Grace Coming Down

Sunday, August 5, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
John 6:24-35

 

The gospel readings for the next five weeks are from the sixth chapter of John, known as the Bread of Life discourse. This is a change from the gospel of Mark assigned for year B in the Church calendar. Why this sudden turn or shift in direction? It’s a question we encounter in our everyday lives. The twists and turns in our journey of life can be filled both with joyful surprises and unwelcome heartbreaks. And it’s those unwelcome heartbreaks that can leave us feeling empty and lost.

In our gospel reading today the crowds that have been following Jesus, followed him all the way into the desert where they found themselves feeling empty. Jesus was aware of this, and he turned to Philip and asked him, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” Philip started to panic. He knew that not only could they never afford to feed that large of a crowd – over 5000 – (not counting women and children because they weren’t counted) but there were no markets anywhere nearby. Fear started to set in pretty quickly. The disciples believed that they didn’t have enough. All they could see was five loaves and two fish. This story echoed the story we read from 2 Kings where it looked like there was only a handful of food available to feed a large crowd of people.

Yet, Jesus, like the prophet Elisha before him was able to see beyond what was there. Jesus and Elisha knew that God is a God of abundance. God is a God who provides. God is a God who wants to feed the world. And God is able to do just that. The problem is that we humans so often see things out of a lens of scarcity instead of the eyes of faith. We see what is in front of us – the lack, the problem, challenges to face – and they are there – lots of them. But that’s not all there is. There is more. God is more. And God meets us in the midst of the storms. There is abundance just waiting to be tapped into.

In our readings today, God provided food – more than enough food – for everyone to eat, plus some. There were 12 baskets full of leftovers. God fed the people with what was already there. When they saw lack, Jesus saw more. It’s there; we just have to see with the eyes of faith, with the eyes of abundance and possibility instead of lack and scarcity.

God provides for all our needs. God is able to feed the world, and we are the instruments through which God will accomplish that. The children’s story, “Bagels From Benny” by Aubrey Davis illustrates how God feeds the world through ordinary people like you and me. Miracles like the loaves, and fish still happen, sometimes even through bagels. Look around there is an abundance of God’s grace in the ordinary right in front of you. Give thanks and see the abundance. Amen.

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Who Is My Neighbor?

Sunday, July 14, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Luke 10:25-37

 

In last week’s gospel we heard how Jesus calls us to proclaim that that the kingdom of God has come near. Today, Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan gives us an example of how do to just that. We hear a lot about Good Samaritans – people who do good things for others – like stopping by and helping someone when they have a flat tire, or jumping in the water to save someone who fell through the ice, or putting in quarters in a parking meter for someone else so they don’t get a ticket. I’d like to share with you a true story about another Good Samaritan. I saw a story on television years ago and have never forgotten it. The Israelis and Palestinians have been fighting for a very long time now and the Israelis continue to occupy land that belongs to the Palestinians in an effort to take control of all of their land. To many of us it seems so far away that we don’t pay any attention to it, but this story was too amazing to ignore. Ahmed Khatib was a 12 year old Palestinian boy who was shot by Israeli soldiers. It happens all the time, every day. What doesn’t happen all the time is what happened next. The parents, in a gesture of love and in the hopes to bring peace, heard of three Israeli children who needed organ donations and they decided – in their pain – to donate Ahmed’s lungs, liver, and heart to these Israeli children. They donated their son’s organs to the group of people who had killed him. I wonder if any of us could have done that. The natural human response is to want to kill those who kill the people we love. But that’s not what Jesus said. He said to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. That is at the heart of the Christian Gospel. But these people weren’t even Christians. You wouldn’t expect them to act that way.

That’s exactly what happened in today’s Gospel story. In Luke’s gospel we hear the story of the Good Samaritan. It’s quite an odd title because to any Jew who heard the story – there was nothing good about a Samaritan. Samaritans were the enemy. They didn’t practice the same religion as the Jews. They didn’t follow the same rituals, laws, or worship in the same way. They were considered unclean and were the enemy. That’s what is so shocking in today’s story for the people Jesus was speaking to. Unlike us, they knew that Samaritans were not good. They knew they were the outcasts and were to be avoided at all costs. Yet in the story, the Samaritan is the person who was the neighbor to the wounded and dying man.

