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Not a Ghost: Jesus’ Resurrection and Our Bodies – A Sermon on Luke 24
April 19, 2018, 12:39 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Gospel Reading

Luke 24:36b-48

 

Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

We’ve opened the Gospel of Luke to read what happened on Easter Evening. On Good Friday, Jesus was killed on the cross. His friends and disciples saw him die and saw his dead body sealed in a tomb. On Easter Sunday, those friends and disciples have had a number of extraordinary experiences of Jesus alive. Early in the morning, they went to the tomb and Jesus’ body was not there! Instead, two messengers ask, “why do you look for the living among the dead?” They declare that Jesus has risen from the dead. Later that day, two disciples are walking home when they are joined by a stranger. When they sit down to have supper together, they suddenly recognize this stranger as Jesus. They return to the other disciples, and as all are wondering over these encounters, Jesus stands with them, saying “peace be with you” and asking for something to eat.

This is the third time the disciples are hearing and experiencing the news that Jesus is not dead, but is alive.

Those of you who have been around church, have heard this news that Jesus is alive many, many times. But I wonder if there might still be something in this news that hasn’t quite sunk in because it doesn’t really fit with how many people think of life after death.

Jesus is raised from the dead, in his body.

At first the disciples are scared and think he’s a ghost. But then Jesus says, “touch me and see” – he has flesh and bones! And to prove he’s really there, body and all, he takes some fish and eats it.

Ghosts don’t eat. At least, they don’t eat like human bodies do. As I thought about Jesus eating the fish, I remembered a scene from the 1995 movie Caspar the Friendly Ghost. Caspar serves breakfast to his uncle ghosts. They throw back mounds of food. It goes through their transparent bodies and drops on the floor. The overall effect is the same as taking a cupcake from the table and smashing it on the floor.

Jesus is not a ghost. He is not dead. It’s not that he faked his death. He really was dead. It’s just that he’s not dead anymore. He is alive because God’s resurrected him. The Bible goes to great lengths to tell us that this being resurrected includes having a real body. It’s a big deal- and we tend to totally overlook it.

One of the most radical things about the Christian faith is that we believe in a God who as the person Jesus Christ is both human and divine, is born into a human body, lives a human life, and dies a human death- and then is raised to life in that body. Incarnation- being in a body- is one of the central things we believe about God. God lives in a body. God lives in a body in order to bring life and salvation to us bodied people and all matter bound creation.

Jesus is the first of all to be resurrected. He is the promise and sign of the resurrection that will happen. We look forward to all creation being renewed. Our hope rests in the promise that what happened to Jesus will also happen to us. Death will not be the final end, but God will give life even after we die.

We remember this hope every time we confess the Apostles’ Creed in worship. In the Creed, we declare, “I believe in… the resurrection of the body.”

An embodied God who experiences an embodied resurrection means that bodies matter- today and in the future. God created matter, formed bodies out of the mud. Jesus experienced life and death and resurrection in his body. God cares for and gives life to bodies. Life in a body is all we know. We are bodies.

And yet we tend to push against being bodied people. At the same time as the witness of Jesus’ resurrection and the stories of his real body eating after his death were being written, people were thinking of themselves as having a soul, or some more real part of themselves that was separate from their bodies. They noticed what it means to have a body and thought of it all as messy, gross, complicated, and limiting. They believed there must be a purer part of themselves, and that connection with God would be found on a spiritual plane. They couldn’t imagine God being interested in messy, dirty, sometimes failing bodies. They wouldn’t believe that the true God dealt with matter. God couldn’t have created the earth because that’s too beneath God- God only deals with the spiritual.

We’ve inherited this idea that somehow bodies are less holy than spirits or souls. We’ve thought there was something else in us that could be disconnected from our physical being and when that separation occurs, we’d be better off. We’ve looked forward to the day when we can leave our bodies and somehow be more free and more fully connected to God.

Jesus’ incarnation, death, and resurrection challenges us when we try to ignore the importance of our bodies for life now and in the future. Jesus has a real body and Jesus saves real bodies. That matters for how we live and do ministry today.

When bodies matter, and aren’t simply something we have to deal with now, but someday will shrug off in order to be our real selves, then we’re called to care for bodies. God values bodies enough to create them, give them life, inhabit them, and resurrect them. If we’re about following God, we’d better value bodies, too.

That’s why I see things that we might call social ministries or social justice as central to our living out of the gospel. Bodies have needs: food, shelter, clothing, safety. Advocating for systems that support people’s needs, providing resources for those who don’t have them, creating ways for people to live in dignity- these actions rise out of a belief in Jesus’ bodily resurrection. We care about people in their bodies now, not just about what happens to their souls after they die.

We’re not here to simply wait for the day we can leave behind this needy body and enter into our spiritual existence. Caring for people in their lives now matters. We’re embracing people as they are today, in bodies loved and redeemed by the God who enters creation and puts on a body himself.

God loves you in your body right now. Your body is worthy of love. Too often we’ve been taught that our bodies aren’t good. We’ve been taught to hate the body we have now. That message gets expressed in many ways- like when we buy a swimsuit telling ourselves we’ll fit into it by summer. But God made our bodies in God’s good creation. You are good and beloved and worthy of God’s choice to share life with people.

