Sermon for 4/29/18 Acts 8:26-40

Alleluia! Christ is risen! One of my favorite theologians is the Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder. She is currently a pastor in the United Church of Christ, but was raised in the Southern Baptist and Pentecostal traditions. She’s a fiery woman with a heart and soul for social justice. On top of all of that, she’s an amazing preacher. She has taught me a lot about radical hospitality and inclusivity. She says that the goal of “radical inclusivity is to help the church become church.” It requires of us a new way of seeing and/or being. When I last heard her preach (almost a year ago) she encouraged us to exhibit radical hospitality as well. We, as the church, should know each other in flesh and in spirit. If we do not know each other in flesh and in spirit then how can we provide sanctuary for one another’s flesh and spirit. I love she said “you can never know me if I never bring me–if I have ‘church me’ and ‘me me’ then you don’t get the entire me.”

I find sometimes in the church that we categorize people in the “usta been” and “coulda been” categories. As in “he usta be a ….” or “she coulda been a ….” Last week I talked about knowing and being known. The peace that comes from being really known. That is peace that God can give us. Rarely are we just who we are. Instead, we are often “usta be’s” and “coulda been’s.” If you’ve ever reconnected with someone who knew you from “back in the day” then they might have known your “usta been” and may end up surprised with who you are on this day. Unfortunately, we tend to only think of those around us as “usta been’s” and “coulda been’s” and as ourselves as the real deal.

But, when the Holy Spirit nudges (as she often does) it is best for us to forget all about those “usta been’s” and “coulda beens” and follow Spirit. Now, I know this sounds a little crazy, but the chances might be pretty good that the Holy Spirit actually knows more than we do and knows better than we do. So, when the Holy Spirit nudged Philip to speak to the Ethiopian eunuch, Philip went. After all, this reading is from the book of Acts, not the book of Sits. When the Spirit leads, it may lead us to places we never thought of going and to interact with people we may have otherwise ignored. It may be easy to think that the eunuch is an outcast. He is dark skinned, from another land, and on top of that, he is a eunuch. Which means he is a castrated male. But, we aren’t told any of that. Instead, the eunuch is rich enough to ride in a chariot, he’s well educated (because he can read the Greek that the text was written), he’s very devout (reading Isaiah) and also humble enough to appreciate (and take) Philip’s help.

The Holy Spirit is the counter of our mental “usta been” and “coulda beens.” When the Holy Spirit leads us in a direction, our first instinct might be to fight it. We conjure up excuses. “Isn’t that the man who usta be…” or “what if these people are mighta beens” even worse “is this the kind of ministry we ought to be doing.” The oughtta been. Beloved, if the Holy Spirit is the one leading us, who are we to question. Because if the ministry we do in the name of Christ doesn’t reach those on the margins then we must ask ourselves if our ministry really is of Christ. When God calls us to do something, go somewhere, talk to someone, whatever the case may be, then we go. Excuses are the secrets that Satan himself has whispered to us and now we make verbal. Because evil doesn’t want to see Christ moving in the world. Evil doesn’t want us evangelizing. Evil doesn’t want us to point to even the smallest bit of water and proclaim that “nothing is to stop you from being baptized.” Instead, evil wants us to point out the usta been’s, shouldda beens, coulda beens, to make people feel less than, to make people feel like outcasts, to make people feel like they have been forgotten.

And instead of being forgotten, we are called to serve a God who sides with, who walks with, who dwells with the marginalized. We are called to learn from and with those whom society deems not worthy. We are the ones who have been called to say “I don’t care about your usta been, your shouldda been, your coulda been. Let me tell you about a guy you usta be a kid from Nazareth. He coulda been a carpenter. He shouldda minded his own business. But here we are.” Philip could have found out more about the Ethiopian eunuch and said “nah. Forget about it.” But instead, he sat with him, learned with him, learned from him, and then … just when things were getting really interesting, Philip told him the story of Jesus. This encounter wasn’t an accident. These two men didn’t just happen to run into one another. This conversation and this encounter has the Holy Spirit written all over it. There actually were a lot of things preventing the man from being baptized. But, in that moment, in that instant, when he asked “what is to prevent me from being baptized” the Holy Spirit responded “nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

