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Salt & Light - Rev. Mark Nelson

I want to begin by thanking Pastor Pam for the honor of being here once again.  I served here at Faith-Lilac Way a few years ago now. And you know.  I’m not really used to being asked back somewhere.  So this has already been a blessing to me.  Just the invitation.

And to return to a congregation that is doing such lively ministry is a joy.  The senior housing was in the planning stages when I left. The Home is wonderful to see.  And the ministry to the folks there. Your ministry to future leaders of the church.  I have spent a little bit of time with your vicar, Joe Orner.  You’ve whipped him into shape and how impressive he is! And, of course, Pastor Pam.  Her leadership, her heart, her love for God, and for all of you. Every time I’m with her, she gives life and light.  

So I rejoice in the opportunity given to me to preach this morning to help you celebrate your 75th Anniversary.  You’ve also given me an Anniversary Gospel reading which, if anything, reminds us of both who we are as Christians and what it is our world so badly needs.  

Now, many of you have traveled.  And maybe some of you have been to Rome.  There’s the Vatican. There’s the Colosseum.  The Forum. The Temple to Jupiter, the chief god of ancient Rome.  The Pantheon. Then there is the best thing. The gelato stores!  

But there’s even more of these than gelato stores.  When you visit Rome today. On the top of just about every single building, you find crosses.  Everywhere you look there are crosses!  You might say, “That makes sense.  The Pope lives there!  Of course there are crosses everywhere!”

But there is something to think about.  If we could go back in time to about 64 or 65 A.D. Before the Pope was even there. The Emperor Nero has just set fire to the city of Rome to clear some space for his new palace.  He needs a scapegoat. And he decides he’s going to blame it on this new Jewish group from Palestine called “the Christians.”  So he announces that the Christians started the fire and sends his people throughout all the city, rounding up Christians.  He has a thing called, “Nero’s Circus.”  It wasn’t really a circus.  It was basically an arena. And Nero is persecuting the Christians.  Using them as human torches. Letting them be torn apart by dogs. Making sport out of it.

Imagine for just a minute we can go back in time to about 64 or 65 A.D. when all of this is going on.  And you were to tell these persecuted people: “Did you know that one day the city of Rome will be decorated everywhere with crosses?  And these crosses won’t be wooden crosses. There will be crosses on everything from buildings to walls to highways to signs.  They’ll be everywhere! And these crosses will not represent Rome. These crosses won’t even represent crucifixion. These crosses will represent one single crucifixion of one Jewish man.  The one you worship. Jesus Christ.  One day all those temples in the city.  They’ll be tourist attractions.  The day is coming when no one will worship Jupiter.  The day will come when Christians will make pilgrimages to Rome to visit where Nero’s Circus currently is, where your brothers and sisters are being put to death.  But instead of an arena, there will be a cathedral built in memory of Peter, the fisherman, who was the leader of a movement called Christianity.”

Can you imagine what would run through their minds?  They would look at you like you’re a fool!  They would say, “No, Rome is forever!  Jupiter is forever!  Yes we believe in Jesus and we believe he’s the Savior.  But his movement is a small movement. We’re only one of several dozen, and there’s no way in the world that Rome would ever surrender to this movement.”  And yet, within three hundred years.  Within three hundred years.  There are crosses everywhere.  Everywhere.

The question is: how did Rome finally give in and recognize that this group, the Church, was here to stay?  The answer matters!  Because we’re living in a time of leadership crisis.  And we have an opportunity as Christians. We have a message the world desperately needs to hear.  How did Rome finally give in? They gave in because of churches like Faith-Lilac Way.  And people like you. Who understood who they are.   

Who are we?  We spend a lot of time these days talking about.  Working out.  Identity issues.  Family identity.  Gender identity.  Job identity.  Ethnic identity.  Religious identity.  Which means that one of the challenges today is figuring out exactly who we are and then how we’ll spend our lives.

It used to be that identity came as an inheritance from your family.  Who told you clearly who you are and how you will be spending your life.  My great grandparents on one side were 3rd and 4th generation farmers who each inherited the farm from the generation before them.  No one asked the upcoming generation if they wanted to be a farmer.  None of them took vocational aptitude tests that scored high in agriculture.  They didn't even ask themselves if they would be fulfilled as farmers.  I'm not even sure if they knew what that word meant.  It was just their inheritance that they received from home.

But no more.  Now home is something that you leave to decide for yourself who you are and what you will do with your life.  For the last couple of generations. Maybe three. We've been giving our youth pretty much the same advice.  “Be yourself.”  “Follow your own dreams.”  “Do your own thing.” “Chase your own star.”

And the way you do that is by making choices.  We’re so big on choices these days!  Anybody who has parented the last two generations knows that all the advice is about helping Johnny make good choices.  So when Johnny throws a rock through the window. Rather than running out and stopping him, what you’re supposed to do, is bring Johnny in, show him the window, the rock, and say, “Now Johnny, was that a good choice?”  And Johnny, who is a smart little boy, says, “I'm thinking no.”  Right.  Good.

We now tend to see life, and our understanding of identity, as a self-construction.  We choose.  Choose a school.  Choose a major.  Choose a job.  Choose a community.  Choose a church.  And if you don't like your choices, just choose again.  Which means that if you're unhappy, it's simply a matter of your choices.  You can make yourself happy. You can find fulfillment. If you just choose better.  And one of the results of this is that people can spend all sorts of time.  Using up their lives. Constantly making choices. Hoping that they will eventually choose their way into a life that they really like.

Now choosing is not a bad thing.  And inheriting a job.  Is not necessarily a good thing.  I really don’t think I was cut out to be a farmer!  But what has happened is that we now tend to assume that people inherently know who they are.   And what they want to do with their lives. And some sense of having a higher calling.  Is lost.

And that’s what Paul was getting at in his letter the Galatians.  Reminding them. “You are all sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ Jesus…..There is neither Jew nor Greek.  Neither slave or free. Neither male or female.” Paul wasn’t saying nationalities and gender and social status don’t matter.  What he did mean was that we no longer primarily identify ourselves by those things.  They describe us; they do not define us.  Our identity is not something that we inherit from our grandparents.  It's not something we assemble; we self-construct as we currently think.  No. We have a higher calling. That’s where you begin.  Your identity, Paul says, is who you are baptized in Christ.  God has called you.  And when we remember that.  We know how to spend our days and our lives.

Jesus put this identity question in a different way in the Gospel.  He gave us two word pictures to tell us who we are.  “You are the salt of the earth.”  “Salt is a preservative.  Without salt, the earth rots.  By this one thing, all people will know that you’re my follower: how you love, how you treat, how you appreciate, how you care for one another.”  “That’s new and that’s different, and if you’ll allow it to, it’s going to take hold.  You are the salt, the preservers of the earth.”  And then Jesus said: “Not only that, you are the light of the world.”  

Now.  I know there are some who say, “I don’t want to be the light of the world.  I just want to go back and raise my family and go to heaven when I die.”  Jesus said, “No, I don’t know who taught you that.  You don’t have the option to be invisible.  You followers are visible.  You are the light of the world.  A city built on a hill cannot be hid.”  

Those that translated this in Greek didn’t use the word “built.”  They used a little Greek word that is more like “placed,” because it was intentional.  “A city placed on a hill cannot be hid.”  If you’ve been to that part of the world, you know it’s hilly.  There aren’t many trees. And they built towns on hills, and they built them out of white limestone, and you can see them from miles and miles and miles.  The sun reflected off of them. At night they lit their oil lamps and you can see for miles and miles around. And Jesus said, “Just as a city on a hill cannot be hidden, that’s what you are. You are like a strategically placed city.  That’s why you’re the light of the world.  You have been strategically placed.”

We might say to that: “No!  No! No!  I’m not strategically placed.  I live in Robbinsdale and I don’t really want to be here.  I’m stuck here.  I’m not strategic.”  Or you say, “Light of the world?  No, I’m not. I’m a freshman.  I can’t even find my locker most days.  I have no influence and nobody knows my name.  I’m not strategic.”  Or, “Light of the world.  You have to be kidding.  I’m in this job I don’t want to be in.  I’m not a strategically placed light on a hill.  I’m stuck with a bunch of people I don’t even like.”  And to each of those people Jesus says, “No, if you’re my follower, you’re light!  It may seem random to you, but you are strategically placed.”