And we have to wonder why? Why did the Samaritan help the man left for dead when he knew that they were considered enemies? Why did the Palestinian parents donate their son’s organs to the people that considered them enemies? Maybe it’s because those who are shunned, considered outcasts, judged as unclean, weirdos, and sinners know what it’s like to feel left for dead. They know what it’s like to be in pain and no one cares about them. It happens every day all around us to individuals who suffer from mental illness, are developmentally challenged, minorities, and people who just don’t think or act like the rest of society. Throughout history groups of people have been labeled no good and are treated like second class citizens. Maybe we don’t always say something outright mean to them, but maybe when we see them we turn our heads and look the other way judging them by our actions as outcasts as if we are better. I’ve seen the jeers that people with bodies covered in tattoos or strange makeup receive. I’ve seen the looks thrown at people who are Muslim – thinking they are all terrorists. I’ve heard the comments about any number of people who are different and labeled those people. Look at the current immigrant situation. Whether or not you feel politically that our country should help these asylum seekers or not is not the issue. These people are being treated inhumanely. They are being left in pits – cages without adequate water, food, and the basic necessities of life. Children are separated from their parents, perhaps forever. They too – like the traveler in Jesus’ parable – were journeying from one place to another – fleeing dangerous homes to find a better life, only to be treated in a horrific way. They have fallen, been stripped, beaten, and left half dead. Many have already died. Will we speak up against this atrocity? Where are the modern day Samaritans to help them?

Like the priests and Levites in our story, it’s easy to turn a blind eye and make an excuse for why we can’t help. Fears of them being criminals, taking our jobs, our healthcare, and our basic necessities are sited as valid reasons for condoning abuse. If these thoughts make us cringe that’s the point Jesus is trying to make. Everyone is our neighbor. Everyone is to be treated with mercy, compassion, and love. We don’t know the back story of the man who fell into the hands of the robbers in the parable, and it doesn’t matter. The Samaritan in the parable didn’t worry how much helping the person was going to cost him. And he didn’t just bandage up his wounds. He took him to an inn, paid for his stay, and promised to return and pay any additional medical expenses. He gave up two days salary for a person that was considered his enemy.

And the point goes further to ask us to examine if not only would we help these people, but would we let them help us? Or would we rather just lay there and die rather than be helped by one of those people? We refuse to think our sins are as bad as those of others, but the Bible says we have “all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” – all of us. We’d all like to think we would be the Good Samaritan and help those in need, but this story is about the enemy helping his enemy. I wonder what the dying person thought when he recovered and realized who it was that helped him. Did he say, “I wish that good for nothing Samaritan had left me for dead!” I certainly hope not, but the Samaritan didn’t care. He helped him anyway even though in all likely-hood he would still be considered this man’s enemy once healed. The lawyer in our story questioning Jesus finally got it from this parable that this Samaritan – the least likely person to be thought to be that merciful – was the one who actually showed mercy.

Jesus knows what it feels like to be stripped and beaten and left for dead. He knows what it is to die at the hands of someone else even though he was innocent! Jesus knew what it was like to go down into the pit. He went there to pick us up out of the pit of sin and death and bring us to eternal life. Through the waters of baptism our old sinful selves are drowned and we are raised to new life with Christ. We, the children of God, have not been left to die in sin, but have been restored to new life.

Today’s parable isn’t just a nice story about a person who helps someone. Jesus told this parable to cause us to dig deep within ourselves, and like the lawyer in the story to ask the difficult questions. Am I really following Jesus as best as I can? Is the kingdom of God evident in my life? What is God calling me to do or say today for those who are in need? The answers to these questions can be found through this parable. He said, “Go and do the same.” We are to treat everyone as our neighbor, just like the parents who donated their son’s organs to those who saw them as enemies. That is how God’s kingdom is revealed. Amen.

 

The Kingdom of God Has Come Near

Sunday, July 7, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

 

In today’s gospel text Jesus calls 70 more individuals to join the other disciples in proclaiming the message “the Kingdom of God has come near.” For many people it seems as though God is not near however, and that perhaps God is in fact, watching from a distance. It reminds me of a song made popular by Bette Midler in the 1990’s called “From a Distance.” The lyrics to this song are quite beautiful speaking of hope and peace where “from a distance we all have enough and no one is in need. And there are no guns, no bombs, and no disease – no hungry mouths to feed.” The song’s refrain says “God is watching us, God is watching us, God is watching us from a distance.” The song was written by Julie Gold who wanted to speak a word of hope. She said she “set out to write a song about the difference between the way things seem and the way things are.” She was contrasting the reality that life is not the calm, peaceful, quiet, safe place we dream it should be. Life is filled with suffering, and pain. Our world is filled with racism, hatred, and violence. It’s filled with poverty, and hunger. People are cruel to one another. And more and more people are afraid instead of living a life filled with peace. Peace seems distant. Hope seems distant. One may even feel like God is distant, especially those who are being persecuted. Yet the writer of that song said that God is watching us from a distance. Watching, and comforting us as we hear in our first reading from the prophet Isaiah.