How awesome is it that the man heard the story about Jesus and wanted to be part of that community as soon as possible. He didn’t wait until the next Sunday. He didn’t wait until this was done or that was done. He didn’t even wait for his momma. He saw a pool of water, commanded the chariot to stop, and demanded he be baptized right on the spot. He is no longer a usta been he’s now a gonna-be. So is Neela. She’s gonna-be a child of God. She’s gonna-be our newest evangelist. She’s gonna-be claimed by God. No matter what else happens in her life, she will always belong to God. And as we make promises to Neela and one another today, we are reminded that the same goes for us. It doesn’t matter who we usta-be, shouldda-been, or couldda-been. We’re all gonna-be’s. Which means we’re gonna-be open to moving when the Spirit tells us to move. We’re gonna be brave when the Spirit tells us to speak. We’re gonna be bold when the Spirit tells us to act. We’re going to shut down the negative voices and denounce the powers of the devil and all of the forces that defy God. Should the day come when someone, anyone asks us, followers of Christ, “what is to prevent me from being baptized?” how great will it be to respond “nothing. Absolutely nothing”?

Salvation is there for us all. Spirit sends us to teach and preach. Spirit sends us to wash away the usta-beens and declare the gonna-be in all people. We are not the keepers of the waters. We are not the landlords of heaven. The good news is this: alleluia! Christ is risen! We are not to keep that to ourselves. The Spirit is calling. She leads, we follow. Let’s go.

 

Nb: part of this sermon was inspired by a sermon and lecture given by Bishop Flunder at the Festival of Homiletics held in San Antonio in May 2017.  

 

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Sermon for 4/22/18 John 10:11-18

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! My best friend and I have been friends since second grade. So, about since we were 7 or so. That would be about 32 years. I’ve talked about her before. I call her one of my 3am gals. Meaning I could call her at 3am and she’d pick up the phone, no questions asked. Most everyone calls her Kristin except for me and a few others. I get to call her Krissi. One of the things that I appreciate the most about Kristin is that she knows me. She knows my deepest darkest secrets and loves me anyway. Kristin has the ability to see me as I truly am. She doesn’t see me as a Pastor, or a sister, or a daughter, or a wife. She sees me as me. And, I think at the core of all of us we all desire that: to truly be known. To truly be seen.

Sometimes I feel like I say the same thing to you multiple times. But there’s a reason for that. I need to hear it multiple times. Therefore, you get to hear it multiple times. We were created to be in relationship; to be in relationship with one another and to be in relationship with Christ. There is no part of you that Christ does not love. Maybe you haven’t heard me say that before. But, Jesus and thus God, loves every single part of you: mind, body, and soul. If Jesus is the good shepherd, which he says he is, and he wants to care for the sheep, which we are, then Jesus desires to and actually does care for us. It is a nurturing and intimate relationship. The shepherd and the sheep know one another.

We trust in the shepherd, and in a weird way, we trust in the other sheep. Think about this from the standpoint of actual sheep. Sheep prefer to be led from the front. You cannot lead sheep from the back as you do with cattle. So, the sheep follow the shepherd. If a sheep cannot see the shepherd, the follow the sheep in front of them. A community is built. The sheep trust one another and we trust one another as well. Sometimes I think that trust is what makes it hard to enter into a worshipping community like this one. We have built trust with one another and we know one another’s stories. We have that intimacy. When someone new comes into the flock we can be guarded. After all, not everyone knows our history. That has been one of the biggest challenges as your pastor. There are a lot of assumptions. People say “well the reason why we haven’t seen the so and so family at church was because of that fight they had. Remember?” No. That fight happened in 1986 when I was still in the third grade. It takes time to build up trust, I understand that. In seminary, we were taught that it takes almost 7 years before a congregation fully trusts the pastor.

Jesus is the good shepherd. He knows his own and his own know him. And the thing is this: being disciples together is really hard work. I’m not one to pretend it isn’t. If being the church was easy, everyone would do it. But we all know people that, for whatever reason, stay home Sunday after Sunday. We are anything but perfect. So, when you try and put a bunch of imperfect people together, it can get messy. But what makes us different than any other social or civic organization is Jesus. We gather around the one thing that makes us equal and that is Christ. It is difficult work. But, the work is worth it. If you have gone through a time of personal crisis and you have seen the way the church gathers around a fellow sheep, you understand why the work to be disciples together is hard and yet so rewarding.