When I was a young pastor.  I was always intimidated by making hospital calls.  And it wasn’t that I had a hard time visiting the people who were sick.  No. The intimidation was from all those people in the white coats. The doctors.  The nurses. The technicians. They had these official uniforms. They had their names written right on here.  They had stuff around their neck. They had things in their bags they could use to poke you. Put fluid in you or take it out of you.  It all said: “This is about serious business here.  I’m a doctor. I’m a nurse.”  

And I always felt.  When one of them walked in the room.  That I was kind of in the way. One day when I was sitting there with one of my parishioners in the room.  Not having any of those serious things. I was sitting there with a Bible and a prayer that I had rehearsed in the car on the way over to the hospital.  

A nurse walked in.  Immediately feeling like I was in the way, I just jumped up and headed for the door.  The nurse says, “Where are you going?  Aren’t you this man’s pastor?”  I said, “Yeah.  Yeah. Yup.  I just…. I just want to let you do what you ‘gotta do.”  She says, “I’m gonna do what I gotta do.  You do what you gotta do. You’re the one.”  She said.  “You’re the one.  Who is supposed to bring a little bit of heaven into this room.”  “That’s right.”  “That’s what I do.”  “Why would I trade that in for a stethoscope?”  “That’s what I get to do.”  That’s what you get to do, too.  You are the light of the world. You have the power of the God’s Spirit to bring a little bit of heaven to your part of God’s world.  

We have a great, life-changing.  Eternally true. Story to live and to tell.  A story about a God who is dying to love us. Love everybody.  And the world needs to hear it. I think that’s why there is so much interest in Mr. Rogers again.  Mr. Rogers was a Presbyterian pastor. Who accepted all comers who came on his show. He met everybody with grace and in love and respect.  It didn't matter who you were. He told everyone they were special. It didn't matter who you were watching that TV screen. It was you he liked.  And we see that now and we say, “Wow, that's amazing!  We want that again.”  Mr. Rogers should be way retro now.  Those cardigan sweaters. Now everybody wants him.!  

How did Rome finally give in and realize that this group the Church was here to stay?  It was because thousands of individual Christians lived a bit like Mr. Rogers.  In local Christian gatherings. Witnessed to the risen Christ by sharing their wealth.  Feeding widows and orphans. Caring for the sick and the children.  Gathering for meals and teaching. There's nothing heroic here. Just the simple offering of gifts simply for the benefit of one another and for those outside the community.  And yet in these very simple acts, God moved with remarkable power. Miracles were performed. The sick were healed and the dead were raised. And life was transformed. This was so powerful that it brought the swift attention of Rome.  People suffered. But like a steady dripping water on a rock, the Christians persevered and persisted. It wasn't easy. But their perseverance paid off.

And today.  2000 years later.  We’re still here! Every time you pick up a map and see names of cities like, St. Paul, St. Peter, St. Francis, St. Bonifacius.  Jesus’ influence is so enduring that we name our children after his friends—Paul, Peter, Mary, and John. And we name our dogs after the rulers of his day; like Brutus and Caesar and Nero.  

They’re all gone and we’re still here.  Living. Proclaiming. That God has prepared a future not just for us but all Creation.  Creation will be made new by the power of God in the life and death of Jesus.  As much as it may seem from the news that the world is in pain and struggles and evil runs freely.  In fact, the world is in a waiting room, waiting to be fully redeemed in Christ.  Even in difficult times, God is leading us somewhere better even when we can’t see it now.  

Meanwhile, there is much to be done.  So many needs to be met. So many opportunities to be seized.  There is enough for everybody here, and the work of this church will never be done until Jesus comes.  That is good news! For not only does it mean that we will always have something to do, but we will always have something worth the doing.  

So, Faith-Lilac Way.  Happy 75th Anniversary!  And let us pray that we take on the work he has given us and make it our own, and let us carry on bravely, gloriously, full of joy.  For Jesus has not left you a grim inheritance, he has left you a new opportunity, a fresh adventure, a promising future. You. You.  Are His salt and light in the world.  Jesus is not retreating, he is leading us, and forward we go into that great day that is His.  For that we all give thanks to God.

Amen.

 

Sermon by Reverend Mark Nelson

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Compassion

Christ’s Compassion REST-ores, Re-Stores and Restores

The disciples had a busy week! Jesus sent them out two by two into the community and they taught and preached and healed the sick. They were pumped. God’s power just flowed through them. They were on fire!

But instead of saying… GO TEAM! And sending them right back out to do kingdom work, Jesus said.. “Come away… and rest a while.” Of course there was more work that could have been done… people kept coming to them. They didn’t even have time to sit down to eat. They found themselves rushing from one thing to another – without taking time to rest, restore their bodies or renew their souls.

Ever have that feeling? I do – and I bet many of you do too. Too often I find myself rushing about, piling too many things on my “to do” list -- and then other things get added along the way. I’m guessing that happens to many of you too. Busyness is the way of our culture – but sometimes we can take a bit of pride in how “busy” we are.

For example, Pat, one of the people at text study this past week, told about her friend Chris, an incredibly talented and caring woman who does a lot of good for other people. But, after a half hour of listening to Chris  - complaining or was it bragging about all that she had done and how tired she was – Pat interrupted and said: “Stop. Don’t say another word about it. Instead: take a nap, take a walk, take a bubblebath. Do whatever you need to do to let this go. You have done great work but now you are clearly empty and exhausted.  She said you need to rest, be renewed, and be restored.

And so do we. You may have seen the bumper sticker: “Jesus is Coming – hurry up and look busy!”  But Jesus is not calling us to be busy. Jesus is calling us to be faithful. Jesus is calling us into discipleship.

"Do your best, and give God the rest." Is that what it means to be faithful? It can be. I’m reminded of the pastor who used to pray at the end of each day: “Dear God’, I’ve worked hard today but now I’m tired and need some rest. So it’s in your hands now.” That was his way of letting go of what was not his to solve – at least not that day – and to place it in God’s hands.  

That’s a good habit. But in my devotions yesterday, another pastor wrote that “Do your best and give God the rest” used to be her mantra too. But after being exhausted from a very full week of ministry, she realized that she had been so busy that she hadn’t been doing her best. So her new mantra is this: Take time to rest so that you can give God the best.

Rest. Jesus knows how important it is for us. We read in the first chapters of Genesis that God created the world… and then created the seventh day for rest. And again, in the 10 commandments, God commands us to honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy… and that includes holy rest.

Holy rest, Sabbath rest, is a rest that restores us, that makes us whole. I’d like you to write down the word “restore”  on your bulletin. Notice that the first four letters of restore… R.E.S.T… spell rest. Doctors often tell us: “get plenty of rest” and by that they usually mean sleep. Sleep is crucial to our well being, to any effort to restore us and make us whole.  

After their first big experience in preaching and teaching, Jesus told the disciples that they needed to “rest for awhile” – so they headed out in a boat to the wilderness – a place to take a retreat by themselves. But the crowd saw where they were going and so they ran around the lake to what had been a deserted place – and got there first. Now Jesus could have had the disciples drop an anchor in the middle of the lake and take a nap – but instead… Jesus had compassion on all the people.

Out of his compassion, Jesus he did three things. First, he taught them. The people were hungry for the word of God and to know the way of God. And then he fed them. You might have noticed that the Gospel skips nineteen verses –in that gap is the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. We’ll read that story next week. And then… the people brought the sick to Jesus – and Jesus heals them.

In Jesus’ compassion, he restores the people whether they are tired, or hungry for the word of God or the bread of life or needing to be healed. Jesus restores each one.

I’d like you to look at that word “Restore” again. We’ve looked at the word rest hidden inside it. But there’s one more word. “Store.” Jesus’ holy rest renews us and fills up the “store” of our reserves.  

On Friday, I witnessed people being restored by Christ in many ways. First, at Bee Loechler’s funeral, faithful people gathered to hear God’s word and receive the bread of life. Then other people gathered to feed their bodies with a luncheon. Their grief was tended and their hearts and minds and bodies were re-stored.

Another group of faithful people gathered to prepare for teaching children at Vacation Bible School this week so that children, youth and helpers will be re-stored or maybe hear the story of Jesus for the first time.

And then I was blessed to be with Al Anderson’s family at St. Therese as we mourned his death.  St. Therese has a beautiful tradition for those who die there. They call it the “Angel Walk.” The body is covered with a beautiful blanket that has roses all over it and is wheeled to the front door where staff and friends gather to sing, “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Before he was placed in the hearse, we prayed, sang, blessed his body, and entrusted him to eternal rest in God’s care

 A slight rain was falling as I got into my car. Suddenly I realized that it had been a long day and I was tired. But then the sun peaked out – and over the horizon a rainbow started to form. As I drove towards home, the rainbow grew until it was a full arch in the sky. Looking up….I was in awe.

