Anything But Ordinary

Sunday, May 29, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Luke 7:1-10

 

When we hear the word ordinary, what do we usually think? Plain, simple, common, normal. The dictionary describes ordinary as “of no special quality or interest, commonplace, unexceptional, and somewhat inferior.” Ordinary is therefore a word that doesn’t leave us feeling great. We don’t want to be just ordinary and we don’t want our time to be ordinary. Our calendars are highlighted with days that are extraordinary – holidays, vacations, and celebrations.

The Christian church’s calendar, called the liturgical calendar, highlights special seasons of the church year – Advent, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and other church festivals – and each has colors associated with them. After Pentecost now, and Trinity Sunday, we now are in the season of the church year after Pentecost known as Ordinary Time. This ordinary time will extend all the way through to the season of Advent. The color associated with it is green to symbolize new life and growth. It’s the time that we as a church devote to growing in our faith. But you might wonder why on earth we call it ordinary time? Couldn’t we have come up with a better name than that? But rather than meaning common or mundane, the word ordinary in the church calendar comes from the Latin word ordinal or counted time – the first Sunday after Pentecost, the second Sunday after Pentecost, etc., all the way to the 26th Sunday after Pentecost and then Christ the King Sunday, and the beginning of Advent in November. Ordinary time in the church is a different way to count time. It’s a period where we have an opportunity to focus on growing in our faith and looking at things differently than we ordinarily do. It’s a time of renewal, which we as a congregation have committed to do.

The story from our gospel reading today is a perfect example of what happens on an ordinary day. Jesus had just finished a time of preaching to the crowds. More and more people were hearing about Jesus. They were talking about what he was saying. They were telling their friends the healings that happened because of him. Everyone was talking about Jesus. By the time he got to the town of Capernaum, a beautiful fishing village on the north shore of the sea of Galilee even the people there had heard of Jesus. So this ordinary walk of traveling to Capernaum was anything but ordinary for Jesus. The words he spoke were touching people’s hearts in profound ways. His words were making them think about life differently. They were thinking about people differently. Jesus told people that God’s kingdom was for everyone. He said everyone was our neighbor. He told them love was greater than the law; love was the greatest commandment. Jesus’ words and Jesus’ touch healed people. His words and his touch were anything but ordinary.

And that’s what one Roman centurion soldier realized when he heard about Jesus. This soldier was an important figure in the Roman military. He was responsible for the training and discipline of many men under his command. He gave out orders and expected them carried out. This centurion set the standard for worthiness. It would seem then that this centurion was quite worthy of respect. He was different than a lot of the soldiers. He valued the servant he had. This centurion cared about this individual, and now the servant was gravely sick and needed healing. The servant, to him, seemed worthy of healing.

So the centurion told the Jewish elders to speak to Jesus on his behalf and they did. They respected this centurion because they were allowed to practice their religion and he even built their synagogue. These elders went to Jesus and spoke up for the centurion saying he was worthy of having Jesus heal his servant.And Jesus went to the centurion’s house. But when the centurion saw him he asked his friends to deliver a message to Jesus. Only the message was not that he was worthy, but that he was unworthy. “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.” The centurion who commanded authority heard the kind of authority and power Jesus had and recognized his own unworthiness compared to Jesus.

It was the hearing of the Jesus’ words that changed the centurion’s heart to recognize Jesus and it was hearing the centurion’s faith that amazed Jesus. That’s what faith does. It changes, it amazes, it transforms.It doesn’t merely believe based on what we see, but on the hearing of God’s word. Words when mixed with the divine heal people and they are no longer ordinary. Water when mixed with God’s word is anything but ordinary water. Bread and wine mixed with God’s word is anything but ordinary bread and wine. The words of forgiveness and love we speak to each other when mixed with the power of the Holy Spirit are anything but ordinary words. They are the words of faith that give hope and healing.

Standing in the place where your home once stood, but is now destroyed from a tornado and saying “only say the word and I shall be healed” is a living faith. Watching fire destroy your house or your loved ones and saying, “only say the word and I shall be healed” is a living faith. Losing your job yet believing that God will provide a way and saying, “only say the word and I shall be healed” is a living faith. Experiencing any kind of loss or disappointment and saying, “only say the word and I shall be healed” is a living faith.

We see devastation around us and hear the voices of fear and we are tempted to fall into despair, but hearing the word of God we see the promises of God instead of the hopelessness. Faith allows us to see the sun that is above the clouds. Faith allows us to see the joy that will spring forth from our tears. Faith allows us to see that though we are under siege from all kinds of suffering, we have a God who walks with us and will not abandon us. Despite what things look like now, faith keeps our eyes on the Source of our life, our hope and our joy in Jesus Christ.

We have a priceless gift from God. When we gather together in worship we hear God’s holy words in the Scriptures and are healed. When we celebrate Holy Communion, we are given the very gift of Jesus – the Word made flesh – to come inside us and transform us. The Word now living inside us heals us from the inside and transforms us into the body of Christ for the world.