At the root of the desire to be known as only Christ knows us is a longing for comfort and security. When we are truly known, we can let our guard down, put away our masks, and settle into who God really created us to be. When we are truly known, life feels easy. There isn’t the pressure to perform or the exhaustion that comes with being someone we aren’t. I think too often we assume that we must present Christ with a masked version of ourselves. We think that our true, genuine selves isn’t good enough for Christ. Instead, we have to pretend to be someone or something we most definitely aren’t. Of course, this makes no sense at all. If there is any place we can truly be ourselves, it should be and is at the foot of the cross. If there is any time we can truly be ourselves, it should be and is when we are in the presence of the risen Lord. In the waters of baptism, we are claimed as God’s own, just as we are. In the breaking of the bread, we are fed with the body and blood of Christ, just as we are. Christ offers us security that nothing else in this world can match. But with that comes great expectations.

If Christ offers us security, protection, and comfort but with that is the knowledge that nothing else in this world can do that the same way Christ can. Being a disciple isn’t a one way street. Christ has prepared us to be his hands and feet in the world. The expectation of discipleship is that we feel so filled and grateful for God’s love and protection that we can’t but help ourselves, we must serve our neighbors. Christ doesn’t love us and protect us because he expects anything in return. But, the love of God through Jesus is so powerful that we do it anyway. So this means that the security and comfort we receive from God through Jesus also doesn’t look like anything else that this world can offer.

We are a people who have been ushered from an empty grave into the world declaring that Alleluia! Christ is risen! For us, this means that because our security is found in Christ, we are free to serve others that the world has forgotten about. Because our identity is in Christ, we need not fear the judgement of others. Because the good shepherd keeps us secure, we can enter into the places in the world that others have forgotten and shine the light of Christ. The security we receive from Christ isn’t locked doors and shuddered windows, but instead is open hearts, minds, and ears and we anxiously look to encounter the risen Christ through others in the world. You are known. You are loved. You are genuinely cherished by the risen Christ. There is no part of you that Christ does not love. In that love comes the security and knowledge that the love of Christ has no expiration date. You are safe and secure in the risen Christ. The powers of evil in this world may fight for you, but they will not win. Have no fear, little flock. You are genuinely known and genuinely loved by a God who would and did die for you.

Sermon for 4/15/18 Luke 24:36b-48

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!) Growing up, we, for a while, had a scare-off happening in the house. There were four of us involved in this. We would hide behind doors, in closets, and on and on and try our best to scare one another. Jon, Jayna (my brother and sister), myself, and my dad all tried to scare one another. My mom sat back and probably just rolled her eyes. This hit a peak one night after we had all sat and watched the movie Cape Fear with Robert DeNiro. My sister hid under my parents bed. And she waited. My dad came home, took off his tie, emptied his pockets, and then sat down to take off his socks and shoes. He took off one shoe and one sock. Then the other. And just when his feet were on the floor, my sister reached out from underneath the bed and grabbed his ankles. I don’t want to make my dad sound weak, but he screamed like a little girl.

In today’s reading, the disciples, we are told, were startled and terrified. They looked as if they had seen a ghost. Then Jesus asks them “why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” This is the first time Jesus had showed himself to all of the disciples since his resurrection. So perhaps the disciples had a right to be afraid. They had not experienced the resurrected Christ for themselves. I think it’s only natural for them to have been afraid. As I said at Easter, I think fear and being startled is a predicted reaction to seeing the deceased now raised. It may be easy for us to shake our heads in disbelief, but we are at an advantage. We know more about Jesus now than the disciples did at that time.

The way that I think about this is that the disciples could have experienced one of two kinds of Jesus in this situation. They could have experienced the “flipping tables” Jesus. The one who gets angry and starts to flip tables. As if he was gonna say “I told you I would be raised on the third day! And you don’t believe me!?!” (flip tables) Or, they could have experienced the Jesus they actually did encounter: the loving, understanding Jesus. The Jesus who understood that despite telling them that he would be raised, that showing them his hands and feet is what it was going to take for them to believe. Jesus was willing to do whatever it was he needed to do so that the disciples would not be afraid.