Having a body-positive faith means we accept all of what it means to have a body as part of God’s good creation. That means our faith affects every aspect of our life, since we never exist outside our bodies, and it affects every relationship we have, since we only relate through our bodies.

A body-positive faith affects how I parent, as I try to show my children that their bodies are good, meant to cared for and protected, but never a reason to feel ashamed. Bodily functions, our varying abilities to do things with our bodies like get dressed, ride a bike, or reach the cereal, the way we feel – none of it is gross or not good enough or wrong- it’s all just a part of who we are and how we’re learning to be in the world.

A body positive faith affects how we understand life changes, limitations, and illness. Our bodies are not the same as they were ten years ago! There might be joy or grief for you in that. I often hear people tell me the golden years aren’t so golden as they deal with aging. I was taken aback a couple years ago when I told my doctor after having Lydia I didn’t feel the same anymore- and she frankly looked at me and said, “you’re getting older.” (ha!) As we consider our own lives and as we love people who experience changes in their abilities and in their health, we can find ourselves wishing for healing and restoration. We believe in a God who healed bodies in wonderful signs of God’s power to renew life. Yet it’s also important that we don’t fall into the trap of asking, “what’s wrong?” as if things are only right in our bodies when we are at a certain image of health and ability. It helps me to know that God is here, with me, in my way of living today, not simply waiting for me to be made free, or restored to the abilities I once had.

Believing in an embodied God affects our conversation and actions around hot topics like race, sexuality, and gender. We take seriously people’s lived experience in their bodies, and don’t try to spiritualize away the color of their skin, their relationships or identity expression and the way that affects life. We’re freed to talk about and experience life as sexual beings when we don’t feel a need to equate our bodies with evil and shame. Our bodies, with all their diverse shapes, colors, ability to relate to others, and expressions, are beautiful and are beloved creations of God.

We experience God in our bodies. We don’t exist in any other way! I’ve watched plenty of movies that show some kind of astral projection, people stepping away from their bodies to have a spiritual experience, but I’ve yet to have that happen in real life. We experience God through means- through our bodies. We hear God’s Word in preaching, proclamation, song, and scripture. We see, taste, feel, and smell God’s presence in water, wine, and bread. That’s why the sacraments are so central in our faith experience. Art, music, movement, community- all these are ways in which we physically experience God in worship.

Today, we hear the witness of Jesus’ bodily resurrection alongside words of trust in the unknown future from First John. “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when God is revealed, we will be like God, for we will see God as God is.” We don’t really know exactly what happens when we die. We know that God gives life. Jesus was dead and now is alive. In Luke, we are reminded that Jesus has a body, and yet there is something different about that body- it is not bound by some of the constraints our bodies are today. So who can know for sure what resurrection, heaven, and the new creation will be like? God has given us life now, and will give us life in the future. What we know is what we are now- beloved bodies who God created and declared good.

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And Yet… Easter Sunday Mark 16:1-8
April 19, 2018, 12:37 pm
Filed under: Sermons

Mark 16:1-8 

Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ!

 

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

 

__

(haha, you know, not really knowing how to respond to that news is exactly what we hear in our Gospel this morning. I say Alleluia! Christ is Risen- you say Christ is risen indeed alleluia. )

 

*Christ is Risen indeed, alleluia! Yes! That’s the response to the good news! It’s something many of you have practiced and learned, but we read in the gospel this morning that the first people to hear it had no idea how to respond.

 

__

 

In the Gospel of Mark, three women set out to the Jesus’ tomb early in the morning. These women are Jesus’ disciples, caretakers, and friends, and they go to perform their final task of ministering to him.

 

They’re in the midst of that kind of grief that gets stuck on things and won’t let them see past the immediate problem. They set off from home, but now that they’ve been walking for a while, they remember that the tomb is sealed. There’s a heavy stone covering the entrance. How will they get inside to prepare Jesus’ body? They’re so caught up in worrying about this- repeating to each other- how are we going to move it? I don’t think we’ll be strong enough. Why didn’t we ask one of the disciples. I’m sure your son would have been willing to help us. Why didn’t he offer? Why are we doing this alone? How are we going to get in?

 

They’re so caught up in worry that they almost walk right in to the tomb. They’re startled, look up, and see that the stone is already rolled back.

 

A young man is there who tells them awesome, good news, “Do not be alarmed. Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, has been raised. He is not here. Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee, there you will see him.”

 

Shock takes over, fear freezes them, and then releases them so that their legs work again and they run. Maybe they cling to the clothes and spices they’ve brought because it’s something solid to hold onto, maybe they let them drop and smash on the ground.

 

Nothing’s as they’ve expected. It’s all just too much. The Gospel ends in silence and fear.

 

 

I love this Gospel. It’s not afraid to be real about this totally unreal experience. An empty tomb isn’t the reality we live in. Dead no longer dead isn’t the reality we know. As Church and Easter people, we’ve gotten comfortable with this “Alleluia Christ is Risen (—-) idea- even if we aren’t always so comfortable with the refrain. The thing is, it’s not a very comfortable idea. It messes with the one certainty we all expect.

 

The Gospel of Mark with its shocked into silence women seems to be just about right. I really get them. I’m a don’t get excited until it actually happens type of person. If you’ve heard of Dr. Brene Brown, you might be familiar with what she calls “foreboding joy.” She studies vulnerability in its relationship to how we live full lives, and she’s noticed that many people live in this sense of foreboding joy.