Jesus restores us in many ways – through the Word, through his body and blood, through Christian community, and holy rest and through the wonder of creation.

Thanks be to God whose wonders never cease, who restores us and makes us whole. Amen.

 

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while." For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. 

53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

 

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church

July 22, 2018

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Good News for a Bad News World

The beheading of John the Baptist. -- Now that’s quite a story.1 A king taking his brother’s wife, a drunken party, an erotic dance, political plotting and a beheading. But before we look to see if we can find any Good News or words of  wisdom for us…

Reading the Gospel today, I was reminded of the Tower of London that I was privileged to visit just a few weeks ago. There were many famous beheadings there – including Anne Boleyn,  the woman for whom King Henry VIII defied the Catholic church. Since the Catholic church did not allow divorces– Henry the VIII took over the church, created a new denomination – Anglican – and made himself the head. This allowed him to simply nullify his marriage to his first wife Catherine of Aragon and Mary Anne.  But, as you may recall, they didn’t live happily ever after. Alas for Anne Boleyn, she was stalked by courtly intrigue and accused of infidelity. But there was a bigger problem…(which we know now wasn’t her fault!)… she did not produce a male heir to the throne. THAT apparently, was a capitol offense. So.. Off with her head!

King Henry the VIII and King Herod have some things in common. King Herod wanted his brother’s wife – Herodias. This would have been completely acceptable, honorable even, if his brother Philip had died and Herod was stepping in to care for the widow. But this is not the case. This is incestuous adultery. That is why John the Baptist calls him to account.

Herod locks up John the Baptist to keep him quiet. But he is intrigued by John’s message. He sees him as a holy man and likes to listen to him. Maybe Herod has misgivings? Herodias – at least as Mark tells the story -- has no such qualms. So when Herod – at his birthday party, perhaps a bit drunk -- after watching a dance by her daughter Herodias, he rashly promises his daughter or maybe she’s really his niece, whatever she wants, up to half the kingdom. Just think: what would a young girl want?  I mean… she could have asked for a pony! But instead… she asks her mother and Herodias – eager to be done with John the Baptist’s criticism of her illicit marriage – tells her daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist. The daughter does –but adds a detail: on a platter.

Herod has a choice to make. Does he retract his rash promise and save John’s life but look the fool? Or does he keep his word – and sacrifice John?

Kings and political leaders never want to admit they made a mistake. The price is John’s head.

Where is the Good News in our Gospel?  If you stick with just these verses of Mark – then Good News is hard to find. But this is not the whole story. It’s not even the whole chapter. In prior verses, Mark has just told us about Jesus’ miraculous healings and his preaching and teaching – which was well received everywhere…except in his hometown. Undeterred, Jesus sends his twelve disciples out into the countryside, preaching repentance, casting out demons, anointing and curing the sick. This is why, as we read in the first verse of today’s scripture: Jesus’ name came to King Herod.

People were talking… and wondering, “Who is this Jesus?” But King Herod thought he knew: “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” Then we get this story as flashback.  There is no good news in it – only a guilty – and perhaps remorseful king.

But that is not the end of the story. In the next verse – not printed here -- Mark goes on to tell us what happened when the 12 disciples returned. They gathered around Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught.  Good News was shared. They cared for their neighbor. They demonstrated the love of God in word and deed. In short: The kingdom of God was at hand.

You can see the contrast. King Herod misuses his power for selfish gains and ends up with a monstrous hangover of regret. Jesus and his disciples preach repentance and forgiveness and offer healing and wholeness. That’s Good News.

That’s the Good News that we too are called to live out in our neighborhoods, in our homes and in our work and school. There is no doubt that we still live in a bad-news world. And we get that bad news faster than ever before. Between social media and traditional media, news travels so fast that it is hard to check to see if it is true. But this doesn’t give us a pass.

Like John the Baptist, we too are called to speak the truth. And sometimes that is not comfortable. We would rather not make waves. We would rather that people got along. We would rather not have our heads cut off.

OK ….That one is understandable.

I hope and pray that telling the truth won’t cost me my head. But we are called to speak the truth even when we would rather not.  

But as Christians, as followers of Jesus, we are called not only to speak the truth, but to speak the truth in love. Speaking the truth in love means always remembering that the person with whom we disagree is a child of God. Speaking the truth in love means listening and being respectful as well as speaking. Speaking the truth in love means letting our words AND our actions proclaim the love and grace of God for all people.

This, brothers and sisters in Christ, is what Jesus Christ calls us to do. Because our neighbors whether they are male or female, rich or poor, born here or immigrants, regardless of the color of their skin – they and we need to hear and live out the Good News of Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane

Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church

5530 42nd Avenue N, Robbinsdale, MN 55422

July 15, 2018

 The Scripture for the day: The Holy Gospel according to Mark, the 6th chapter.

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.”  But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.”  But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herodhad married her.  For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”  And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.  But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee.  When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.”  And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.”  She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.”  Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”  The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her.  Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison,  brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother.  When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb. The Gospel of the Lord.

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That Changes Everything! From Fear to Faith by Pastor Pam

 

That changes everything… This was the theme of the ELCA Youth Gathering. I was inspired as I read a devotional by a youth on the trip. He wrote that it transformed him. This is and will be our prayer for our youth on their mission trip to Denver. We pray that their experiences of love in action, done in light of the power of the Gospel will transform them and that they will come back as living witnesses of the power of God and empowered to be God’s hands and feet and voice in this community.

There were certainly some transformed people in today’s Gospel. When someone you love is hurting, you will do almost anything to help them be healed. So it is not surprising that Jairus begged Jesus to come to heal his daughter. Jesus was on his way…

But he got interrupted. We don’t know the woman’s name, only that she has a dreadful disease – and that she spent the last twelve years – and all of her money, energy and resources trying to find a cure. Nothing worked. The “doctors” and their “cures” made it worse. Now she has nothing left – and worse yet, she’s an outcast from society, labeled an “unclean” person. No one will touch her or talk to her. It would have been understandable if she had simply given up. But…she heard about Jesus and his miraculous healings – and she believed. But not having anything to offer, she thought …if only I touch him…I will be healed. So she positions herself ahead of him on the narrow street as people are jostling around Jesus. No one notices her as she reaches out her hand and touches the hem of his cloak.

She feels her body healed. It’s a miracle! But immediately - before she can rejoice - Jesus stops and says, “Who touched me?”

His disciples laugh. You’re kidding, right? On this crowded street you wonder who touched you? 

But the woman knows – and is full of fear. She – an unclean hemorrhaging woman -- had committed a social taboo, touching a rabbi –stealing her healing. With fear and trembling, she confesses.

But instead of scolding her, Jesus dispels her fear, claims her as a daughter, commends her faith and publicly heals her disease. This changes everything.  She moves from faith to fear and back to faith! Jesus did more than heal her – an ostracized woman. Jesus has restored her to the community where she can live out her faith.

This is good news – but the delay came at a cost. Messengers came with the news Jairus feared – “It’s too late. Your daughter is dead.” What grief he must have felt – maybe mixed with a bit of outrage too. For if only this other woman had not budged in and delayed them… Jesus might have healed his daughter.

Because of his position, Jairus was probably used to getting priority treatment. But status doesn’t matter in Jesus. None of the ways that people then and now distinguish themselves – what you do, how much you make, your social status, power, gender, reputation, nationality, education, where you live or where you are from – none of these ways that we sort ourselves out matter.

The messengers told Jairus – “Don’t bother the rabbi. It’s too late.”  But Jesus has compassion on Jairus too and says, “Do not be afraid… only believe.” And then…while a crowd of mourners laughs in mockery, Jesus goes into the house, takes this daughter by the hand and raises her up to life. And that changes everything.  Not even death can stop Jesus’ love. It’s never too late. 

Why does Jesus do this? It isn’t for publicity – in fact he asks the family to keep quiet about it. It isn’t for status. Jesus heals because of his compassion – his love – both then and now. Jesus transforms fear into faith… and there is more than enough for all.

This is why we, like Jairus and Jesus’ newly named daughter, dare to ask for health and healing for ourselves, for those that we love – and for all of God’s people. With faith, we trust in the power of the Holy Spirit. And we rejoice when God’s healing hand comes and restores our loved one to health.  