No matter what the storms of life may bring we are not alone. The wings of the Holy Spirit surround us and guide us to Christ. They guide us to the Word that breathes new life into our troubled souls. None of us are worthy to receive Him, but we are all invited to this table of grace anyway, and we are made worthy because of Christ. It is God’s gift to us. God speaks to us and comes to us through this gift of love and grace and Jesus only has to say the word and we are healed.

During this ordinary time may we grow in our faith, renew ourselves and our congregation through studying Scripture, listening to what the Holy Spirit is calling us to do, praying constantly, speaking Jesus’ words of love and peace, and being the healing instruments of Christ here on earth. During this ordinary time – this season of counting time – may we count it differently and make it count by keeping our focus on Jesus knowing when we do our time is anything but ordinary. Amen.

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One of Those Days

Sunday – May 8, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
John 17;20-25

 

Did you ever have one of those days? You know, the ones where it seems no matter what you do everything seems to be going all wrong. It might have started out bad by waking up late, or feeling sick, or worse the cat or dog is sick and you step in it, and then your car breaks down, and you receive bad news, and then you forget your lunch, and you receive more bad news, and it just keeps going. The day goes so bad that you just can’t wait until it’s over. And you hope that the next day will be better. It was just one of those days.

Or have you ever tried to help someone and instead of receiving a word of thanks things got a lot worse for you? Maybe you tried to do something nice for someone and they thought you had an ulterior motive. You didn’t, but for whatever reason they didn’t believe you. Or you might have tried to stop an argument and instead the person or persons got mad at you and they told you to mind your own business. You were just trying to help, but it seemed you only made matters worse. It was one of those days.

That was the case for Paul and Silas in our first reading today from the book of Acts. It starts off where Paul and Silas were heading off to go to a place a prayer when they meet a girl who is a slave. And she is possessed by some kind of bad spirit. So Paul and Silas call on the name of Jesus and the bad spirit leaves her. But instead of being grateful, her owners are angry because now that the girl is freed from that spirit, they can no longer use her to make money. In fact, they are so angry that they have Paul and Silas arrested and put in jail. That was not what Paul and Silas had expected. It was one of those days.

We’re not unique in having those kind of days. They’ve happened in the past and they will continue to happen. The question is what do we do when we’re having those kind of days, the kind of days when no matter how hard you try things just go from bad to worse? There’s a multitude of possibilities. Some people just get angry and fight back. Or they push people away and let these kind of days harden their hearts. When you get a lot of these days that turn into weeks and months, your perspective can turn from hope to despair or depression and hopelessness. You start to become synical and wonder what the point is any longer. You may ask yourself, “Why even try? It’s not going to get any better.” You might not even know how to pray any longer.

But that’s just where we have to stop and pause and realize that’s exactly what we need to do when we’re in that kind of a situation. Yet it’s easy to say that prayer isn’t working when we don’t see results right away. The problem is that we have forgotten how to pray like Jesus taught us. We pray to get things, to have things work out the way we want them to. We expect certain results and certain answers and we have a specific time-frame in mind. And if time goes by and our prayer isn’t answered we are tempted to feel that God isn’t listening, or worse yet that God has no intention of doing anything about it. We’ve forgotten how to pray like Jesus.

In our gospel reading today, the writer John takes us back to the night before Jesus was about to be betrayed, handed over to the authorities, and eventually persecuted and then killed. The human side of him certainly did not want to suffer and die. No one wants to feel pain. Yet, instead of Jesus praying for things to go differently, he prays to his Father – our Father – for his disiciples. Jesus is about to face the most horrible of days and yet he prays for those who believe in him and therefore Almighty God. And the amazing thing is he is not just praying for the disciples that were with him at that time. He prayed for “those who will believe in me through their word.” And that means all the people that came to believe in Jesus because of the witness of the disciples all the way through history. That means you and I as well. Thousands of years ago, when Jesus was facing the worst, he was praying for us today. If that doesn’t make you feel both humbled and filled with gratitude I don’t know what will.

We are where we are today because countless people throughout our lives have prayed for us – our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends, Sunday School teachers, pastors, strangers, grandparents, great grandparents all the way back generation after generation as far back as Jesus. And Jesus’ prayer is one of unity. He prayed and continues to pray that we will all be one with each other and one with him and one with God. Because unity with God is the most incredible gift of all. That’s why Jesus suffered, died, and rose again- so that we would all be one through him. He doesn’t want anyone to be left out.

When Paul and Silas healed the slave girl of the spirit that possessed her, it was the power of Jesus that healed her and set her free. When Paul and Silas were thrown in jail, it was the power of Jesus that opened up the prison cell and set them free. When the jailer believed because of Paul and Silas’ prayers and actions, it was the power of Jesus that saved him and his family when they were baptized. It is always the power of Jesus that saves and turns our lives around. It is that power that we can rely on when we turn to God in prayer knowing not how things will work out, but knowing that God will work to bring about God’s glory at the right time.

Faced with struggles and challenges in our lives, we need to pray like Jesus taught us. That is what Paul and Silas did and the foundation of the prison cells were shaken with the power of that prayer. They didn’t pray to have the doors opened, they simple prayed and praised God. In fact, after they were inprisoned, they began to sing, which is praying put to music. And that was a witness to the others in prison. We are called to witness in the same way.