 

This occurs when you’re looking at your children sleeping soundly at night and they looks so cute and quiet and safe – but then you imagine the worst possible thing that could happen to them. Or, you get a new job, one you’ve been working so hard for and you’re so excited. You’re on the plane on the way to headquarters to get trained in, and then you have this sense that it’s totally going to crash- or if you make it there safely, they’ll take one look and you and say, sorry, there’s been a mistake, we must have called the wrong person. Whenever there’s something good, you just can’t totally accept it, there has to be a catch or a bad thing coming.

 

That’s what I see in the women fleeing the empty tomb. Maybe they remember Jesus saying something about rising from the dead, maybe they want to believe he really is alive, but after so much fear and pain over the last days, it’s hard to open themselves to another possible disappointment. If they believe and it’s not really true, then they’ll be worse off than if they just never believed in the first place. Why open themselves to hope?

 

The Gospel records- “and they said nothing to anyone, being afraid, and yet…”

 

And yet…

 

Many of our English translations don’t end with a coordinating conjunction, but the original Greek does, and to me that opens up this strange ending to further possibilities. Even though the words end, it means there is more to the story. The women ran away in fear with mouths closed- and yet- yet this Gospel was written, the story was told, the resurrection was believed. They found the bravery to be vulnerable by trusting the good news that Jesus is alive. Incomprehensible joy maybe, but no longer foreboding, no longer hesitant.

Something eventually changed and the women trusted God enough to share the story and generations since have heard and believed and lived a new life grounded in this strange and beautiful news that death is not the ending and violence has not won.

 

Today I ask if you’re willing to be vulnerable in order to trust this good news that Jesus is alive, death is conquered, and a new life marked by peace and well-being is coming?

 

Easter can be hard. Sure, the bright music and beautiful flowers and full sanctuary and chocolate bunnies are all lovely and lift the spirits- but to go into Monday with the promise of resurrection is a bit more difficult. Just like the women getting stuck on how they will roll back the tomb, we can get stuck on all the obstacles between us and a life of hope.

 

The news will still talk of war. The food shelf will still have clients who struggle for basic necessities. Loved ones will still be sick. We will still see death all around us.

 

And yet…

 

The tomb is empty. Jesus who was crucified has been raised. He is alive.

 

That witness, the good news that somehow escaped lips frozen in fear, is meant to overlay all we see. Where there is violence, we remember the Jesus took on violence in order to finally destroy it. Where there is need, we remember that Jesus promised the poor would be blessed. Where there is death, we remember that Jesus was the first of all to be raised into new life. The moment we live in is not the final ending. God is still at work to bring healing and life, and one day, we will see this salvation’s completion.

 

We can help each other be courageous enough to live full lives, grounded in faith. Dr. Brown gives us an image of an arena. Every day when we wake up, we enter the arena, the sports stadium, the play stage. We have the opportunity to show up- in work, in relationships, in service- we have the chance to live fully engaged. There are always detractors in the crowd, but we get to pick who’s in the front row, in our team’s box. We need people who will cheer us on, remind us that our hope and our work is not useless, but that we are part of a great narrative being written by God, that will certainly end in life and joy. We’ve gathered here today to be cheerleaders for each other.

 

 

How might your life be changed if you were vulnerable – open- to living the good news of Jesus’ resurrection? Might you work for peace even when you don’t see progress? Continue to feed and serve even when struggle never ends across the generations? Expect to be surprised by joy and find it because you’re looking? Risk looking foolish for the sake of love? This congregation exists to cheer others on in this good news, so that we might live changed lives in a world God is changing towards resurrection.

 

We’re one community called to live, worship, and praise together so that when some among us are faltering, others can strengthen them. With voices hesitant and voices bold, we proclaim:


Alleluia. Christ is Risen! Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia.



Easter Sunday at Chum Church John 20:1-18 Luke 24:13-35
April 19, 2018, 12:24 pm
Filed under: Sermons

Read the Bible

Grace and peace to you, my siblings in Christ.

We are in a whole season of Easter. Easter is celebrated on more than one day. One thing I like best about having church during Easter is that we get to have a special greeting. Just like if it’s your friend’s birthday, you say something special- we say Happy birthday! On Easter I say – Alleluia Christ is Risen- and you say- Christ is Risen indeed alleluia. Let’s do that together.

That’s how we celebrate Easter- by sharing the good news- Alleluia Christ is Risen— Christ is Risen indeed alleluia.

That means Jesus is alive. He’s not dead. We can be happy.

Today we read from two books of the Bible. They both are stories about what happened when people first learned that Alleluia Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen indeed alleluia.

In both of these stories, people see Jesus alive, but they don’t know it’s him! They don’t recognize him. That’s really strange to me, because the people who don’t recognize Jesus are the people who know him the best. They are disciples, people who spent a lot of time with Jesus. They would work with Jesus, pray with Jesus, listen to Jesus, eat with Jesus- how can they look at Jesus now and not know it’s him?

So I’ve been thinking about what makes it so that we don’t recognize people we know. Maybe we don’t know who someone is if they’re wearing a big hat, or funny glasses. Maybe it’s been a long time and they look different or we’ve forgotten them. Sometimes I don’t recognize someone when they aren’t where I expect them to be. If I’m grocery shopping, I might be trying to remember everything on my grocery list, and I’m so focused on that, I could walk past my best friend and not notice!