I would not be standing before you today if it had not been for the advocacy and perseverance of my mother & sister. After receiving a severe head injury, the doctors said their was not hope for healing. But they were not willing to accept that diagnosis. I give thanks every day for their determination – and God’s healing.

But healing doesn’t always come… at least not in the way we want it to come. There are times when people that I have loved – and that you have loved -- have not been healed of their disease. There are times when we wonder, why is God silent? My college roommate received the same diagnosis as I did - and she died of blood clot. We mourned and asked why did God not heal her? On a larger scale, we ask, Lord why do you allow hardship, disasters, war or suffering?  And sometimes we are afraid. Sometimes we are afraid that God cannot or will not work healing in our time.

I was in a theatre this past week in England and started talking with the British woman next to me. Her first question was “why are there so many shootings in the United States?” I didn’t have an answer.  I don’t know about the most recent police shooting– but with the police shooting in my neighborhood, I think the policeman was afraid.

Fear is a powerful force. With fear comes an adrenaline rush and the instinctive response of fight or flight.  This is not all bad because if you are facing a tiger…or, unfortunately in today’s times, a shooter… it is smart to be afraid and to run for your life
But fear is not a way to live. It doesn’t bring out our best selves. Living in fear is limited: Fight or flight.  Scientists today tell us that when we are afraid, we just react – we don’t think. We don’t pray. We don’t bring our best selves to the problem. 

Most of the book of Lamentations is full of laments about the problems of the world by a people full of fear. They lived in a time of uncertainty. Their country was falling apart. Things were changing. People were afraid. Chaos reigned.

And yet… into the midst of this chaos, the prophet writes these powerful words: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

This is the message that Jesus gives Jairus and us: “Do not fear, only believe.”  Do not be afraid. Do not act out of fear. Instead, respond in the way of Jesus.  Because, when we respond as Jesus does – with love and action -- and not respond out of fear or hatred, then not only can we pray for God’s loving healing, but we can live out the love of Jesus in the way that we treat our neighbor. 

Even when all seems lost, as was the case with Jairus’ daughter, it’s not too late for Jesus’ redeeming healing love.  For not even death can stand in the way of Jesus’ love. Jesus did not just love people – he acted out of his love – even to dying on the cross. He died that we might live.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us trust in the power of Jesus’ love because that – that love in action -- changes everything. Amen.

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane  - Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church - July 8, 2018

1 Gospel lesson from Mark 5: When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?’ “He looked all around to see who had done it.

But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”  While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”  

He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.  When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.  When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.”  And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. The Gospel of our Lord.

 

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There's a Hole in Your Pocket

The Gospel according to Mark, the 4th chapter: 

Jesus also said, "The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.  The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come." He also said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade." With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples. The Gospel of the Lord.

Jesus tells stories. So today… I want to tell you a story about a little boy with a hole in his pocket.  This  is not a story about my children.  This is a story about any little or not so little boy or girl. This little boy loved cookies – what little and not so little boy or girl doesn’t? And he also loved rocks and twigs and all sorts of interesting things that you can see when you are only a couple feet off the ground. So one day… he snuck an extra cookie and stuck it in his pocket before heading out to play in his big back yard. While he was there as he discovered interesting things…pretty rocks and twigs and the like…  they went into his pocket too… and the cookie started to get squished and crumbly and… by the end of the day… you know what happened. The cookie crumbs had fallen through the hole in his pocket – much to the delight of his puppy and the local ant population.

Jesus tells stories often in the form of “parables” – which are unlike other kinds of stories. I was reminded in my studies this week that the word “parable” comes from two Greek words - “Para” which means “beside” and “ballein” which means to throw. In Jesus’ parables, he takes two things that don’t necessarily go together – and throws them together to show the surprising way God works in our world. 

For example, Jesus tells about a mustard bush with its small seeds growing miraculously to provide shelter for the birds of the field. It’s a nice image for us who have grown up with singing about the mustard seed.  But it’s a surprising choice in Jesus’ day. In Jesus’ day, most rabbis would have referenced the great cedar trees described in the Hebrew scripture. They were huge - like the Sequoia Redwood trees in Washington state. But instead, Jesus chooses a pesty bush…which… with the exception of mustard farmers, most farmers think of as a weed. Mustard bushes grow where they will – kind of like a buckthorn – or like a big version of creeping charley. And yet… Jesus uses that weed to describe the kingdom of God and the way that God works in our world. God uses ordinary people like you and me.

The other parable seems more straightforward. Our translation of the Gospel reads: “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed” … the Greek word is again the word “ballain” which means “throw”.   So the kingdom of God is as if someone threw seed on the ground – cast it to the ground with abandon -  and then… went to bed and didn’t worry about it.

Jesus did not write this parable as a “how to” for farmers or gardeners. This is the story of how God uses people, ordinary people, like you and me, to bring in the Kingdom of God. God does the work of making the seed sprout and grow.  The sower’s job was simply to scatter – to throw the seeds – and then to harvest the grain.   (THROW LIFESAVERS)

Which is what made me think about what happens when have a hole in your pocket. The little boy in my story did not intend to feed all of the ants and his puppy in his backyard. He wanted to eat that cookie! But… that hole in his pocket left a trail of cookie goodness wherever he went.

At text study this past week, one of the pastors told a story of how he had presided over a wedding this past week for Tom, the best friend of his son. It wasn’t unusual – it was a typical friend of the family wedding. The boys had grown up together  – and he had often given Tom rides to school and sports event --  especially since this young man’s father had died when he was young. They were just helping out their son’s friend. But after the wedding ceremony, Tom came up to him with tears in his eyes, and said “thank you. Thank you for being a father to me.” The pastor said, “I had no idea that I had made that impact on him.”

He was sowing seeds of love – through the hole in his pocket. His presence made a difference.

After he told the story, before anyone could comment or congratulate him on the good work that he had done, the pastor looked at us and said, “Each of you have done this too.”

He’s right. His words made me start to remember stories of people who I touched – and who touched me. For example – I noticed a young girl with purple hair in the balcony one Sunday.  After worship she came up to  me – and then I knew her right away. She said, “Remember me?” and then quickly shared her story, gave me a hug and was on her way. We don’t always know what happens after we sow seeds. Sometimes we don’t even realize that we have sown seeds -- the seeds just fall through the holes in our pockets. But we do know this: God is the one who gives the growth.

God is the one who gives the growth. And who is the one that plants? It’s not only pastors and those of us in “church roles,” that sow seeds.  Remember Jesus’ parable: it was the pesty mustard bush that was providing shelter and the sower who threw seeds with abandon that planted the seeds.

So now I am looking at you and saying: You have been sowing seeds too. Sometimes you throw them intentionally and at other times, it is your presence, your words of encouragement, your acts of kindness and care that brings hope and plants seeds of faith. After all… you have a hole in your pocket that the love of God falls through.

Over the last few weeks we’ve been going to some graduation parties – and hosted one last week. It was heartwarming to see people from different parts of our lives gathered together on a rainy summer day – relatives, friends, scouts, neighbors, teachers and our church family. It was wonderful to reflect on how those people – and many others who could not make it – have been planting seeds of faith, hope, encouragement and joy in me and in our family.

But while God commissions us to plant seeds – Jesus’ story reminds us that it is God who gives the growth. How God does it is a mystery. The Holy Spirit blows like the wind.  We don’t need to know how – all we need to do is to give thanks.

Brothers and sisters in Christ,

May you plant seeds of faith through your acts of love, joy and encouragement and may the holes in your pocket leave love and joy behind – trusting that God will give the growth in ways that we cannot even imagine. In Jesus’ name. Amen

Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane                                                                                                            Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church

June 17, 2018

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Blizzard Worship

Blizzard Worship  (Shared by Pastor Stephanie Espanoza)

Blizzard Worship

It may be snowy and cold outside, but God warms our hearts! Worship at home by following the guide below... 

Blizzard Prayer

O God, our heavenly Father, whose glory fills the whole creation from heaven to earth and whose presence we find wherever we go: Watch over those who travel through snow and on ice; surround them with your loving care; protect them from every danger; and bring them safely home to those who love them; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Blizzard Scripture

Psalm 51:6-7

Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts,
And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Proverbs 25: 11-13

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold
In settings of silver.

Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold
Is a wise rebuker to an obedient ear.

Like the cold of snow in time of harvest
Is a faithful messenger to those who send him,
For he refreshes the soul of his masters.

Proverbs 31:20-21

She extends her hand to the poor,
Yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy.