Today we celebrate the seventh Sunday of Easter. We celebrate that Jesus has risen from the dead. That in itself, is reason to sing and pray to God in gratitude for that amazing gift that has saved us. Nothing in this world can ever truly defeat us since we have the promise of Jesus with us forever. When Jesus prayed for unity, he prayed for the unity of all people that will come about as a result of the witness of we who are Jesus followers. When we are faced with troubles, and we have faith and know that God will work in the midst of them, and we pray and sing confidently knowing God will act, that is a witness to others. They will see our faith in the middle of our trials just like Paul and Silas, just like Jesus, and they will come to believe in God too and then we will all be one in Christ.

This week as we encounter those days, let prayer and singing be our first response. It’s time to lift our voices in praise and thanksgiving for the gift of Jesus’ resurrection. This week pray without ceasing. Pray for each other, pray for the church, pray for our congregation, and pray that God will open your heart to be the answer to the prayers of others including Jesus. He prayed that we would all be one. It starts with each one of us. One prayer, one word, one note lifted in song can change the world. It starts with each one of us. Today is one of those days. Today is the day to lift our voices in gratitude for Jesus Christ,  our risen Savior, who endured one of those days on Good Friday so that we who believe would share in the joy of his resurrection. He is always with us, will always love us, and will always be praying with and for us. That’s Jesus’ promise we can hold on to and rejoice in always. Amen.

Jesus and the Parakeet

Sunday – May 1, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
John 14:23-29

 

(This sermon was done as a children’s story with pictures “read” to the congregation on Slipper Sunday.)

One day in a very small town called Bethlehem, a little baby was born. He was the best baby ever born. He was a gift from God. In fact, he was God’s Son. And his name was Jesus. He grew up to be really, really good and he never did anything bad. Jesus always prayed and he always listened to God.

When Jesus grew up he started teaching everyone about God because he knew God. Jesus asked twelve people to stay with him all the time so he could teach them everything he knew about God. They said yes, and followed Jesus everywhere. They were called the first disciples. As time passed, many other people followed Jesus too.

The longer the disciples stayed with Jesus, the more they changed in a good way. Sometimes though, things happened that made them sad like they got sick, or they got hurt, or someone made fun of them, or their pets died, but Jesus was always with them. And because Jesus was with them – even when bad or sad things happened – they had joy in their hearts. When they were around Jesus they felt relaxed and comfortable like a comfy pair of slippers and they had fun with Jesus, and sang, and jumped for joy.

But one day Jesus told his disciples he couldn’t always be with them and they were very sad. They wanted Jesus to stay with them forever. When Jesus told them he had to go away they cried. But Jesus said, “Wait, don’t be scared. Don’t be afraid. I’m going to send you a helper, someone special who is going to be with you all the time when I’m gone.”

Jesus, friends said, “No, no, no! We want you to stay with us. We don’t want you to go away. And we don’t want to meet anyone new.” Jesus said, “Trust me. Don’t be afraid because I’m going to be with God, my Father, but I’m going to send the Paraclete to stay with you.”

One of Jesus friends, named Phil said, “ A parakeet! You are going to send a parakeet to come and live with us! We love parakeets!” Jesus said, “No, no, no, not a parakeet; I said the Paraclete!”

Grace said, “Oh, a pair of cleats! I love playing soccer and they will help me play better! I can’t wait to get a new pair of soccer cleats!” Jesus said, “No, no, no, not a new pair of cleats. I’m sending the Paraclete. It’s a nickname for the Holy Spirit who is a special helper who knows everything about me and will help you remember all the things I taught you. And the great thing is that the Holy spirit will always live with you and be your companion or helper.”

“How is the Holy Spirit going to do that?” asked Grace. Jesus asked them all to breath in deeply and they did. “What did you breath in?” he asked them. They said, “Air.” Jesus asked, “Can you see it?” They said, “No.” “Then how do you know it is there?” Jesus asked. They thought about that……

Then Grace shouted out, “Because if the air isn’t there for us to breathe we’d all die!” “Exactly!” Jesus said. “And the Holy Spirit is like the air. The Holy Spirit will make you alive. And just like the air, the Holy Spirit will be with you all the time, whether you can see or feel the Holy Spirit. That’s my gift to you.”

They all jumped and shouted and said, “Thank you Jesus! We’re not afraid anymore. We’ll have fun with the Holy Spirit until you come back again. This makes us happy!” They all started jumping for joy!

Jesus smiled. He loved them so much. “Keep on jumping for joy! And when the Holy Spirit comes you will be able to do amazing things that will make you even more excited! The Holy Spirit will teach you how to pray better, and help each other better, and love better. So relax, have fun, because the Holy Spirit will always be with you.”

Jesus friends said, “That’s the best gift ever!” Grace said, “That’s even better than a pair of cleats!” And Phil said, “That’s even better than a parakeet!” They all laughed, even Jesus. “It sure is!” said Jesus. “It sure is!” The End.