I think the disciples are so focused on being sad because Jesus died. They’re so focused on being confused because they’ve heard that Jesus is not in the tomb, but they don’t understand what that means. They are so focused on something else, they don’t recognize the good news, they don’t recognize that Jesus is standing right with them, talking to them! Then Jesus does something to make them recognize him.

So how do we recognize people? I recognize my children on the playground by their brightly colored snowsuits. I recognize my mom’s voice because she calls me on the phone. I recognize my husband when he holds my hand. I know people I love from the way they look or sound or feel or what they do to help me.

Mary recognizes Jesus when he calls her by name. Their relationship, Jesus’ knowing her, calls her into recognition, and she knows the alive man standing in front of her is Jesus. Alleluia Christ is Risen!

The two disciples walking on the road recognize Jesus when he sits down to share a meal with them. Jesus’ sharing of bread reminds them of all the times they’ve shared a meal, and of that special meal when Jesus talked about giving his body and blood for them. Their fellowship, Jesus’ feeding them, brings them into recognition, and they know that the alive man sharing a meal with him is Jesus. Alleluia Christ is Risen!

Today Jesus is still with us. One of the ways Jesus is with us is in each other. When we meet each other, we can recognize Jesus’s spirit in each other. When Sue welcomes you all to CHUM Church, I recognize Jesus because Jesus welcomes people in love. When you are happy to see each other, I recognize Jesus because Jesus celebrates each person. When we share a meal together, I recognize Jesus because Jesus shares meals where everyone has enough and everyone has a place at the table.

Today we help each other recognize the good news. Jesus is here with us. Alleluia Christ is Risen!



Opposites: Sermons for Palm/Passion Sunday Gospel Reading Mark 14:1-15:47
April 19, 2018, 12:21 pm
Filed under: Sermons

Gospel Reading

Mark 14:1-15:47

Children’s Sermon

 

Today we’re telling a story throughout our entire worship. It’s the story of the final days of Jesus’ life all the way through his death and burial. It’s a sad story and it’s ok to feel sad or scared by some of the parts of the story.

We already started the story this morning. I think this story is all about opposites. Do you know your opposites? (flash cards?) What’s the opposite of hot? On? Closed?

Great.

We’re going to tuck that idea of opposites in our head and remember the beginning of the story we’re telling today. What did we just do? Can anyone tell me the story about Jesus?

Great. Were the people happy excited or angry when they saw Jesus?

They used these palms to say they were happy excited!

The next part of the story is going to talk about Jesus’ friends. What’s a good friend like?

What’s the opposite of a friend?

We’re going to hear that Jesus’ friends left him. One of his friends turned on him and led people who wanted to hurt him right to him. That’s the opposite of being a friend.

Jesus gets taken away and a crowd gets to decide what happens to him. But they’re not happy excited anymore- what’s the opposite?

They’re angry. They decide they want Jesus to go away and stop teaching. They want him to go away so much that they wish he was dead. Everyone decides that Jesus should die on the cross, and that’s what happens.

One of the ways I like to remember the opposites of this day is to fold my palm- which I used when I felt what? Into a cross- which reminds us that the crowd felt what?

It reminds me that I can act in opposite ways sometimes. Sometimes I’m not a good friend. Sometimes I feel angry and I hurt people when I’m angry.

 

Most of all, it reminds me of God’s opposites. Jesus is God and could choose to be a great king, to have everything he wants, to hang out with movie stars— but instead Jesus chooses the opposite- to love people others leave out, to work for people so they can live, to spend his time with people who need him. On the cross, Jesus died. But- God made the opposite of what we expect happen! God raised Jesus to life. Next Sunday we’ll celebrate that really special opposite. God takes death and makes it the opposite- life.

So even though my palm is a cross now, it doesn’t have to mean scary or sad things, it reminds me that God takes sad things like death and turns them into the opposite- life in happiness. That’s the future God has for all of you- not death or scary things, but life and love.

You can see if you can make your own palm cross, and after worship I can help you make them, too.

 

 

 

 

 

Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

Today is a dramatic day. Thank you, readers, for helping to bring the story of this day to life. This is indeed a day of opposites. As we live into this great drama, we recognize our own tendency to sweep from reception to rejection, faithfulness to betrayal, service to selfishness. God works through the Bible to show us ourselves, and it isn’t always a pretty picture.

God reveals our fickleness, so that we would rely on God’s faithfulness. I hear the crowd’s movement from “Hosanna” to “Crucify” and for a moment I think, surely not I- that’s not me. They didn’t really know what they were doing or who Jesus was. I know better. But then I wonder, when I have wanted Jesus only when it was convenient for me?

In place of our fickleness, God shows us faithfulness. Jesus sticks around for rejection after rejection. At the garden, Jesus may have pled, “Stay with me,” while all his disciples left him. Jesus is the one who will stay with you, through all things. Jesus chooses to experience rejection, suffering, and death so that you would know that there is nothing so bad that you can do that will make him give up and decide you’re not worth the effort. Jesus does all things to be with you.