She is not afraid of snow for her household,
For all her household is clothed with scarlet.

Isaiah 1:18

Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

Mark 9:2-4

Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them. And Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.

Blizzard of Generosity

Even if we don't worship in our church building this week, ministry still continues and your ongoing generosity is needed. Please consider give offering this week by mailing it to the office. Wouldn't it be awesome if we had a Blizzard of Generosity stronger than the blizzard happening outside right now? Send your offerings along with the snowflakes!

Blizzard Songs

Help pass the time during the blizzard by singing a snow song:
Let It Go
Let it Snow
Little Snowflake (Great for small kids!)
Walking in the Winter Wonderland
Vintage Winter Songs

Kindness Blizzard

While you are stuck inside make snowflakes out of white paper, lots of snowflakes! On each snowflake, write a special message on it to spread kindness, inspiration, gratitude and the love of Jesus! Give a snowflake with a message on it to a friend, tape one on a neighbor's door, put it in your child's backpack, be creative! See if you can make a kindness blizzard by sharing lots and lots of snowflakes with people all around you! 

 

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Pay Attention

(See Scripture below)

Pay Attention! This is what one of our youth did one year when she was teaching Vacation Bible school to a room of squirrelly kids. And it worked! She got their attention. In our Gospel, Jesus gets the attention of the scribes, Pharisees and everyone else when he literally upends everything in the temple, chases sheep and cattle out into the street, tips over the money box and disrupts everything.

This story is in all four Gospels, but Matthew, Mark and Luke tell it differently. Those three Gospels, called the synoptic Gospels, tell the story of Jesus in a more chronological way and place the cleansing of the temple quite close to the stories of holy week. In those Gospels, Jesus disrupts the market, points out the latent corruption and injustice and calls the temple a “den of thieves,” infuriating the religious authorities which leads to their desire to kill Jesus.

But in the Gospel of John, this story is told in the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry – chapter 2, right after Jesus has turned water into wine and begun his healing ministry. In this telling of the story, Jesus is also upending the money tables, chasing out the sheep and cattle and people selling doves. But rather than just telling the story, John tells us that the disciples --after the resurrection – looked back on what Jesus was doing in the temple and were able to see how their own scripture – Hebrew scriptures, our Old Testament – foretold it. The scripture they quote, “zeal (which means enthusiastic love, devotion and fervor) for your house will consume me” is from Psalm 69. And they understand that Jesus is quoting the prophet Zechariah (14:20-21) who decries the use of the temple as a marketplace.1 WorkingPreacher2009  Sarah Henrich John2:13-22

John also provides a narrator to help his first readers and now us, to understand Jesus’ message. Scholars believe the Gospel of John was written around 90 CE – that’s about 60 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus and about twenty years after the Roman military destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. 2 Dr. Craig Koester EntertheBible.org

People love their church buildings.  We care for this building, Faith-Lilac Way, as a place where we hear God’s word, baptize our children, attend weddings and funerals and share bread and wine in Christian community. People give money to care for this place as a beautiful testimony to God. And this is true for most congregations and their houses of worship.

But the temple – the temple wasn’t just a house of worship for one congregation. It was a holy place for all of Israel. It was also the only place where sacrifices were done. People traveled for days – on foot – to worship there. They believed it was the place where God lived. And, at the time the Gospel of John was written, people were still trying to figure out how God the almighty, God, King of heaven and earth, the God of power and might–could allow His own house to be destroyed.

In this story, Jesus is saying, “Pay Attention.” The temple of God is not in the blocks of stone in this place but in me. He says to the religious leaders, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." That was both crazy talk and blasphemy to the religious leaders. Destroy the temple – the holiest of holies? Unthinkable! Rebuild in 3 days what has taken 46 long years to build? Ridiculous! Neither the religious leaders nor his disciples at the time could understand that Jesus was making a prophecy of his own death and resurrection. To make sure that we understand, John’s narrator says as if in a stage whisper, “Jesus was speaking of the temple of his body.” But, for the disciples, it was only after the resurrection that they were able to look back, reflect and re-interpret both the role of the temple and this story in light of the resurrection of Jesus.

The disciples in John’s gospel give us a model for how to understand our changing world in light of Jesus and God’s mission for the world. Because of Jesus’ resurrection – that wasn’t at all what they thought the messiah would be or do, they needed to reflect and re-interpret what they had been taught their whole lives. And so do we. We need to continually ask, “What is God up to in our lives and in our world and how can we be a part of it?”

As Lutherans, we read and reflect upon the Word of God for direction and guidance for our lives. We believe the Word of God is: Scripture – the Bible; the Word of God is Jesus and the Word of God is proclaimed by us in word and deed.

Most people first think about the Bible when we talk about the Word of God. Today, we read three passages in Scripture – the 10 commandments in Exodus, one of Paul’s letters and a passage from the Gospel of John.  These scriptures are read together because together, they deepen our reflection on the Word of God. 

Jesus’ incarnation – that is, coming to earth as God with flesh on --and Jesus’ death and resurrection transformed the disciples’ and our understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures, our “Old Testament”. But while we call it the “Old” Testament, it still speaks to us today. The difference is that we read it through a cross-shaped lens. Martin Luther said that every word of the Bible must be read through the cross, through our understanding of the Good News of Jesus’ love. Luther called scripture the cradle that held Christ and if a word or passage doesn’t proclaim Christ, he called it straw.

There are passages in the Bible that don’t reflect the cross of Christ. For example, in Psalm 137 we read, “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” This comes in the midst of a lament psalm that grieves the loss of their own children in war and speaks out of anger and revenge. This passage doesn’t proclaim Christ. Nor do other passages that speak of cultural traditions and norms. Instead of focusing on those passages, we look to the places where we see Christ proclaimed.  

The Word of God is Scripture, Jesus and the proclaimed Word. We don’t always recognize or acknowledge the proclaimed Word of God. But we do proclaim God’s Word in preaching, in study and in our daily lives. And it is to this “Proclaimed Word of God” that we, as disciples, followers of Jesus need to make certain that we “Pay Attention!” We need to pay attention because this is our witness to Christ.

Jesus gave us three ways to proclaim Christ in our daily lives: 1) Love God; 2) Love your neighbor; 3) Love yourself. First: Love God by paying attention to God through worship – which you are doing; through prayer; through including time for reflection, to listen to God. The first three commandments in our lesson from Exodus speak this: Remember that God, the great IAM is God, nothing else.

Jesus’ second commandment teaches us to love our neighbor. We do this through both words and actions. Martin Luther’s catechism is a great example of interpreting scripture through the lens of Christ. For example, he extends the commandment to not murder to helping your neighbor rather than just refraining from killing him or her.

Finally, when Jesus says, love your neighbor as yourself, he is also telling you to love yourself. God does. So we need to be gentle in the words we speak to ourselves. Stop beating yourself up when you make a mistake. Instead, confess it to God. If you hurt a neighbor, ask for their forgiveness too. And then… once you have received God’s forgiveness – forgive yourself too.

God is continuing to act in our world. God is doing something new here and now. So “Pay Attention!” God’s work is not done and God is calling you and me to be a part of sharing God’s love with our friends, family and the world.  Amen.

John 2:13-22  13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me." 18 The Jews then said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" 19 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." 20 The Jews then said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?" 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken

 

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I am the Gate. I am the Door

I Am the Gate. I am the Door.

Jesus said: “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.  The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them.  I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. The Good News of our Lord

Knock Knock. "Who's there?” That is a very good question because the answer - if this is a real door and not just a knock knock joke - may determine whether or not you open the door.

We use doors all the time. Just think: how many doors did you go through in order to get here tonight? Starting with the door of your house, you maybe then went through a garage door, a car door, drove here and then went through the car door again, the outside church door, the narthex door and then the sanctuary door before you could sit down in a pew. If you went to school or work or a store or the soup supper after leaving your house and coming here you went through even more doors. Doors provide access.  Sometimes we put locks or use passwords or codes on our garages or computers or lockers at school because we want to control access.

 

Jesus, living in a rural community, used the image of the gate of sheep pen. The purpose of the door - or the gate — of the sheep pen is to keep robbers, thieves and predators out, and to care for and protect the sheep.

 

Gates and doors - in Greek and Hebrew it’s the same word. All of Jesus’ listeners could understand the importance of the gate to protect the sheep and… if you’ve ever accidentally left a door open and a cat or dog got out… you too can relate to the importance of the gate. But Jesus isn't just giving good advice. He’s using what John’s gospel calls it a "figure of speech." Throughout the Gospel, Jesus uses ordinary examples to teach a bigger point.

