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.

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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!)

Sermon for 3/18/18 John 12:20-33; Lent 5

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Oh amen. Am I the only one feeling the same way as the Greeks in our Gospel reading today? We have heard about this Jesus. The one who heals people, even raising people from the dead. We have heard about Jesus, the one who fed thousands. We have heard about Jesus, the one who walked on water. That’s all fine and good. We want to see Jesus. We’ve sung about Jesus. “Christ the life of all the living” and then “glory be to Christ forever, Lamb of God and Lord of love” sounds great! We want to see Jesus. It’s about this time in the Lenten season that I am reminded how long Lent is and how long Lent can feel. And for some, Lent is more than the time between Transfiguration and Easter; Lent can feel more like a lifestyle.

Allow me to explain. Lent is that time in the church that we anticipate God’s saving action on the cross and the empty tomb three days later. But, sometimes, we can get stuck in Good Friday, or even Holy Saturday. Does it feel like the world is working against you? Maybe you want to see Jesus. Perhaps the market reports (yes, I listen) don’t give you a lot of hope. That’s Lenten kind of feeling. Maybe keeping tabs on your loved one’s health has been more than exhausting and you’re ready for a break. Not death, but a break. That’s Lent. Maybe you’ve just had too much sorrow in your life lately. That can be the feeling of Lent. So to say “we wish to see Jesus” is more than wanting proof that this man, this messiah exists. To say “we wish to see Jesus” is about the desire for something more than the everyday.

“We wish to see Jesus” because we need assurance that there is more than this world. We wish to see Jesus because the world is in desperate need of love. We wish to see Jesus because people are still dying of hunger. Humans are being classified as “illegal,” babies are dying of curable diseases, people don’t have access to clean drinking water, the elderly have to make choices between keeping the lights on and life saving medication; yes please! We wish to see Jesus. Because if we see Jesus, if it finally happens, that means his kingdom has come on earth as it is in heaven. Praise God! The troubles of this world are no longer. Our long Lenten season is done. Not only is the tomb empty, but we’d be face to face with the messiah. We wish to see Jesus!

We wish to see Jesus because so many of us have our own struggles and issues. Seeing Jesus would mean that those struggles and issues are over. We wish to see Jesus just to prove the doubters wrong. Is that terrible? Those people who think there is no God or that this Jesus was just a man in history would come face to face and know the truth. We wish to see Jesus because while it’s great to hear about Jesus, it’s great to experience Jesus, it’s great to taste Jesus, nothing can compare with seeing Jesus. We wish to see Jesus because we’re just tired and ready for the next thing. And would it be so terrible if the next thing was Jesus? But, what would it mean for us to see Jesus?

As I’ve said before, being a disciple isn’t a noun, it’s a verb. When we proclaim that we are Christians, we best well act like it. Coming face to face with Jesus would mean that we would need to account for the times when we either didn’t act like Christians or we tried to hide our Christian identity. We can quickly become like the disciples that asked Jesus “when was it that we saw you hungry?” (see Matthew 25). Jesus will remind us of the way we treated the least of these around us. We wish to see Jesus, but does that really mean that we wish to see Jesus as the way we’ve pictured him? Do we only wish to see the happy Jesus full of love and not the Jesus that upsets societal norms by flipping tables? We wish to see Jesus, but does that mean that we only want to see the Easter Sunday resurrected Jesus, and not the Good Friday, hung on a cross for our sins, Jesus?

When we say that we wish to see Jesus we’re expressing a desire to see all of Jesus. And all of humanity is encompassed in Jesus. This means that when we see Jesus, we may see people we don’t expect to see. We may see people we don’t think deserve to be seen. Heck, we may even see ourselves. But, when we see Jesus, we are forced to come face to face with the us that only Christ knows. The us that has tried and failed, the us that has sinned and not repented, the us that has hurled insults and judgements the way the wind takes a feather. When we see Jesus, we’re forced to face our ugly. And that, my beloved, can be quite scary and also very humbling.