Fear is such a powerful motivator in our current culture. It keeps us behind locked doors, much like the disciples. Or, it keeps figurative locks on our doors. Fear keeps a lock on our thoughts so that we do not have open minds. Fear keeps a lock on our hearts so that love is not allowed out or in. Fear keeps a lock on our arms so that we are not freed to serve. Fear keeps a lock on our feet so that we are not free to follow Christ. Fear keeps us from living fully into the disciples that God created us to be. Fear keeps us from accepting grace. Fear is the voice inside our heads that constantly teases us with the refrain of “you’re not good enough.” Fear keeps us from full faith.

Because here’s the thing, when we resist the actions that Christ calls us to because of fear then we aren’t worshipping God, we are worshipping fear. We are a people who declare that Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed!) And when we declare that, we are declaring that not even death can stop Christ. Christ has defeated death. Christ can defeat our fears. Jesus sees what the disciples need and he meets them where they are. He offers them his hands and feet, and then, after eating, encourages them to keep going. There is nothing to fear. Jesus reminds us of his promises by using scripture. Jesus frees them from their fear and Jesus frees us from our fears.

And here’s the thing: we cannot escape fear. We can, on a basic level, understand that fear has no power over us. We can understand that Christ can triumph over fear. But that doesn’t mean that fear will no longer exist. It’s like when we were trying to one up each other in our scaring, we kept looking behind doors for one another. Our fears can be personal: “Will I keep my job? Will they find a cure? Will the markets go up? Will our yield be what it needs to be?” Our fears can also be communal: “How safe are those nuclear weapons? What will the President tweet today? Will our school be next?” Fear is a joy killer. Part of our job as disciples is that we are witnesses of the resurrection. We are witnesses to the fact that Christ has triumphed over death. We are witnesses that cry out “Alleluia! Christ is risen.” But as long as fear lingers, even behind closed doors, even in the nooks and crannies in our minds, we are not completely secure. Only Christ can save us. Our fears certainly can’t do that.

Jesus did not come to bring us security. He did not come to bring the disciples security. He came to issue the disciples, and us a call. He came to remind us that our call is to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations. All nations, all people, all genders, all races, all places. And there is no way that anyone is going to believe us when we tell them that Christ defeats all enemies, including death, when we ourselves are worshipping fear. Jesus has conquered the ultimate foe: death. Our fears have no basis. Our job now is to challenge our idea of what it means to be secure. For so many of us, being secure means that we need to be in fear. We need to fear the what ifs, the unknown, and sadly, we need to fear our neighbor. But Christ shows us that hope is stronger than fear. Christ shows us that an empty tomb is stronger than a cross. Christ shows us that locked doors cannot keep him out.

Christ has called us to be a witness to his presence among us: in our words, in our deeds, and in our presence in the world. Our faith is stronger than our fear. Fear keeps us at the empty tomb. Faith moves us on, into the world, proclaiming Christ’s love and forgiveness to all people. Fear will keep us in this place, in the protection and security of these four walls. But, faith will allow us to leave this place, fed by Christ, forgiven by Christ, and declaring to all that Alleluia! Christ is Risen! (Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!)

Sermon for 4/1/18 Easter Sunday 2018; Mark 16:1-8

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!) Did you notice what was missing from our reading today? On today, of all days, when we anticipate seeing the resurrected Jesus, he is nowhere to be found. The tomb is empty. He’s not here because Christ is risen (he is risen indeed, alleluia!) And the women, who throughout the entire Gospel of Mark have been told “don’t tell anyone what they’ve just seen” now are told to go tell everyone what they’ve just seen and they do what? The exact opposite. And then, Mark ends. Just like that. What a weird, jolting, almost uncomfortable ending. Now, we know that eventually the women must have gotten over their fear because, well, we’re here. So, the story of Jesus and the empty tomb must have made its way eventually. Ironic that we come to this place, on this day, to experience Jesus and he does not show himself. Nice April Fools joke, Jesus.