And while the writer of this song had the best of intentions, the theology is not quite accurate – at least not from our Lutheran perspective. Because we believe that God is not watching us from a distance. God, in fact, is very much involved in our lives. God loves and cares for us so much that when we were lost in the depths of sin, God sent Jesus to become truly human – one of us – to save us. Jesus was God in the flesh here on earth. He showed us who God is. He showed us how to live and treat one another. Because of Jesus God is not watching us from a distance; God is very close and near to us. This is the news that Jesus sent the seventy out to tell everyone.

He sent these them out with a holy urgency. He told them to pack light.; they had no time to waste. This news had to be told to as many people as would hear it. We don’t know anything about these 70 individuals that Jesus appointed to go on ahead of Him. We don’t know their names; we don’t even know their genders, age, or status in life. We don’t know if they were educated or illiterate. Jesus didn’t have any particular qualifications for this job; just a willingness to serve. And in Luke’s gospel, they weren’t just disciples or followers, they were sent ones – apostles – sent on a particular mission with instructions for the journey.

Most of us take a lot of time planning for a trip. We want to be prepared for any kind of weather and any situation that may arise and so we pack as much as we can fit into our luggage. But Jesus told these apostles not to bring anything for this important journey. Jesus said “Carry no purse, no bags, no sandals.” Further, He told them that they were going out like lambs to the wolves, meaning it would be dangerous. He told them to go out without any provisions and to trust in the hospitality of others, and rely on God. That was their mission.

The mission field is still in need of laborers today, perhaps now more than ever. The harvest is still plentiful and the laborers are few. There is still so much to do in this mission work that Jesus sends us out on this journey as well. It began at baptism, when through the water and the word we were “sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” We didn’t come to the waters carrying any provisions; we came without anything and relied on the grace of God to equip us for the journey. At that moment, the kingdom of God had come near to us; the kingdom of God was now within us. No qualifications and no provisions were necessary for our journey of faith that lasts a lifetime. The Holy Spirit dwells within us and equips us with all we need for this mission trip.

That’s what our Christian life is; it is a mission trip. We, like the sent ones in today’s story, are sent out to proclaim the kingdom of God has come near. The kingdom of God is not a place to seek out, but a relationship with God to embrace. When we meet together for worship we strengthen each other on this journey. This is why Jesus sent the 70 out in pairs – two by two – reminiscent of Noah’s ark, only this time instead of going into a place of safety, we go out to face dangers from those who don’t want to hear this truth. We cannot do it alone. We have each other to help us on this journey, and we have Jesus who is with us through the Holy Spirit.

The kingdom of God cannot be seen with ordinary vision but with the eyes of faith. The kingdom of God is near. It’s all around us. We see, and touch, and taste, the kingdom of God when we hold in our hands the body and blood of Jesus in Holy Communion. Through this Blessed Sacrament God comes to us unlike any other place and in that moment we receive God’s gifts of forgiveness, grace, and new life. We are equipped with all we need to go out and proclaim that the kingdom of God has indeed come near.

We proclaim the kingdom of God has come near each time we follow the way of peace instead of violence, hope instead of despair, compassion instead of competition, and love instead of hatred. We proclaim the kingdom of God when we offer forgiveness instead of a lifetime of resentment. We proclaim the kingdom of God has come near when we see those who are being treated unfairly and inhumanely and get involved to advocate for them. We proclaim the kingdom of God has come near when we open our hearts and our minds to those who think or act differently than us rather than judging them. We proclaim the kingdom of God when we see the injustices around us and decide to stand up for the dignity of every human being. We are called, as St. Paul tells us to “bear one another’s burdens.”

Each one of us has been given unique gifts and talents for our mission trip of following Jesus. We don’t need any additional qualifications. We don’t need any special provisions. If we try to do it our way those things we think we need will only weigh us down. We need to pack light, lifted up and supported by the power of the Holy Spirit.

