it just one sentence: God loves you, forgives you and calls you to live your life as a response to Jesus’ love for you and for the whole world.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, God has given us, you and me, the best gift – Jesus, risen from the dead who forgives us, restores us and makes us whole. That is good news, Good News that is too good not to share so that the whole world may be filled with joy.

P: So Let the people praise God and shout Alleluia!

C: ALLELUIA!

P: Christ is Risen! C: Christ is Risen indeed!

Amen.

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church

Easter Sunday April 21, 2019

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"It Is Finished"

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"It Is Finished"

“It Is Finished”

What did the people at the foot of the cross hear when Jesus gasped these last words?

To Pilate, the Roman Soldiers, and the Religious Leaders, “It is Finished” perhaps is heard with a smirk of gladness and probably a sigh of relief. This man threatened their power, tradition and authority, but now, finally, this blaspheming-rabble-rousing rabbi, hangs helplessly on a cross. He’s Done. Dead. Finished-off. Not their problem anymore. Finally they can get back to business as usual.

To Jesus’s mother, standing at the foot of the cross, watching her son--bleeding, tortured, gasping for air hearing her son--her own flesh and blood—crying out “it is finished” The one who birthed Jesus into the world, now stands helplessly at the foot of the cross as he exits the world.

His mother, the one who first heard the cries and coos of her baby boy so many years ago in that tiny barn in Bethlehem, now hears her boy cry in agony on the cross.

She, who used to be able comfort her son with the milk from her breast, now has nothing to offer him but her tears of helplessness. She cannot wrap him up in her arms and make the pain of the world disappear. Her baby boy, the child that she had nurtured… delighted in… her son…. It is finished.

For his disciples--the women and the 12 that have accompanied Jesus on his ministry, “it is finished” is the end of a dream. They had left everything, their whole lives to follow this man. Now what are they going to do? Hadn’t he just promised that he’d always be with him? Why isn’t he fixing this? They thought he was going to do something really great. But as they watch their teacher, their friend that they love hanging on the cross, all their hopes are shattered.

How could it finish like this?

“It is Finished!” What about us? How can we hear these words?

Tetelestai is in the perfect tense in Greek. That's significant because the perfect tense speaks of an action which has been completed in the past with results continuing into the present. It's different from the past tense which looks back to an event and says, "This happened." The perfect tense adds the idea that "This happened and it is still in effect today."

Te-tell-es-tie” It is finished; accomplishes the proclamation by John the Baptist who at the beginning of John’s gospel points his finger at Jesus and says “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” “it is finished” is the fulfillment of Christ’s words in John 3:16—for God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him shall not die but have eternal life.

“It is finished” is not a weak whisper uttered in defeat, but it is a victorious proclamation of the fulfillment of God’s love for you.

On the cross, God has now finished the work that God began with us so long ago.

Because we could not get up to God, God climbed down to us. All the way down to a manger in Bethlehem, so that he could die on a cross at Golgotha. It is here on the cross, here in the bloody, torturous crucifixion, here in Christ’s death that you can know just how much God loves you. Christ has freed you from the clenching chokehold of sin and death—the powers that pull you away from God.

With his last breath, Christ has at last accomplished what God began us so long ago—to be in a full, loving, and life-giving relationship with you, and with me. It is finished.

When life becomes too hectic, when you lie awake in your bed at night going over to-do lists in your head, when the voice of the Evil One sneakily seeps into your ear and tells you that you are a failure, a phony, not good enough—when this happens and you begin to doubt God’s love for you, begin to doubt that God’s promise of forgiveness and love couldn’t possibly be referring to you… surely I must be do something, become something or someone that is worthy of God’s love—when these ___ of anxiety permeate your brain, I need you to remember the last words of Your Lord as he hung on the cross.

Listen to your Savior proclaiming this promise of God’s completed work on your behalf. “It Is Finished”-- the culminating act God’s love now complete. It’s all done. And God has done this all for you.

It is finished. Amen.

Thank you Lord that by your wounds we are healed. Thank you that because of your huge sacrifice we can live free. Thank you that sin and death have been conquered, and that your Power is everlasting.

Thank you that we can say with great hope, “It is finished…” For we know what’s still to come. And death has lost its sting. We praise you for you are making all things new.

Tetelestai is in the perfect tense in Greek. That's significant because the perfect tense speaks of an action which has been completed in the past with results continuing into the present. It's different from the past tense which looks back to an event and says, "This happened." The perfect tense adds the idea that "This happened and it is still in effect today."

Rebecca Holland

4/19/2019

Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church

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