God reveals violence as our response to fear. Jesus was a threat because he challenged the way things were. The Roman empire was threatened because he claimed a different order of authority. The religious leaders were threatened because he taught with a different perspective, and the signs he performed pointed to his authority. The people lived under the rule of a foreign empire. Life didn’t match their hopes and dreams. Someone needed to take the blame. The crowd’s eager cry of “Crucify” reveals our choice to blame outsiders and others, convicting them to punishment, so that the general feeling of unease has a source that can be named and contained. The way we’ve learned to deal with a sense of danger is to put a name to it, a face to it, attached to someone who is other than us. The way we’ve learned to deal with threats is to destroy them, defeat them, through violence. We trust violence to be the solution to protect us from fear.

When he hear the centurion declare, “truly this man was the Son of God,” we are shocked into the realization that our scapegoating lands punishment where it is not deserved. Jesus takes on all the violence we show towards others. When we look at Jesus on the cross and recognize his innocence, we are startled away from thinking violence will be an answer to our fear. Jesus so longs for us to live in peace and harmony that he shows us what a false answer violence is.

God reveals our limited expectations, and surprises us with life instead of death. Jesus’ body is laid in the tomb with the certainty of death. Everyone knows death is the end of life, and there’s no going back. Next Sunday we will gather to celebrate the greatest of all the opposites God works. Through death, Jesus makes life forever and death only temporary.

Today we hear the story of our greatest brokenness, our most obvious rejection of God. It it a story of our killing God. When our intent is death, God transforms our intentions to work the opposite.

God works in us, works through the hearing of the Bible, so that we would recognize where we are not living into God’s intention for us. At that moment of realizing our failings, God speaks grace to us, showing us that it’s not our perfection, but God’s love that matters. We can rely on God instead of ourselves.

We may flip flop between the best and worst of who we can be- but God remains steadfast. God’s action for us is certain and true. God is working to bring you life and healing, now and forever.



What’s the Point: A Sermon for Lent on Ecclesiastes 1 and 2
April 19, 2018, 12:08 pm
Filed under: Sermons

12I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, 13applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. 14I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind. 15What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted. 16I said to myself, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” 17And I applied my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a chasing after wind.

2I said to myself, “Come now, I will make a test of pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But again, this also was vanity.

12So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly… 15Then I said to myself, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also; why then have I been so very wise?” And I said to myself that this also is vanity.

17So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me; for all is vanity and a chasing after wind.

20So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun?

5:18This is what I have seen to be good: it is fitting to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of the life God gives us; for this is our lot.

9: 7Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; …9Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that are given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.

Word of God, Word of Life. Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

It is my joy to join you in worship this evening. Thank you for your welcome. I bring you greetings from your siblings at Our Savior’s in West Duluth.

Us preachers have been tasked with picking out one text that brings hope for today. I’ve stepped away from all the beautiful verses worthy of inspirational posters to read from a book I appreciate for its unrelenting honesty.

“Vanity of vanities, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” Not something you’d hang in the front of a classroom to inspire students to work harder.

“All is vanity… utterly meaningless… a chasing after the wind.”  These written words are the cry of someone searching for meaning in a world that doesn’t make sense. It’s a voice looking for purpose in a world that isn’t fair.

This voice belongs to someone called the Teacher. The Teacher notices and questions. Some people might hear this voice as too depressing, but I’ve always liked it. In a way, it reminds me of the voice of a teenager or young adult, someone who is noticing things are not as good in the world as she had assumed during her childhood. She hasn’t learned that you’re supposed to be content with the way things are, and questions everything. Maybe she’s angry things aren’t as nice as she thought they were, but behind the anger you can hear a desire for hope. The Teacher is like this teenager, daring us readers, daring God, to answer for the state of the world in a real and meaningful way so that she can go on living.

Although I hear in the Teacher’s voice the voice of youth, the Teacher describes himself as old, having lived enough to see the world for what it is. As we hear him noticing things about the world, we also hear the question he’s longing for God to answer:

The Teacher laments the futility of all our work. One might plant but another enjoys the fruit of his labor. One might work three jobs and never get ahead of the bills. What’s the point?

The Teacher calls evil the way of the world that leads to injustice. People get rich by oppressing others. One might organize and march, write letters and make phone calls, and still not see those in power work for justice. One might bike to work, install led lighting, and compost, but all that work to care for creation is offset by another’s overuse of resources. Why try?

The Teacher points our impermanence, writing, “All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again” (3:20), a precursor to our Ash Wednesday refrain, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Death is the end we will all meet. Often the Teacher calls this meaninglessness, because those who do good die just the same as those who do evil. Does life matter?

These questions embedded in his observations push the Teacher into deeper exploration of the human condition and our relationship with God. They are the questions we might all bring into our prayer life- “What’s the point? Why try? Does my life matter?” That these questions are included in the Bible gives us permission to pray them. My challenge to you this Lent is to not hold back from asking God the questions that really matter to you. It’s not necessary to have quick and pious answers. The Teacher is traditionally identified as King Solomon, to whom God gave great wisdom. If this giant in the faith can ask these questions, so can you.

The Teacher’s clear-sighted honesty leads not to despair, but to a determined enjoyment of whatever good life brings. Have food and drink? Enjoy every taste. Have a spouse you love or a friend you connect with? Celebrate being with that person. Have a job? Take pride in your work and sleep well at night. Live in the moment. Hug your children. Look for the little joys and give thanks for them. Life is not all unicorns and rainbows, but if there are any moments of happiness, they are meant to be sought for and treasured.

From my own faith journey, I hear God answering the Teacher’s desperate questioning.