Do you know what we will see when our self-imposed guilt finally washes away? Love. When we see Jesus, we will see nothing but love. Our own self doubt, our own guilt, and our own sin may get in the way of that, but Jesus will have nothing but love for us. And with that love will come relief, and peace, and mercy, and grace upon grace upon grace. Yes, we wish to see Jesus. But, we don’t deserve to, that’s for sure. We will get to, thanks be to God. We wish to see Jesus and are willing to wrestle with all of the emotions and feelings that go along with that. We wish to see Jesus and stand before him admitting that we aren’t who we were created to be, that we have fallen short, that we have sinned before him and the whole company of saints. We wish to see Jesus and the cross that took away the sins of the world as well as the empty tomb. Because if we want Jesus to see the whole of us, then we have to be willing to see the whole of him. So God, we’re ready for our long season of suffering, heartache, and Lent to be over. We wish to see Jesus.

Sermon for 3/11/18 John 3:14-21; Lent 4

We all have those tasks that allow us to go through the motions. These are the things we do every single day without thinking about them. Sometimes it’s as mundane as making toast. Other times, it’s something where we should be paying attention, but we’re not, like driving. Whatever it is, routine can be a comfort. Going through the motions isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And then, something happens. Something throws our world into chaos. Something disrupts this routine and it’s as if we must even be deliberate about telling ourselves to breathe in and breathe out.

           Chaos came into my world on Monday morning. I got news that a dear friend and fellow pastor had died. I met Ben Ahles-Iverson when we were both at seminary although he was a few years ahead of me. We became good friends. I set him up with his wife Mara and I preached at their wedding. He was a fraternity brother to Chris. And, until I knew otherwise, he was fighting cancer. That is, until Sunday night when it all got to be too much and Ben died. The cancer was too much for his body to handle. I forgot to breathe. I thought of his wife. And his daughter. And his family. When I finally gasped, my first emotions were not pretty. I’ve spent most of the week either ignoring God, avoiding God, or being angry with God.

           We all compartmentalize. I’d like to think I’m pretty good at it. It’s what allows me to do what I do. But, I can’t keep my friendship part of my brain and my pastor side of my brain compartmentalized this time. Chaos will do that to you. And the last thing that I want to do is stand up here and be fake and pretend to be some thing or someone I’m not. I am grieving deeply, my beloved. I miss my friend already and I want to cry out to God about how unfair this is. And there are few things comforting right now. One of the things that has comforted me over this past week is knowing that most of you have been here before. You’ve been in the midst of a chaos storm. And in the midst of a chaos storm when you literally have to remind yourself to breathe, I know the last thing we really want is to hear that God loves us.

           The age old argument is “if God really loves us then why does death happen? Why does cancer happen? Why do people have to suffer?” I have been with too many of you as you mourn your loved ones. Maybe you didn’t ask these questions out loud. Maybe you kept them to yourself. Maybe you were scared to ask them out loud because what would that say about your faith? Are we doubting God and God’s plans? Does our questioning mean we don’t believe in God? If we question God will God stop loving us? These are all very common questions with which we wrestle when we are thrown into chaos. Fear and shame keep us from voicing them out loud. Instead of lamenting out loud, we keep these doubts to ourselves and instead withdraw further from community and further from God.

           We don’t want to hear the promise of “God so loved the world” because in the midst of chaos, God’s love feels far away. We don’t want to hear “God so loved the world” when our world is taken from us. We don’t want to hear “God so loved the world” when the world is full of hurt, sorrow, and pain. And maybe it’s not that we don’t want to hear it, but we can’t hear it. We can’t hear it because we can’t feel it. This is why it is so important, my beloveds, to continue being disciples together as I’ve talked about so much lately.

           I’m not ready to deal with God. But, I got to feel God’s love through a hug from a friend. I am not ready to be on talking terms with God, but I got to feel God’s love through a phone call from another friend. I can’t hear about God’s love quite yet, but I was able to see God’s love in action as I watched my fellow pastors and classmates console one another on social media. When God feels far away, we need one another to be, as Luther called it “little Christ’s” to one another. Sometimes God’s love looks like a casserole. Sometimes God’s love looks like delivering some coffee and paper goods to someone who is mourning. Sometimes God’s love just looks like two friends sitting with one another, not saying a word but just being there. That is enough of God’s love when God’s love feels far away.