 

In this case, he is using the story of the sheep and the gate to help his disciples and us learn from a blind man.

 

Remember this story? Jesus heals a blind man by spitting on the ground, making a mud paste, putting it on his eyes and sending him to the pool to wash it off.  The man, with sight restored, comes home - but his neighbors don't believe it is him. They ask how it happened - he tells them. They still don't believe him and so they ask the to investigate. The Pharisees  question him. He tells them what happened but they don't believe him either. So they ask his parents. The parents are afraid to answer. The leaders had already told them that anyone who acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. So they said - ask him. The Pharisees go back to the man who used to be blind and asked him again. Frustrated, the formerly blind man says, "All I know is this: I was blind but now I see." They keep questioning him but he finally says, "Look. You don't know where he came from but he opened my eyes. If this man were not from God he could do nothing!!"  Enraged at the formerly blind man's words, the Pharisees threw him out of the temple.

 

 

 

The Pharisees threw him out the door. Denied him access to the Lord's house.  As a man blind from birth - it was assumed by everyone in the culture that SOMEONE - his parents or he - had sinned. That was their explanation for his blindness. And so he had never been allowed in the sanctuary. He was "unclean" - which meant "not worthy."  So after Jesus healed him, he should have been allowed to enter. He should have been welcomed into the community with open arms. But instead... They threw him out...again.

 

I'd like to be able to say that such a move - excluding sinners and judging who is or who is not worthy - is just something that Pharisees did in Jesus' day.  But...that wouldn't be true.

 

Just about every church fight, every church fracture has something to do with the question of who is worthy.  Who is allowed in the gate, the door.... And who is not? Who can speak? Who can vote? Who can preside? Who can partake of the wine and bread? Who can be part of the body of Christ?

 

Over the last month I've been using an online tool called Indeed to generate candidates for the Communications/Administrative position.  We got quite a few responses, some highly qualified whom I contacted with an invitation to further conversation and others whose gifts didn't quite match up and so I sent them a polite rejection note indicating that while they had many gifts and skill, they weren't the ones we were hiring for at this time. Most people who use a service like this scatter their net - and their applications -- widely and so don't take a polite rejection personally. But one man.... I'll call him Bob, sent me back a scathing email asking why I dared to be a pastor - and citing various (and somewhat unrelated) scriptures. I haven't been challenged as unworthy to be a pastor for quite a while now. But it reminded me of just how exclusive we can be. I thought about responding - either to him or to the group of people that he copied. But I didn't. He wasn't open to hearing that God had made a way for people like me to serve. He wasn't open to hearing about how Jesus commissioned Mary Magdalene at the tomb, telling her to "Go and tell."

 

Although it was tempting to respond, I decided to take the high road. He did not have ears to hear me.  So I reminded myself that Bob was not the one who got to decide my call -- or anyone else's. Jesus said, "I am the door. I am the gate." It is Jesus who people must go through. So often, our squabbles in the church is about who gets to decide who is "in" and who is out."  But it's not my job - or yours. Jesus is the door. Jesus is the gate.

 

Who does Jesus welcome? It's not just the ones that you would expect. I sit on the candidacy committee of the synod and I get to hear people's call stories - and how people have welcomed them... Or not. Some of them are people like Vicar Joe. He's immensely likable- and has good theology too.  But others are less traditional - a Latino man,  a retired woman, a gay African man, a pregnant woman. After hearing all these call stories - and more. They had one thing in common: they loved Jesus - and Jesus loves and welcomes and calls them. Jesus welcomes all sorts of people; He even welcomes people who are afraid — like the disciples.

 

They were afraid. They had heard that Jesus' was alive - but they didn't know what to think or do.  Did they even dare to believe it? Sounded like crazy talk…. besides… it came from the women. They barricaded themselves together in a room and locked the doors and barred the gates - because they were afraid. And yet... Jesus appeared to them. You see, nothing can keep Jesus out because Jesus is the door, Jesus is the gate.

Jesus has come that we — all of God’s children — may have life and have it abundantly.

Knock. Knock. Who's there? Check the door. It might be Jesus. Thanks be to God!

 

 

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The Way of Jesus is the Way of the Cross

The ways of God are different from the ways of the world.

In the prophet Isaiah we read, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8,9).

The ways of God are different from our ways; Jesus calls us to follow God’s way.

But it isn’t easy. It wasn’t easy for Peter. Imagine, the disciples had been following Jesus, listening to his every word. And then…Peter “got it”. This was the Messiah – the one that the people of God had been waiting for – here he was! The Messiah would heal the lame and the blind. Jesus did that. The Messiah would teach with authority. Jesus did that.  The Messiah would lead the people.   Peter and the rest of the disciples assumed that this was Jesus’ next move – to stage a revolution and become king.  They had been taught in their Bible, the Hebrew Scriptures – the Old Testament of our Bible -- said that the Messiah would come and lead them into Glory!   They had big hopes for the future. Now was their time!

But they forgot that, “The ways of God are different from the ways of the world.”

So when Jesus talked about suffering, rejection, death – crucifixion even, it was perhaps understandable that the disciples were confused and dismayed. We know the end of the story. With 20/20 hindsight – we can see just how different the way of Jesus is from the expectations of the disciples.

Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that there is a healing story of a blind person on either side of this scripture. The disciples were blind too. All they could know was what they had been taught from Moses, the scribes and Pharisees and the scriptures. And it all pointed to the Messiah as a kingly leader.

Peter dared to speak out. Maybe he thought he was encouraging Jesus. Maybe he thought that since he had gotten the Messiah question right, Jesus might listen to him and start acting like a Messiah.  But Jesus says, “Get behind me Satan!” Those are hard words but Jesus made it abundantly clear – God’s way is not the way of glory and power and might.

Instead of glory, Jesus invites his disciples – and that includes us -- to a life of discipleship: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Although sometimes I hear people wish that they could have seen Jesus face to face, I think we have the distinct advantage of living after the resurrection.  With 20/20 hindsight we can hear of Jesus’ suffering and death but  with the knowledge that three days later, Jesus rose from the dead.  We get to hear the story that God has done a new thing in the resurrection of Jesus.

After the resurrection, two of Jesus’ followers walking to Emmaus were looking back and recounting all that Jesus did. But they were still blind to his presence until Jesus came, explained the scriptures and broke bread with them.  Then they were able to see that God’s way is a new way, a way of surprising Grace.  It was only after their eyes were opened that they were able to go back to Jerusalem to tell their story. And so it has been throughout history.

Discipleship is about following Jesus. Discipleship is not about glory. It is about service. It is about following Jesus’ two commands: Love God and love your neighbor as Jesus loves you.

So how do we do this?  It’s tempting to tell stories of amazing people like Mother Theresa who served lepers in Calcutta or Dr. Martin Luther King who loved God and loved his neighbor so much that he led non-violent marches to shed Christ’s light on the injustice to the African American people. Or of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoffer who was sent to a prison camp and hanged for his efforts to stop Hitler. These are inspiring people.

But Jesus doesn’t just call the most inspiring of God’s children into discipleship. Jesus is calls ALL of God’s children into discipleship and that includes you and me. But, even with our 20/20 hindsight, moving forward as disciples of Jesus still isn’t easy because God’s way is still not the way of the world – and we live in the world.

In fact, we live in a broken world. The school shooting in Florida on Ash Wednesday in which seventeen high schoolers, teachers, coaches – innocent people all – shot by a kid who was kicked out of school is just the latest example. There’s been at least six others, plus accidental shootings, one or two suicides and the list goes on. And this is just since the beginning of the year. It’s easy to get discouraged about the world we live in. My heart breaks.  

How are we, as followers of Jesus, to respond?

The high schoolers are demanding change. Their cry is: Never Again. And who can blame them? They want the deaths of their friends, teachers and coaches to not be just one more statistic in a long line of tragic deaths. But, once again, people are divided in pretty predictable ways.

Of course we can begin with prayer. Pray for those in Parkland Florida, those in Columbine and Sandy Hook and all of the other places who are reliving their horrible story once again. We can pray for our legislators, for those who want to make changes – and that the changes make a difference.  We can pray for less violence.

We can listen to those who are hurting. We live in a really small world and it doesn’t take much to make a connection with someone from Parkland, Florida or the surrounding area. And then we can engage locally with our schools and our legislators.  For we are called to care for our neighbor.