Is it evil that we plant and another enjoys? No. We do not live for ourselves alone. If we see that in God we are all connected, then we can be happy when our work benefits another member of our human community.

Is it useless to work for justice? No. Doing what we can is our way of living into our prayer, “your kingdom come.” We work for justice trusting that God is building a new kingdom in which all creation is valued and peace will be complete.

Is life pointless because it ends? No. Living on this side of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we can look past death with hope for a new life to come.

The voice of the Teacher joins my own in noticing and questioning. I notice that tragedies, disasters, accidents, disease, any one of us can be affected at any time, in any place. I question- how do we go about living?

An example that I think hits many of our hearts at this time:

A few months ago my three year old came home to describe her day at daycare. She told me that they had practiced shutting the door and hiding in the corner and being really quiet. They were learning to be safe if a bad person came into the school, she explained. Lock down drills. At three years old. How can I bear to let my child out of my sight? The Teacher writes, “…time and chance happen to them all. For no one can anticipate the time of disaster” (9:11b-12). There is no assurance of safety anywhere. In light of the horrific shooting in Florida, how can we live in times of danger and uncertainty?

I struggle. But I think it’s ok to struggle in faith. Holy platitudes don’t ring true to me, and they don’t help much. So don’t tell me an angel is watching over her, or that God won’t give me more than I can handle, or that if my faith is strong enough, everything will be ok. And never tell me that a child dies so God can have an angel in heaven.

But tell me a gospel that speaks to my life. The voice of the Teacher prepares the way for the gospel by not pretending about the struggles in life. If the Bible can speak truth about the pain in life, then I can believe when through the Bible, God speaks promise for healing in the future.

The gospel is that God stands with us in the midst of struggle and creates meaning in our lives by sharing life with us.

God entered creation to share our human life. That Jesus Christ is God with Us, God as one of us, is a sign of God’s valuing this messy, complicated, beautiful life we live. Life is not perfect, but it is precious. God’s valuing of human life gives it meaning. Yes, the laundry pile is never completed, and as soon as the dishwasher is empty, another stack of dishes appear- but our God in the flesh- Jesus- may have stood at the sink just like us, embracing the ordinary rhythm of human life, and making it holy.

God enters the powerlessness of our lives. Jesus died, sharing in the end of human life. Jesus died in the ultimate place of vanity, on the cross where rebels with all their plans for a different way of life were snuffed out. Even though all Jesus did seemed meaningless in that moment of despair, that was not the end. God raised Jesus from the dead. By resurrecting Jesus, God breathed into the finality of death a new life. God changed our future path from certain death to certain life.

God has united you with Jesus. Jesus’ resurrection belongs to you. All that we want to hold on to- life and loved ones- is already in God’s care. I can let my daughter go into her day because I know God is holding on to her, and no matter what happens, she will never be truly lost. God will carry all of us through this life into the new life God is preparing for all creation.

Jesus’ proclamation of a new life, a new way of being human that is not drenched in injustice, suffering, or violence, is made certain in his resurrection. In this life, we may not see our work for a better life for all brought to completion. But in God’s time, holistic peace will come to be.

The honest voice of the Teacher encourages us to lean into our humanity. To accept our frailty, our lack of power. When we’re not trying to be more than we are, we can be who we were created to be.  Claiming our humanity allows for us to look outside of ourselves for God. We are freed to be human because there is a God. God is present with us today and is preparing a future in which all evil will be destroyed, all injustice made right, and life will never end.

The voice of Teacher, after all its noticing and questioning, speaks an urgency to live life to the fullest, work hard for what is good, and trust in God to create meaning. This moment is what you have. This life is a gift. Enjoy whatever is worthy of joy. Point out and work against that which is evil. Trust in God, who is making all things new for you. We do not live in vain because we live our lives under the care of God, who gives meaning to all things, and answers our questioning with love.



Remembering God: Jeremiah 31:31-34 Lent Covenant Series “Standing on the Promises of God”
April 19, 2018, 12:05 pm
Filed under: Sermons

Jeremiah 31:31-34 

Grace and peace to you, siblings in Christ.

 

I have this necklace from when I was a girl. The charm on it is a piece of a heart. It fits together with another heart, like a puzzle. Engraved on its face is “Best Friends Forever.” I wore one half. My best friend wore the other. Our necklaces reminded us that we belonged together- they were a sign to the world that we were connected.

 

A few years later I had another necklace. This one had a heart in three pieces, to be split with my new two best friends. Best Friends Forever was an expression of the depth of relationship in that moment, which is worthy of being treasured. We couldn’t know at that time everything that would happen in the months and years to come. At age 8 or 10, it was hard to imagine forever in time.

 

Our relationships change. People move. Interests change. There doesn’t have to be betrayal or bad feelings. It’s just what happens.

 

Our faith lives can be the same way. One person might be raised in faith, supported into daily prayer, family devotions, and attend the full course of Christian Education. Another might have a mountaintop experience or a tragedy during which God becomes incredibly real and important. But then other things happen. Life gets busy. Faith practices like church participation don’t seem to give the high they once did. Situations change. Commitment fades.

 

We’ve been reading through the Old Testament stories of God making promises to God’s people. These promises have been God’s ways of entering into a relationship with people. By the time we get to the book we’ve read today, Jeremiah, the people have had times of great trust in their relationship with God. They’ve also had times during which their faith has grown cold and faltered. They’ve thought their neighbors’ gods might be more helpful. They’ve forgotten God.