           Scripture makes us the promise of “God so loved the world” and I suppose the good news for all of us is that it doesn’t depend on us. God is going to continue loving you and me no matter what. I doubt God cares much that I’m not real happy with God right now. It’s not because God is uncaring but because nothing can ever stop God from loving me or you. God loved the world into being. God breathed life into every living creature. God wove together every mountain and valley and did so with love. God has guided us for generations with love. Nothing has been able to stop God’s love now and nothing will. I believe in the resurrection promise. I believe that the tomb will be empty on the third day. I believe that what God says is true. I believe it in my head. But, until I can feel it in my heart, I take solace in knowing that nothing can stop God from loving me.

           “God so loved the world” isn’t just a saying. It’s a way of life. It’s a way that we operate. Because if we truly believe that “God so loved the world” then we comfort one another in our grief. We celebrate with one another. We speak promises of accompaniment to one another. “God so loved the world” is why we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, and care for the sick. “God so loved the world” is why we get so excited when we baptize because we see proof of that love. “God so loved the world” is why we come to this table with hands outstretched because we get to taste proof of this love and we can’t wait another minute to taste that it’s true. “God so loved the world” is why we wish one another peace. “God so loved the world” doesn’t promise us a life without chaos. “God so loved the world” promises us that chaos, death, and evil never have the final word.

               

 

Sermon for 2/18/18 Mark 1:9-15 Lent 1

Jesus spending 40 days in the wilderness isn’t exactly an unfamiliar story to many. You may have heard variations of it over the years. But it is in Mark’s telling of the Gospel that we get today that has the least amount of details. Here’s what we know: Jesus had been baptized and immediately driven out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. Here’s what you need to know about the wilderness. This isn’t wilderness like Denali National Park or someplace in the Colorado Rockies. This is wilderness like a desert. Like the area between Lincoln, Nebraska and the Colorado border (if you’ve made that drive). The wilderness in this story is stark, barren, full of uncertainty, and temptations. We don’t get a lot of details in this story. We know Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days, he was tempted by Satan, he was with wild beasts, and angels waited on him. That’s it. That’s all we know. We don’t know the ways that Jesus handled Satan. We can assume he did handle Satan because we hear more of the Gospel story.

But, often when we are in the wilderness, we may not know how to handle it. We may not know what to do or say. When Satan tempts us in the wilderness, we may cave to those temptations. And the wilderness looks like a lot of different things to a lot of different people. And when you’re in the midst of your own wilderness, directions seem few and far between. Christ has called me this moment and this time to speak truth. I am called to speak truth even if it isn’t popular and even if my voice shakes. My beloved, we are in a time of wilderness. And Satan has taken on the form of the powers in this country refusing to do anything about gun control.

Before you turn off your ears, I am begging you to hear me. I am not anti-gun. I know many of you in these pews own guns. I fully support your right to do that. I have made the decision that I will never own one. But, that doesn’t mean I think you shouldn’t. I am not anti-gun. However, it is time for us to get serious about how someone can own a gun and who can own a gun. How many of our children must die before we get serious about this? We will be in a wilderness until we repent. We will be in the wilderness until we can turn our hearts from worshipping guns to worshipping God.

We don’t know how Jesus handled the wilderness in Mark’s Gospel. But we know that Satan was nothing to be messed with. After all, when Peter attempted to rebuke Jesus when Jesus spoke of his own death, Jesus looked at his disciple and said “get behind me Satan!” (Mk 8:33) The trouble with not knowing the details of how Jesus handled the wilderness is that we are left to our own devices to fill in the blanks. And the temptation may be to give ourselves more credit and abilities when it comes to fighting Satan or the wilderness. We now find ourselves in the wilderness. We’ve been in this wilderness since April 20, 1999 when we first heard of a place called “Columbine High School.” And it seems no matter what we do, nothing changes and we stay in the wilderness.

We certainly aren’t Jesus, we know that. But, and I don’t know about you, I know I don’t want to stay in the wilderness for the rest of my life. Jesus didn’t even stay in the wilderness. The wilderness is not a life-giving place. Part of what can help us start to escape the wilderness is what we talk about a lot during Lent: repentance. But, repentance cannot happen without confession. We can’t hurry this process. Sometimes confession is less about us speaking of the ways we failed and more about listening to the ways we failed through the words from other people. Confession is about being honest. Confession is about exposing our failures not only to other people but to God as well.