As the women were on their way to the tomb, their biggest worry was who was going to roll away the stone. Despite hearing that Jesus would rise again, they were prepared to continue with their mourning. They were going to anoint the body of Jesus as was custom. But, foolish love greeted them as the stone was already rolled away. And just in case there was any question about what was going on, the man in white confirmed that “he has been raised.” And sure, we can shake our heads at the women’s reactions. But, really, what would you have done? Shock is a perfectly acceptable response to finding out that someone you believed to have been dead has been risen.

This may sound silly to say as this is a story we’ve been hearing for 2000-plus years. But, the resurrection wasn’t the end of the story. Yes, it’s okay to be in shock but just like the women, we cannot stay at the empty tomb. The empty tomb is exactly that, empty. The empty tomb is like this invitation that Jesus leaves us to journey further. In fact, the man that appears in our story today tells the women and us “he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” We can’t stand at the empty tomb and gawk because we’ve got work to do. The resurrection wasn’t the end of the story.

We don’t cry out “the tomb was empty” we instead declare that alleluia! Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed, alleluia). Then, with that declaration, we must figure out what that even means for us and the way we engage with the world. Seeing the empty tomb and everything is great today, but what in the world does the resurrection even mean tomorrow, or Thursday, or next week, next month, or even 10 years from now? The man at the tomb didn’t just verify that Jesus was resurrected, but pointed the way to what was next. This whole time Jesus has been preparing us for what it means to be his disciples. And now, all of the preparation, all of the lessons, all of the parables, and he’s back in Galilee. This can only mean one thing: it’s time. It is time for us to move from death into life and declare that the resurrection is real and that death doesn’t have the final word.

It’s time for us to show extravagant, foolish love to the world following the example of Jesus. Jesus is waiting for the women, for Peter, and for us in Galilee. We’ve still got work to do. People didn’t stop being sick because of the crucifixion. People didn’t stop being hungry because Jesus was laid in a tomb. People didn’t stop desiring love just because the stone was rolled away. The resurrection was great. It’s not the end of our story. Part of our call as disciples is to understand and live out what it means in a practical way to declare that alleluia Christ is risen. Why does that even matter? Core to our Christian identity is the belief in the resurrection. But the resurrection wasn’t a one time deal. And it certainly wasn’t the end of the story.

See, the resurrection doesn’t mean anything if we don’t believe it and live like it makes a difference in our daily lives. Resurrection means the promise of new life. And if you believe in a new life, in new chances, and in new opportunities for yourself but not for those around you then do you really believe in the resurrection? Because when we declare “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” (he is risen indeed) we don’t ever add the caveat of “for everyone except you.” In the resurrection, God is making all things new. And this is amazing and life giving news! Because as long as we believe that the resurrection makes a difference and isn’t the end of our story then that means we all get a second chance. We all get a third chance. We all get a fourth chance. And on and on. Ya’ll hearing me out there?

The resurrection also insures that what passed for justice before Jesus’ death will stand no more. The powerful will be humbled. The poor will be made rich and the rich will finally come face to face with the reality that money is not their god. The hungry will be fed. The forgotten will be treated like royalty. The marginalized will be brought into communities and welcomed with open arms. The resurrection turns our world upside down; as well it should. Because as long as we know that Jesus is a man of his word, then we know we have nothing to fear. Not even death. And because we know that the resurrection isn’t the end of our stories, we have absolute and total freedom to operate in this world as the disciples he’s trained us to be.

Might we fail or mess up? Sure! We’re human. But, we’re also still learning every day. We will be humbled by our failures and rely on grace to pick us back up and keep going. We are not disciples because it makes us popular. We are disciples because we can’t help ourselves. That is what Christ has called us to do. We are disciples because we don’t worship an empty tomb, we worship the risen Lord. We are disciples because 2000 years later the world still needs to hear this story because love is in short supply. We are disciples because we have been challenged and changed by this resurrection. We may be like the women, scared and wanting to hide. But Christ is waiting for us. In Galilee. In Clinton. In DeWitt. In Goose Lake. In the areas we travel. In the world. And on this day, we cannot just stand at the empty tomb and wait. Christ has called us back into service in the world. The world needs to hear that Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!)