 

Jeremiah tells us what God does to people who lose faith. Jeremiah says what God will do with those whose commitment fades and those who ignore God.

 

God remembers them. God’s remembering is a re-membering, a re-putting together, putting together again us and God, even when we thought we left God behind.

 

God comes to those whose faith has faltered. God comes to those who have become too busy to go to church. God comes to those who have forgotten they have a God. God comes to those who feel afraid that they aren’t worthy, that what they’ve done has made them too bad or what they’ve become isn’t good enough.

 

The way God comes to you is by becoming a part of you, entering your life, taking up residence in the center of who you are. God promises, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” God puts that promise relationship of God for us inside of us, so that it can never be removed.

 

God has put God’s presence within God’s people. We sometimes talk about Jesus in our heart. When Laila was little, she would talk about Jesus in her tummy. That’s actually a little closer to what this text says- God in our tummy and our heart. Whatever you imagine as the center of your identity, the place that directs your emotions and your actions, that’s where God has come to be. From within you, God inspires you towards faith, draws you back into relationship with God, and will bring you into life with God.

 

Through the prophet Isaiah, God asks, “Can a nursing mother forget her child?”

As a once nursing mother, I can tell you there is no way to forget that child and her needs- even if your head or heart were to choose to ignore her cries, your body could not. We may forget God, but God will not forget us.

 

If anyone has a good memory, it’s God. Yet here in Jeremiah, we read that for the sake of relationship, God has a selective memory. God promises, “I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” God promises not to remember the violence of humanity that led to the flood. Not to remember the unfaithfulness of Abraham and Sarah as they laughed at God’s promise of a child in their old age. Not to remember all the broken commandments. Not to remember the complaints of the freed slaves who wanted to return to slavery in Egypt rather than walk God’s path to a new life.

 

God chooses not to remember every thing you’ve ever done against God, every choice you’ve made that diminished life, every action you’ve taken that’s hurt creation. God chooses not to remember all the times you’ve chosen yourself over someone else. God chooses not to remember that you haven’t always wanted God to be your God.

 

God’s choice not to remember means God’s not keeping score of wrongs. God’s not marking tallies for every wrong, weighing your bad against your good, preparing for a final judgement at the pearly gates of heaven. God is choosing to forget.

 

We know what it is to remember the sin of others. Holding on to grudges, remembering how you’ve been wronged, is what sours a relationship and keeps it from ever being healed.

 

I knew a family* out in farm country. Three generations all lived within a couple miles of each other. The mother in the middle generation was dying. Her husband was angry. Not only to lose his wife, but it was anger also towards his parents and his brother. The inheritance had been split years before, and he felt he had been wronged. When the parents moved into town, the brother had received the farm. He had been given some cash, but seeing the corn prices rise and the fields produce fed his calculations that his brother had been given much, much more than he had. As he looked at his kids, he imagined all he could have given them if only he had had the farm. He began to feel that his brother had stolen not only from him, but from his children. As he looked at his wife, he wondered if she might not be dying if only his fortunes had been different. This man’s choice to remember the wrong he felt had been done against him robbed him of relationships. His grudge robbed him of his brother, his parents; robbed his children of their grandparents and uncle; robbed his wife of another family of support.

 

Keeping score of who got more, who did what to hurt you, who said what however many years ago- all that stuff just destroys relationship. That’s why God forgives. None of that junk gets in the way of God loving you. We can respond to others in our lives with that same forgiveness and live in the freedom of being in relationships that don’t track tick for tat, but simply love.

 

There are times when it would be wise not to forget. Times when it makes sense not to restore a relationship with another person. In a situation of abuse, when someone keeps hurting you or taking from you, when they might find healing apart from you, then don’t forget. You don’t need to be like Jesus in putting yourself in dangerous situations just to prove your ability to forgive and to love. God’s choice to forgive and forget is a gift for you, not a burden to bear in your relationships with others.

 

God remembers and God forgets, all so that God can be in relationship with you. God washes away all that would break down relationship in the waters and promise of baptism. Your body takes in Jesus in the bread, wine, and promise of communion. In Jesus, we are re-membered into One Body. We are each made members of the Body of Christ. Jesus has become an inseparable part of who you are and you have become an inseparable part of who Jesus is.

 

*Like any of my stories, this is not an actual story of a real family, but a compilation of many issues faced by real families and a seasoning of imagination*



Signs, Signs… 10 Commandments – Signs for Life Sermon for Lent Exodus 20:1-17
March 5, 2018, 3:11 pm
Filed under: Sermons

“Signs, signs, everywhere a sign… do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?” As I prepared for this Sunday, I couldn’t get this song from the 5 Man Electrical Band out of my head! “Signs, signs, everywhere a sign… do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?”

When I visited my last parish during the interview process, one of the first things I noticed were the signs. All along the fellowship hall, on each Sunday School door were big posters in the shape of road signs with quotes, “Obey the Lord!” “Stop- sinning!” “Yield to God!”

Once you got past the door, inside the classrooms were lists of the 10 Commandments, described as rules for life.