The gun violence that is killing students is just one area of need, one area in which our broken world needs love and care. There are others –the hungry, the lonely, the immigrant and the disabled…just to name a few.

The list is long and the needs are great. Jesus calls us to follow, to pick up our cross, to serve others, to love God and our neighbor. And… sometimes the needs seem more than a little overwhelming. But… in the midst of it… God is with us. And God calls us to not sit by and watch – but to engage.

For when the way seems tough and we get discouraged, then we are reminded of the words of Isaiah, God says, “.. my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, … For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  And God makes a way…where there was no way… and God softens hard hearts and God opens the mouth of youth to speak and God opens possibilities where there were no possibilities…  For NOTHING is impossible for God. Thanks be to God. Amen.


Mark 8: 31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."

 

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Baptism of our Lord Sunday

Beginnings – I like beginnings. Beginnings are full of hope, wonder and promise. A new year 2018 has begun – not so long ago. What do you hope for in this new year? What do you wonder about? What have you promised to do or to be? Maybe in the spirit of this newness some of you made New Year’s resolutions, hoping and promising yourself to start or make something or become a better you. Don’t worry - I'm not going to ask how you are doing on those New Year resolutions.

Today’s lessons are about God beginning something new. In the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, a book whose very name means “Beginning,” we read: “In the Beginning…” In the beginning, God spoke a word into the darkness, into the void and said, “Let there be light” and there was “Light”. With those words, creation begins.

This year we are following the Gospel of Mark. The first verse literally proclaims: “beginning the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God!” But, unlike the Gospels of Luke and Matthew in which we hear the story of Jesus as a baby, Mark begins with Jesus as a young man, going to be baptized by John.

John - John the Baptist – was doing a new thing. Dressed in all natural materials – camel’s hair and leather – and eating locusts and wild honey – John must have been a wonder to behold. But John didn’t leave people wondering for long. He called people to repentance – to change - to make not just a New Year’s resolution but to make a transformation of their life, to be made new so that they would be prepared, be ready for the One who was coming into the world. John washed them clean with water so that they could wash off their old ways and begin again. But John says: this is just the beginning. I baptize you with water but the One is coming who “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

John knew that he could wash people clean and they could leave with good intentions – and maybe those good intentions would stick. But, they might not.

I went to the gym on New Years day – and it was FULL…. I didn’t ask.. but it looked like a lot of people made New Years Resolutions. The next week…the gym was back to being pretty empty with only a couple of people there. We have good intentions – myself included – but sometimes… good intentions aren’t enough. Good intentions don’t get the job done.

John preached the need for people to repent, to literally turn themselves and their lives around. His was a baptism of repentance… a reminder that people have not lived up to being the people God made them to be… and a reminder that they could act better.

According to Mark’s Gospel, Jesus comes to the Jordan to be baptized too. But when Jesus is baptized, God does something new. The heavens are opened and a dove – the sign of the Holy Spirit – comes down and God’s voice proclaims: “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.”

This is a new beginning. This is an epiphany – a revealing of God in Christ Jesus. God makes it known – no need to wonder - God knows Jesus, claims Jesus as God’s child and loves Jesus, calling him, “my beloved son.”

Today, you will be witnesses of a new beginning as Louie is baptized. You will hear Louie called by name. You will hear Louie claimed as a child of God. And you will hear that God loves Louie as a beloved son of God.

You are witnesses. But not only witnesses. You are also brothers and sisters of Louie – and of Jesus Christ. For, you too are God’s beloved child. You too have been washed clean – not with John’s baptism of repentance so that you can try to make yourself better but with the baptism of Jesus Christ in which God names you, claims you and loves you – no matter what.

This doesn’t mean that we are suddenly perfect. No, we still need repentance. We still fall short of living up to being the people that God made us to be – and that is why we begin our worship with confession and forgiveness. But we also know that we are forgiven and that we are named and claimed and loved by God – even if we break our New Years resolutions in record time.

Once during a children’s sermon about baptism, I told the children about the cross that was put on their foreheads, and that the cross would last forever. A little boy looked at me and said, “Can you see mine?” I told him – we cannot see it – but God sees it always.

I heard a story once about Karl Barth, a renowned German theologian whose writings are complex and not easy to understand. He was asked by a student, “what is the most import thing you have learned?” The student waited – and others gathered around pencils at the ready to take down his words of wisdom. But Barth apparently paused for a moment and then looked at this eager student and said, “Jesus loves me, this I know.”

If you remember one thing from this morning, remember this: Jesus loves me, this I know. Parents and godparents of Louie – teach him this: Jesus loves him. There are no if only he does this.. or if only he says that... No. Jesus loves him. There is nothing that can change Jesus’ love for Louie – or for you.

There’s even a song – a song that I am guessing most of you know: “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.”

I heard a variation on youtube that I really liked because it lifts up a second truth. The song begins “Jesus loves me this I know.” But the second line is: “Jesus knows me, this I love. “

Jesus knows me. Jesus knows you.

Jesus knows that all of your - and my -- good intentions do not come to fruition. Jesus knows that we sometimes mess up. We say things we shouldn’t. We do things we regret. We hurt one another – and ourselves. Jesus knows. And loves you anyway…

"Jesus loves me; this I know. Jesus knows me, this I love."

So… if you can only remember one thing, remember:

Jesus loves me this I know..

And if you can, expand it to include the second line: Jesus knows me this I love.

But if you can remember one more thing, remember that you are a part of the family of God. When you are baptized, it’s not just you and Jesus – no it’s you and the whole family of God.

And this is a good thing! For as the Family of God, we pray for one another, we care for one another, we show up for one another. When Louie is baptized, his parents and Godparents will stand up and make promises to him and to God to raise him to know and love Jesus. But they are not the only one making promises.

We ask the whole congregation to respond when asked the question, will you love and care for this newly baptized child of God? And the congregation does. We love and care for one another because we are God’s family – together. Amen.

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EPIPHANY! JOY!

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EPIPHANY! JOY!

It’s coming! It’s coming here! It was all over the general media and the web. A solar eclipse would be over the US, summer of 2017 and scientists – and lots of other people – were going wild with excitement.

We were on vacation the week before – backpacking in the wilderness of Montana – and it would be a 12 hour drive to get to the “zone” – where---for 2 and a half minutes --- we could watch the moon block out the light of the sun… as long as no clouds came overhead. Sounded a bit crazy… so of course we had to go.

There had been so much buzz in Wyoming about the eclipse – and some of the locals were not excited about being over-run with people from “outside”. News media warned about police patrolling the highways – and fining anyone who stopped along the roadside. Others worried about a shortage of gasoline in the sparsely populated parts of the state that were going to be over-run by hoards of people. Scanning the websites of the various small towns -- we didn’t think we could handle a big city whoopla after our wilderness trek – we found a small town, Shoshoni. It was on the outskirts of an Indian reservation. It’s website simply said, “Come to Shoshoni. You’ll be welcome here.” We decided to check it out.

We hadn’t made reservations soon enough so none of the nearby small towns in the “zone” had any room left in the inn. Even the parks – both Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons and local campgrounds were full. Finally, I ended up making a reservation at an overpriced motel at what they said was the last room in Cody. We made plans to get up at 4:30 to make the journey… not knowing what we would find.

4:30AM came early. But, we climbed into our car… got some gas at the local gas station and helped some people from England navigate the gas pumps. We then joined a trickle of headlights on a canyon road seeking a place to see our big star, our sun, go dark for two and a half minutes.

We were seekers. We had been told what we would see – and yet… we wanted to see it ourselves.

Perhaps that’s what the astronomers of ancient days – we call them magi – or wisemen were wanting too. They knew the night sky. They had studied it. So when they saw a big new star in the sky, to them it signaled something new – the birth of a new king. And they wanted to see it themselves.

Although many legends and stories have been told about the wisemen -- we don’t know much about them. The only report we have is this one from Matthew. They travelled a great distance – probably at considerable expense. And while they had no guarantee of finding what they sought, they persisted. They asked for help from one that they assumed would know, King Herod. They asked: "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” Herod didn’t know – and instead became anxious. But, perhaps because he was curious, or perhaps because he did not want to appear ignorant, he sought help from the religious leaders of the day.

Bethlehem, they said. According to scripture, the king was to be born in Bethlehem.

Bethlehem is only about five miles from Jerusalem. But even today, it is small by comparison. At that time, it was a pretty small place – not a place that one would guess would be the birthplace of a king. And yet… they headed that way.