That’s what happens when the kingdom of God comes near – lives are changed – not because of what we do, but because of what God does. There are so many who need to hear these words of hope. God is not watching us from a distance. God in the risen Christ Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit is very near to us. Because of Jesus, our names are already written in heaven. That is God’s word of hope. That is God’s word of peace. That is God’s word for everyone. This week, remember that God is not watching us from a distance. The kingdom of God is near. Spread that message through your words and your actions. There’s no time to waste. “Let us not grow wearing in doing what is right.” Amen.

Empowered By the Spirit – Just Do It

Sunday, June 30, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Luke 9:51-62, Galatians 5:22-25

 

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” That quote in the past has been attributed to Martin Luther, although now many scholars are not sure if he actually said that. Whoever said it, though, made a great point – no matter what, as the Nike commercial says, “Just do it.” Stop procrastinating and just do what you need to do. What does that have to do with today’s gospel you may ask – well, everything. You see, Jesus knew that if he went to Jerusalem he would be heading right into betrayal, great suffering, and death. Yet, no matter what, he went anyway. Our gospel writer Luke tells us that Jesus “set his face to go toward Jerusalem.” Jesus was on a mission from God and nothing was going to stop him.

While he and the first disciples were on the way there, Jesus kept preaching and teaching people about God. Yet, some of the people wouldn’t listen to or receive Jesus. And the disciples asked Jesus, Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Yes, these followers of Jesus felt that revenge was the best response to what to do when things don’t go your way. And not just a little harshness to show their anger, but they suggested to Jesus that they should command fire to come and burn them all up! Jesus of course, said absolutely not! That’s not the kind of behavior that a follower of Jesus, one who is guided by the Holy Spirit ought to be doing. If they were following Jesus, they were on a mission from God too. They were called not to rain down fire on everyone, but to rain down God’s compassion. They were called not to make sure everyone did everything their way, but to plant the seeds of love and grace, and let the Holy Spirit nurture them to maturity. We as disciples – followers of Jesus today – are called to do the same.

That’s not always an easy thing to do. As our Old Testament reading and our gospel lesson illustrate, when God calls we can come up with any number of reasons why we have to wait. We might think we’re not good enough for the task. Or maybe it’s not the right time. Or maybe there’s a better way to do it. Or maybe someone else should do it. Or … fill in the blank. We’re all so good at coming up with reasons why we ought to wait to do what God is calling us to do, when Jesus showed us that there’s an urgency to proclaiming the kingdom of God here and now. Jesus showed us by example that we can’t wait to take action. Wherever justice is being denied to someone or some group, we have to take action. Whenever someone is being treated unfairly or bullied we have to stand up for them. Whenever greed is more important than human rights we have to intervene, because that is what God’s Spirit calls us to do. Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem, meaning he saw the problems, and the dangers, and instead of running away faced them head on. And why? Because God loves the whole world so much that Jesus came to save us, from ourselves. He came to show us how to live and how to love. He came to clear the way for us from death to life. He came to make sure that sin and death would not have the final word, but that eternal life would be our promise.

We received that promise first through the waters of baptism like Iyana and Inok will receive today. They will be sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. And their faith – small like a seed – will grow as the years go by through the nourishment of their parents, and godparents, and this community of believers. And they too will one day be making their First Communion as Imara, Nirvan, Joshua, Kaitlyn, Patrick, and Alexander will do today. Baptism is the seed that begins our journey of faith and the sacrament of Holy Communion is the nourishment we need. We are strengthened, and fed by God’s gifts of grace, forgiveness, and the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These sacraments enable us to set our face toward where God’s Holy Spirit is leading us.

They’ll always be one more reason to say, but “first I have to do this or that.” Set your face in the direction of Jesus. Don’t let fear or anything stop you. No matter where you are or where you’re going God is already there. So even if the world seems to be going to pieces – plant the tree, feed the hungry, heal the sick, care for the homeless, stand up for those who are mistreated, act in solidarity with those who need our support, spread the kingdom of God’s love, compassion, and peace. Empowered by the Spirit, just do it. Amen!

God’s Amazing Power

Sunday, June 23, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Luke 8:26-39, Galatians 3:26-28, Isaiah 65:1

 

“Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?” This was the questions the disciples asked in verse 25 of Luke before today’s Gospel text. The disciples asked this because as vs. 22 said, “One day, Jesus got into a boat with his disciples, and said to them, ‘Let’s go to the other side of the lake.’ So while they were sailing across the sea of Galilee a big windstorm came up. It’s a story many people are familiar with, but in case you’re not, the boat almost capsized, and where was Jesus? Sleeping! The panicked disciples woke him up, Jesus calmed the sea, and the disciples were both amazed and afraid, and said, “Who is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?” If we were there we would have all asked the same question. Jesus’ power was both amazing and terrifying.