Signs, signs- rules, rules. A quick glance around told me that was what was important in this community. It was a German church and with it’s focus on telling kids the rules and expecting them to follow them, it fit my stereotype of my own German immigrants grandparents. I immediately had flashbacks to my grandfather telling me never to touch the white walls with my dirty fingers, or learning from my grandmother to vacuum in a straight line so that the vacuum marks lined up just so. Order and rules.

That church isn’t alone in elevating the Ten Commandments to a central place. Groups try to get monuments of the commandments next to the courthouse as a way of saying, “here is God’s law” and it had better be upheld by civil law. Rules are how we order our society. At my church and many others, it was convenient and holy to teach kids to behave by saying these are God’s rules and you’d better be good. Treating the Ten Commandments as rules serves to try to keep people in line, but I don’t think it serves the central purpose of the Church.

More rules, even holy ones, don’t give life. They don’t create faith. Posted as a list of ten thou shalt and thou shalt nots- dos and don’ts- they are nothing more than a scolding finger wag, fodder for rebellious songs.

When we focus on the Ten Commandments as rules, we lose sight of the promise. God’s promise gives life. God’s promise creates faith. Proclaiming the promise is the work to which the Church is called.

These commands begin with and have their foundation in God’s promise, “I am the Lord your God.” They begin with God’s faithful action. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” God is affirming, continuing the promise made to Abraham, Sarah, and their descendants, “I will be your God.” God describes how God has already been faithful to them by hearing their cries during their enslavement and freeing them.

The Commandments are all about relationship and gift. The commands, “you shall have no other gods” and “you shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God” both center on the value and gift of God’s establishing relationship with us. God has come to us to be god to us, giving us access to be able to call on God. We can claim God God as OUR God because God has decided to make that relationship with us.

The command to “remember the Sabbath day” recalls the promise that we are made in God’s image. Just as God worked for six days and rested on the seventh, those created in God’s image are to reflect God’s day of rest in their own weekly rhythm.

The long list of “you shall nots” lifts up the gifts of God that include life, commitment, relationship, and property. God has given us all we have, from life to donkey, this is all a gift of God’s love for us.

Martin Luther wrote his small catechism to help parents teach the faith in their homes. As he explains the Ten Commandments, he begins each explanation, “We are to fear and love God, so that…” Luther wanted people to understand that we follow these commands in response to a relationship with God. One does not honor and love someone unknown. It is the relationship God has created with us that drives our desire and ability to live into these commands.

Relationship with God means a changed relationship with all that God has created. Drawn into relationship with God, we are not alone, we do not live to ourselves. We are joined to all of creation. We live, as Jesus does, for the sake of others. Embedded within these commands is a radical care for the other, especially those who are the most vulnerable and easiest to exploit.

We can miss this protection for those at risk when we read that the commandments include an assumption that the faithful would own slaves, or that a man’s wife is understood to be his property. There is a historical context in which these commandments were received that thankfully is not our context today. But given that some lives were valued more than others in that time period, the commandment’s encouragement to care for these lives is all the more powerful.

To see how God built into the commandments special care for those who are most vulnerable, let’s look back again at that commandment to remember and keep the Sabbath day holy. We read, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work- you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.” The Sabbath is not a day of rest only for the rich landowner whose wife or servant is cooking supper. It is a rest for all – children, slaves, immigrants, even the animals!

The relationship God brings us into is a relationship marked by care for all God has made. It’s never just a me and my God thing. It’s always about me within a whole community that God makes beloved and chooses to care for. So the commandments are not rules that tell me if I’ve gotten in good with God, but are guides to shape how we live out the relationship God has gifted us with- a relationship with God and all of God’s creation. God doesn’t need our faithfulness to these commands, but our neighbors do.

This perspective expands the Ten Commandments from a negative checklist of things I can’t do into a reorientation of my life that is guided by a desire to reflect God’s love by asking, “What does my neighbor need? How can my living make a positive impact on my neighbor?” Luther’s explanation to “You shall not murder” is, “We are to fear and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs.” Instead of a minimal threshold of the Commandments as providing us protection from each other, they are expansive in guiding us to care for each other.

The 10 Commandments are not meant to be posted on signs in order to add to guilt and judgement. Understanding them as rising out of God’s relationship to us and God’s gifts for us guides us into an alternative use. The 10 Commandments are meant to be signs. They are not meant to be signs that push people away, but signs that point to God.

They are signs that identify those who follow them as people set apart. God’s people, the Israelites, were conquered by a neighboring empire and many people were taken away to be held in a distant land. While they were there, and even back at home, there was pressure to forget God and live like everyone else. These commandments, especially the remembrance of the Sabbath, are signs of identity that help the community hold together and hold on to their faith. They live differently from others because they have a different relationship, they know God.

Today, our living into the Ten Commandments can serve to point others to God. Instead of using these commands as rules to shout at those who don’t recognize God, they can be ways of life that show the compassion, care, and love of God. They can start curiosity and questioning.

If our congregation and us as individuals are known for working for the well-being of our neighbors, we can explain that as our way of living out the commandment, “you shall not murder.” If we are known for advocating for family leave or sick time, we can explain that as our way of living out the commandment, “honor the Sabbath.” If we stand up to predatory lending or work for fair living wages, that can be our way of living out the commandments, “you shall not steal and you shall not covet.”

We might surprise the world into a curiosity about faith if we don’t use these commandments as something to post on walls with an attitude of judgment, but rather use them as guides into God’s new creation in which there is justice, peace, and well-being.