Traveling the canyon road from Cody to Shoshoni Wyoming, the scenery was magnificent. Following the lights of the line of cars in front of us, we made our way up and down deep valleys and around wind-swept red rock mountains. We were tempted to stop. But all the food we had left were some energy bars and snacks that no one could stand the sight of anymore after eating variations of them for the past week. So we pushed on to Shoshoni.

Shoshoni was in a flat dry area away from the riverbed. The town’s Main street was also the county road in and out of that town. Half of the stores were boarded up. It looked pretty bleak and desolate. But there were handmade signs pointing towards “Free Eclipse Parking.” We followed the signs. The town was ready. There was a tiny community park with satellite bathrooms– and one small old drive-in with a flashing sign: Welcome Eclipse watchers!

We parked our car in a still almost empty field by the park. There were others there too – but nothing like what we had imagined. We went to find some food at the drive-in. The owner, a middle-aged Native woman, her daughters and her mother were all behind the counter. She welcomed us with an eager voice, “What can I get you?” We’ve got… and then she went into a list of all of the special items she had prepared for this day. We ordered, but she kept on going…make sure you come back. They said there would be lots of people so I’ve ordered tons of food, I’ve got my sons and grandsons and uncles in the back making pancakes and frying ribs… we’ve got Bar-be-que and smoothies and..” she kept going.

My heart went out to her. She sounded as if she had risked her future on this day. And, at that point, there weren’t many of us in that little half-ghost town. I promised we would be back to pick up lunch after the eclipse.

After the reception they got in Jerusalem, the wisemen could have gotten discouraged. After all, no one there seemed to think that a new king had been born. But they continued on. And… outside the gleam of the city of Jerusalem, they followed the star again… When it stopped…they were full of joy. They were just where they were supposed to be.

As for my family… we settled into our spot with camp chairs and our special eclipse viewing glasses and waited. And as we waited, more and more cars came. People came from the surrounding area – and from far away both East and West. People started to greet one another, asking “where are you from?” and a community began to be formed – gathered to witness this one astronomical event.

It seemed we waited for a long time. But then, suddenly, we noticed that it was getting colder… and darker. The moon was beginning to cover the sun. We put on our eclipse glasses to watch. The birds began to sing and it was twilight… we looked and the colors of the sunset surrounded us in every direction…a complete 360 degrees. A hush came over the people and then a cry… “look!” But it was dark.

We took off our glasses and we could see the outline of the sun. The light of the corona danced around the edges of the moon and filled me with inexplicable and yet indescribable joy. It was beautiful.

Epiphany. Epiphany means: the revealing of God in Jesus Christ. The first epiphany happened when the wisemen followed the star. And when it stopped, they were filled with joy. They responded by worshipping Christ and leaving kingly gifts.

That Epiphany was unique. And yet…God in Jesus continues to be revealed to us. I felt the wonder of God’s presence in the light of the eclipse of the sun. It filled me with awe and wonder. But I also felt God’s presence in what happened afterwards.

We went back to the driveway – and people were lined up to support the woman running the little drive- through. It was the most expensive meal that we bought on that trip – but I was happy to do it. It seemed right to support this woman and her family.

As we drove back through the town, I noticed there was much need of help in that little town…and opportunities to do so. But we couldn’t stay… Like the wisemen, we had a long journey home ahead of us. But.. we were filled with joy. This little Epiphany reminded me that God continues to reveal God’s self in creation and in our neighbor. And so as we left. I felt filled up with beauty and light and life… and ready to go home to serve our neighbor here.

May God fill you with joy – for Christ has come! And may your cup be filled with little Epiphanies so that you can joyfully serve Christ in your neighbor. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Photo by Justin Dickey on Unsplash

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Take My Hand: Together we will follow the light of Christ

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Take My Hand: Together we will follow the light of Christ

The Christmas Story - Luke 2:1-20

Have you ever been in a really dark place – maybe the power went out in a storm one night or you were out in the countryside on a cloudy night…it can get really dark. And because we are so accustomed to light of some sort always being on –your phone, your clock or radio, outside street lights– it can be really disorienting when all the lights go out and it is completely dark.

That’s how Gary Finnigan felt when he was in the underground subway concourse between the Twin Towers on 9/11/2001. Gary had been working as an undercover transit policeman and was walking past a brightly lit gift shop when the plane hit the first tower. He heard a low rumble that turned into a constant explosion. As the buildings came down, everything underground went dark. Completely black. The air filled with smoke and dust and the walls began to crumble.

There was rubble – everywhere. Gary could hear people crying out for help – but he couldn’t see them. Even though he was a trained policeman, Gary felt helpless. He had none of his equipment on him – and he had lost all sense of direction… He didn’t know which way to go or even which way was up. He – and the others were all caught in the rubble, dust and darkness underneath a crumbling tower. They were…in a word… stuck.

It was probably only a few minutes… but it seemed like forever when a beam of light shone on him and a voice called: “Take my hand.”

You would have thought that his first impulse would be to grab the hand and go but Gary said, “Wait, there are more” and he reached out his hand in the darkness and said, “Take my hand… there’s someone who can lead us out”. Someone grabbed his hand and called out the same message… “Take my hand”. The message continued… “Take my hand”… there’s someone to lead us out… “take my hand”.

Finally…the man with the light whose hand he was grasping tightly…began to move…slowly, carefully and with him, a long line of people were led out of darkness into light.

Gary Finnegan said that they counted when they got out: 36 people had held hands and followed the man with the light out of the darkness and into the light that morning.

When I heard this story, it reminded me very much of what the prophet Isaiah said to God’s people thousands of years ago when they were in the darkness of exile, wondering if God had forgotten them, and feeling very “stuck.” Into that darkness and despair Isaiah proclaimed, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.”

At the time, it was a bold prophecy, a promise for the future. But that promise has come true!

Friends, just as the angels – God’s good news messengers -- proclaimed to the shepherds, tonight, let me proclaim to you: Jesus Christ is the Light of the World. Jesus, the one whose birth we celebrate tonight, is the light that shines in the darkness. Jesus is the one who calls to you and to me: take my hand. Jesus leads us from death to life.

Gary Finnegan’s story illustrates it well. Gary saw the light, heard the voice and grasped the hand… and then called out to those who were behind him. And that’s all it took to lead 36 people out of darkness and death into light and life. Gary later recalled that when he turned to thank the man with the flashlight… he was gone. He never knew his name or saw his face.

You can try to explain it some other way, but that’s how I believe Jesus works. Jesus, the light of the world – shines a light into our deepest darkness – and then uses ordinary people like a man with a flashlight and Gary and people like you and me… to encourage one another, to hold one another’s hand, to follow the light.

And we need the encouragement because it is really easy for us – for you and me -- to get stuck in the darkness. There is much darkness in our world over which we can be filled with despair, sorrow or fear – global concerns about our environment, war, terror, hunger, fires and earthquakes. And then there are the pains and sorrows that hit closer to home: family and friends who are sick, dying, in trouble or somehow in need of help. It can be overwhelming. It’s easy to feel “stuck.”

But… again.. it is into the darkness of our lives, into those places where we feel “stuck” that Jesus shines a light and calls out to you and to me: take my hand.

Take my hand. You see God did not come into our world as superhero with light shooting from his palms or as a cosmic bolt of lighting or even in the wonder of an eclipse… God came into our world as a baby…a vulnerable human baby – like us. And because Jesus came as one of us… he can call to you and me and offer his hand and lead you and me out of darkness and death into light and life.

The prophet Isaiah called the coming Savior “Emmanuel” which means “God-With-Us.” God sent Jesus to us to be God-With-Us so that we would know that we would never be alone. Even in the darkest moments of our lives, even in the dreariest places, we find Jesus Emmanuel is with us, Jesus who is the light of the world.

Jesus is shining a light on you… and calling out to you… “Take my hand.”

The invitation is “for you.” Receive Jesus’ offer as a gift because living with the light is so much better and brighter than remaining “stuck” in darkness and despair or trying to somehow get “unstuck” on your own. We all need a hand. Jesus offers us the gift of a light to see, a hand to grasp and a savior to follow. This gift is given “for you.” There are no strings attached. It’s free – and it’s “for you.”

But maybe… you will choose to respond as Gary did and turn to another and say… there is someone with the light who can lead us to life and light… take my hand….and she can say to the next person…take my hand… and he can say… take my hand… and so on… so that together… we can follow the one who is the Light of the World, Jesus Christ. Together, we can become bearers of the light of Christ – letting Christ’s love and light shine for all to see.

Amen.

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