Our Gospel today continues with that same story when Jesus and the disciples arrive on the other side of the lake in the country of the Garasenes. Keep in mind that the disciples were wondering who Jesus was after he had just calmed the storm, when another dramatic event happened. A naked man, possessed by demons, ran out and shouted at Jesus. Imagine the disciples reaction! They were just trying to calm down and process what just happened with Jesus calming the storm, and now a man who appeared deranged is causing quite a scene. And when Jesus asked the man his name, he replied “Legion.” That may not mean a lot to most of us today, but at that time it would have caused the disciples to want to run back into their boats and travel back to the other side of the lake. In fact, I’m sure they were wondering why they let Jesus convince them to go there. You see, Legion at that time was an immediate reference to the Roman army, which was comprised of a unit of between 5000 and 6000 men. In other words the possessed man had a lot of demons! He had no name, no worth, no identity. He was only defined by what possessed him. That was the painful reality of this man’s life. Jesus healed the man of the demons – and we’re not going to talk about flying pigs here – and gave him a new identity.

And what about the disciples and the people in the surrounding country? Were they amazed at Jesus’ power – yes! Were they frightened by Jesus’ power – yes! In fact, they asked him to leave because of it. They drove Jesus away. Why? What were they so afraid of? Were they afraid that if Jesus could drive out whatever was possessing that man that he could drive out whatever was possessing them? If Jesus could drive out demons, what else was he capable of doing? Would he want them to change the way they were living or thinking? Would they now have to embrace this man who once was possessed as their neighbor? It’s hard to believe, but ….it’s easy to become comfortable with what we know, even if it’s hurting us or those around us. They were used to ignoring him, letting him live alone among the tombs, and perhaps even making fun of him. Now, everything was different. What Jesus did was give this man a new identity, and that changed the identity of everyone around him. Changing him meant everything else was changed. And change is frightening to most people, whether it’s people who lived thousands of years ago or today.

St. Paul said in his letter to the Galatians, “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” What St. Paul is saying is that Jesus gives us a new identity as equals. Jesus calmed the storm, Jesus healed the man possessed of a legion of demons, and Jesus gives us a new identity. That is an amazing power.

As amazing as that is, many people don’t want to claim that new identity. It’s hard to let go of what’s possessing us – things, work, money, blame, shame, anger, criticism, self-hatred, or any number of “demons” that possess us. Jesus calls us to give up who we think we are, and live into who God created us to be. We have to surrender our control over everything, and surrender to God. We have to give up our prejudices, and realize that all people are equal in God’s eyes. We have to give up the comfort of how we’ve always thought of things or done things, and go to the other side of the lake – sometimes in the opposite direction – where we may encounter storms along the way, but Jesus is always with us. God’s presence is always near, as the prophet Isaiah says, “ready to be sought out by those who do not ask, to be found by those who do not seek me.”  Yes, God’s power is amazing and a little frightening at the same time, and that’s why the disciples, those in the country of the Garasenes, and many today are so afraid. “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?” “Who then is this, that he drives out legions of demons from a possessed man?” “Who then is this, that he gives people a new identity?”

This is Jesus, the Christ, the Savior of the World, who tells us – like he told the man whom he healed – “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” God has done so much for us. This week, take time each day to write down the many things God has done for you. And then, filled with gratitude, go and witness to others through words, and actions of love and compassion so that everyone will see and experience how great God is. Amen!

Holy Trinity, Holy Mystery

Sunday, June 16, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
John 16:12-15

 

What comes to mind when you hear the word mystery? The dictionary has several definitions for the word mystery. It says,

  • “anything that is kept secret or remains unexplained or unknown, such as the mysteries of nature or the universe
  • Any affair, thing, or person that presents features or qualities so obscure as to arouse curiosity or speculation, such as the masked guest is a mystery to everyone
  • An obscure, puzzling, or mysterious quality or character, such as the mystery of Mona Lisa’s smile
  • A puzzle, game (like Clue), novel, short story, play, or film whose plot involves a crime or other event that remains puzzlingly unsettled until the very end, such as the book “Small Great Things” by Jodi Picoult. (Yes, this is a shameless plug for the book the Book Club is reading this month.) Or this “mystery puzzle” that I just got that contains a story that you read to get clues to solve a mystery as well as the puzzle itself, which gives you clues to solve the mystery, but is itself a mystery because the puzzle looks nothing like the picture on the puzzle box! The entire thing is a mystery.

Trying to solve these mysteries may be intriguing, exciting, or perhaps even frustrating, but one thing is certain we all want to solve the mystery. For most people – as exciting as getting clues and trying to figure the mystery out is – the best part is the resolution. Think of a scavenger hunt, it’s exciting getting clues, but …..we long for what’s at the end. We long for the “aha” moment.

The dictionary also goes on to list a couple more definitions of mystery. It says,

  • “any truth that is unknowable except by divine revelation
  • “In the Christian religion, a sacramental right” and “the Eucharist” (in other words sacraments, which in the Lutheran denomination are the Eucharist, and Baptism)

Yes, these sacraments are a mystery, because while we know that through them we receive God’s grace (God’s unconditional love and acceptance) and forgiveness, we don’t understand exactly how.  They are a mystery. Just like the mystery of the Holy Trinity that we celebrate today. How can God be three distinct persons, yet all one at the same time? How is it possible that each person of the Trinity is separate, and yet at the same time are united as one? How can Jesus be fully human, and fully divine at the same time? How can God be in heaven yet, here on earth too? How can death come from life? How can the cross be both a symbol of death and resurrection? How can God be Father, yet also Mother? These and so many other mysteries of faith are things we long to understand, try to explain, yet ultimately can’t. We will have the answers to these questions only when we see God face to face.

In the meantime, our faith journey is one that is constantly filled with clues that reveal a little more about the great mysteries of faith. Jesus, himself, revealed to us a glimpse of who God is, yet it was not the entire picture. Jesus said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Our human minds, could not handle a total revelation of God all at once. Our brains would probably explode! And so, God is revealed little by little. God, the Creator, is revealed in the beauty and majesty of Creation as so eloquently spoken in the words of Psalm 8. We hear God in the words of scripture, the sound of thunder, rain, music, and laughter. We see God in Jesus, the awakening sunrise, the awe inspiring sunset, the artistry of diverse flowers, trees, animals, the vastness of the galaxies, and a welcoming smile. We taste God in the form of bread in Holy Communion, the saltiness of the ocean, and the saltiness in our own tears – both of sorrow and joy. We smell God in the piney scent of the evergreen, and the fragrance of a baby. We feel God in the waters of baptism, the movement of the wind, and a loving, healing touch. We experience God through all our senses, and in so many ways, most especially through each other – words, expressions, and actions of love, forgiveness, kindness, and compassion. The mystery of God is revealed in the everyday things of life. God touches everything, and therefore everything is made holy.

We can’t explain the mystery of the Holy Trinity. We can’t see or understand the totality of who God is, but we can be open to it being something different that we can presently comprehend, like a puzzle that we don’t know exactly what it’s supposed to look like. Perhaps the message for us today is not to try to solve the mystery, but to dwell, and dance, and find joy in the journey of God’s unfolding revelation. And we are a part of that revelation. All of us here and those we meet outside these walls – no matter how different or unusual they may appear – are part of God’s unfolding revelation. Where do we see God in others? Where do others see God in us? Our life is a holy mystery; let’s live it with curiosity and compassion. Let’s live in, and share God’s love with others. Amen.

Are We Still On Fire?

Pentecost Sunday – June 9, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
John 14:8-17 (25-27)

 

Wild wind, tongues of fire, visions, dreams, prophesies, noise…..these are the images of Pentecost. When the Spirit is poured out nothing is the same. Things are stirred up. Doors are unlocked. People are transformed. Can we see it?

We can replicate the sound of the wind and the image of fire, but Pentecost is not just a reenactment like the civil war re-enactments in Gettysburg of events that happened a long time ago. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit will be with us always. Can we feel it?

God gave the prophet Joel words to speak: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.” That means you and I today. The Spirit did not just descend on the disciples that first Pentecost, but is still descending on us today. The Spirit is giving us dreams with messages from God, visions of what God’s kingdom on earth can look like, prophecies to speak to each other and to those whom the Spirit calls us to speak. Do we hear them?

Do you still think that Pentecost is an event that happened long ago? Look again. The Spirit is still moving. The Spirit is still speaking. The Spirit is still working in the world. The Spirit is alive in this very place. Look around. We are all gathered here today because the Holy Spirit has called us from wherever we were to gather us together. Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered together there am I.” Jesus promised that he would be present among us and the Holy Spirit has brought us here. Some people may ask, “why? Why come together when I can just as easily think about Jesus and pray on my own?” Because something special happens when a group of Christians gather together to worship and praise God. All that praising, all that singing, all that praying together is a powerful force.

A single drop of water on its own is hardly noticeable, but a steady flow of water changes things. It forms gullies, rivers, lakes, and oceans. It changes the landscape. A single brush of color on a canvas hardly makes sense, but many strokes put together create a masterpiece that changes the way we see the world. A single letter on a page hardly can convey a message, but put those letters together and they form messages that can change a person’s life forever. And a group of disciples gathering together, sharing a common dream from God, working toward that vision creates an atmosphere where people can experience Jesus right here. The Holy Spirit is still moving among us.

Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John. 14:12) Greater works than Jesus? It seems unbelievable. How could we do greater works than Jesus who cured the sick, healed the lame, made the dead to rise again? Yet, if we read the Acts of the Apostles, which should really be entitled the Acts of the Holy Spirit, we will see that they in fact did perform great miracles. How? Because Jesus ascended to the Father and the Holy Spirit now came to live in them. And that same Holy Spirit lives in each one of us today. When we were baptized we were sealed by the Holy Spirit. Those weren’t just words. It really happened.

The Holy Spirit – the wind or breath of God -calls, gathers, enlightens and sends us forth into the world to be missionaries wherever we are. Each one of us is called and sent to share our experience of Jesus with others. Our lives are living gospels. What story are they telling? Are we sharing with others the wonderful things that God is doing in our lives? When we talk with people are we filled with excitement by the wonderful things that God has done for us? Are we moved to tears by just how real Jesus is in our lives and we don’t know where we would be without him? Are we so in love with Jesus that we can’t wait for others to hear about how fabulous he is and so we invite them to church to experience him for themselves? Or are we afraid to share our story? Like what happened to the early disciples, are we afraid people may think we are drunk because we are so passionate about sharing our experiences of Jesus with others?

What if people starting asking us, “What’s gotten into them?” What’s gotten into those disciples at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church – and that’s what we’re called to be, disciples of Jesus. Are we as on fire as the disciples that first Pentecost? Or have we lost the fire? We may think that Pentecost happened centuries ago, but the truth is Pentecost didn’t just happen once. It happens all the time. When’s the last time you experienced Pentecost? When will our next Pentecost be here at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church? When will we be so on fire with the Holy Spirit that people wonder what’s gotten into us? When will we be so busy doing mission and ministry that it seems like we are all crazy? The Holy Spirit calls us to do just that.

You might say, yes I believe, but we can’t cure people or raise them from the dead, or solve some of our most challenging problems. No, we can’t, but God can through the power of the Holy Spirit. So often we spend our days worrying, when we have a power among us greater than any force on earth! We have to believe in that power again! ”You will do greater works than these.” Those are exciting, yet somewhat scary words from Jesus because he is calling us to do all these things. Yet he says, “Be not afraid.” The Holy Spirit is powerful, but it is a power that we don’t have to be afraid of. It may mean that the Spirit will ask us to do things different than we’ve ever done them before, but God’s Holy Spirit always leads to life and that is nothing to fear.

I remember a few years ago I was cleaning up my yard in the fall and there was this rose bush that just looked dead. The flowers were dead and hard and there was no sign of life in it at all. I cut all the branches off and then cut it back until it was just a stub on the ground. Then I was going to dig it up. Well, I forgot about it and the next spring when I went back to clean up after the long snowy winter, there it was with fresh green leaves on it. I couldn’t believe it! This once dead bush had now come back to life. The winter was long and hard, and it took its toll on the plant, but something was happening underground – deep below the surface where it wasn’t evident. It was being transformed.

It’s like that for us as well. We can’t always see what is going on deep inside of us or see how God is working in a particular situation, but the Holy Spirit is working in us, at times, pruning us, letting what is not helpful to us die off and creating in us new life. New life can and will happen when the Holy Spirit is involved. New life can spring out of relationships that seem dead. New life can spring out of lives that are broken. New life can spring out of churches that need revival so they can be witnesses to the resurrection. The Holy Spirit is active as we are gathered together expectantly waiting for new life to appear in what once seemed dead. It’s never too late to begin again. We have to be open to dream dreams and see visions again. No matter what disappointments the past has brought, it’s time to dream again with hope and promise. And that can begin today as we experience Jesus among us.

Today and throughout this week pray to see and hear what God’s vision is for you and for this congregation. Pray that the Holy Spirit will open your heart to dream again, to hope again, and to believe in the possibilities again. Jesus said, “you will do greater things than these.” Believe these words of promise filled with the power of Pentecost. It’s here. May the love of Christ live in your hearts. May the winds of hope blow through you. May the fire of faith burn brightly. Come Holy Spirit! Amen.

Love For All Creation

Sunday, May 19, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
John 13:31-35, Romans 8:18-25 & Job 12:7-10

 

Easter Sunday we celebrated with joy the resurrection of Jesus who set us free from the bondage to sin and death. Christ lived and died and rose again so that we would have life-eternal life and live it to the fullest. We were set free so that we could also set others free. Yet, not all people can feel the reality of this freedom. There are so many who still suffer bondage to prejudice, hatred, violence, and war. The new commandment Jesus gave us is to “love one another.” But we don’t always do a good job at that. The tendency is to love people who are just like us, who share the same ideas, and think the same way. He said, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” The kind of love Jesus is commanding from us is the same sacrificial love that he showed. Loving like that is not easy, because it requires a concern that goes beyond ourselves, and does whatever is necessary to bring about justice for the other.

One “other” that is in crisis right now is creation itself. St. Paul tells us in his letter to the church in Rome, “Creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” He says that “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.” Creation is waiting to be set free by us, the children of God. That is not happening yet, and creation is groaning in pain. Creation is being tortured by humans. Creation is in a state of crisis.

The most recent reports from the International Panel on Climate Change say we have just under a decade to get carbon emissions under control before catastrophic climate change is irreversible. Scientists say we’ve lost many species of animals; we’ve just lost the last male northern white rhino, and many more are nearing extinction. Poachers keep targeting rare creatures, and government protection for endangered species are being loosened. Insects are dying off at alarming rates. Driving around years ago in spring or summer, you’d have to stop and wipe off the squished bugs from the windshield. Today, that’s not as big a problem as it was, and you might think that is a good thing, but the reality is that without valuable insects to pollinate plants, and feed other animals, our food chain is affected.

Trees are being cut down at alarming rates due to logging, and to make room for more animals for us to eat, which produces more greenhouse gasses. By cutting down trees from the rain forest, many of the medications needed to cure cancer are also being destroyed as some of the ingredients for these medications can only be found there. Deforestation is hazardous to our very existence because trees are the lungs of the earth.

Water temperatures are rising, increasing flooding and storms and creating an imbalance in the ecosystem. The release of mercury from thawing permafrost creates a toxic threat for animals, plants, and the soil. Reports state that now 100% of sea turtles have plastic or micro plastics in their digestive systems.

The list for the torture humans are inflicting on the planet could fill volumes. So why is it so imperative that we do something about it, and is there hope? We are all intricately connected. We share the same substances. In a recent article from the Annual Review on Genetics, scientists found that “plants are different from humans in many ways, but perhaps not as many as you think. At the DNA level, genes can give us clues about how related we are to other organisms, even flies and plants. So the next time you look at a blade of grass, remember that you’re looking at a distant relative.” Yes, humans, animals, insects, and even plants all share some similar DNA molecules. Why is this surprising, when we were all created from the same Creator who breathed life into all living things? If scientists could analyze the breath of God, they would most likely find that common element that was breathed into all of us.

Just as we have much to learn from the diversity of people in different cultures, so do we have much to learn from the diversity in nature. Our reading from the Book of Job this morning points us to look for wisdom not just within ourselves, but outside ourselves. “Ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you.” Even our psalm today tells us that all creation praises God. All of us – humans of every race and culture, animals of every size, insects of every kind, and plants of every species proclaim God’s glory. We were all made in the image of God; all life bears the mark of the Creator. When we hurt the least of these, we not only hurt ourselves, but we wound the very heart of God who first looked at all life and proclaimed it “good.”

We are called by Jesus to “love one another.” Climate change and the destruction of the environment is a sin. It affects people’s health, livelihood, and quality of life. We are called to be caretakers of the earth and of one another. We are called to speak out for justice for those who have no voice. We are the voice for creation. We are the voice of hope. Resurrection is possible; God proved that to us in the resurrection of Jesus. God’s perfect love can bring life out of death. It’s not too late to save God’s world. The power of the Holy Spirit lives within us, giving us the ability to do what is necessary to turn things around. By loving like Jesus, we can bring about justice, we can heal divisions, we can heal creation; we can heal the world, and we can bring about peace.  Amen.