Too often when tragedies like this happen, we talk around one another. We talk over one another. But we rarely engage in conversation with one another. Instead of having difficult conversations, we just hop online and try to one up one another with articles, statistics, and engage in “I’m right, let me tell you why you’re wrong” conversations. And instead of throwing our hands up in the air, what might it look like for us, for the church to model hard conversations? We can model these conversations because Jesus in the midst of these conversations promising that relationship built on accompaniment. What would it look like to have a cup of coffee with one another and talk about those difficult topics and find the places where we can agree. Talking together and trying to find a solution has to be much more productive than “thoughts and prayers.”

What might change if we engaged in these conversations looking to learn from one another rather than prove one another wrong? I want to hear your story, what you’re passionate about, and why you believe what you believe. And, in exchange, I want you to hear my story, what I’m passionate about, and why I believe what I believe. And then, together, we can confess the ways we have failed to see one another as full and amazing creations of God. And together we can repent from our previous ways and work towards finding common ground centered in Christ. We don’t have to stay in the wilderness. Christ is our key out of the wilderness. Worship centered on Christ, living surrounded and centered on Christ, and conversations centered on Christ are our keys. Thoughts and prayers will not help us escape the wilderness. Looking Satan and all of his lies right in the eyes and repenting, turning to Christ is the only thing that can help us escape.

We may think we can’t change anything. The government seems so big and we are just but one person. But we have something that seems to be forgotten about at times: we’ve got Jesus. Jesus’ baptism shows us things can change. Jesus’ temptation shows us things can change. Jesus’ ministry shows us things can change. And most importantly, the resurrection shows us that things can and do change. If we truly believe that God’s kingdom is also God’s kin-dom, then yes, things can change. Thoughts and prayers are fantastic. Prayer and action is what we’re called to as disciples. Yes, these acts of violence are terrible and seem almost too big to take on. Let’s show that big problem our big God. Satan will tempt us not to leave the wilderness. Well, get behind me, Satan. I’m ready to answer the call God has on my life, the call God has had on all our lives since baptism. Let’s start these hard conversations here and now. Conversations are much easier to have than prayer vigils. It starts today.

Sermon for 2/11/18 Mark 9:2-9 Transfiguration

In my experience, I don’t know that I have found a human emotion that more people try to avoid or that more people dislike as much as fear. I don’t know what it is about fear. Fear actually keeps us safe. But, I think we often run from fear because if people see us afraid, they might then see us as weak. And I also find that fear and pain go hand in hand. Fear and pain are two things that I find people want to avoid. And we often go through several hoops in order to avoid pain and fear. Society tells us that we need to be happy, successful, thin, rich, and on and on. In order to be what society tells us we need to be, we often run from pain and from fear. We look to mask whatever is imperfect with us in order to highlight the “believed” perfect and show that to the world.

Author Glennon Doyle Melton talks about living with fear and living with pain. She says that we often are looking for the easy button of life. Do you all remember the Staples commercial where they push that big red button and say “that was easy!” And for us, she says, we look for the easy button in order to escape or avoid fear or pain. And the easy button can be anything: food, booze, drugs, sex, the internet, gossip, and on and on. But, she proposes that instead of pushing our easy buttons that we need to be better at sitting in our pain and sitting with our fears. We try and outrun it all, but instead, we need to take up residence in pain and fear and see what they have to teach us.

And I mention this as Peter expresses a common human emotion of fear. And instead of expressing his fear (scripture says “they were terrified”) he proposes to Jesus that they just need to stay on that mountain. Peter even says let’s not only stay here, let’s live here. On this mountaintop. He was afraid and didn’t know what else to say. Instead of facing his fear, Peter wants an easy button. And the easy button, so to speak, comes in the form of God and God’s declaration. God says “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” What? That’s an easy button? Yes. Follow me here.

Fear is part of our lives. Pain is part of our lives. We cannot avoid it. We may try. But there is no human made “easy button.” The only easy button in our lives is the cross. And in order to fully experience the cross we must fully experience fear and pain. On this day, Transfiguration, my proposal beloveds, is that we allow ourselves to be transformed and transfigured by pain and fear. What do pain and fear have to teach us? Jesus wasn’t one to run from pain and fear. He could have stayed on the top of that mountain. But instead, he came down the mountain into a valley where he would be met, eventually, but the people who would arrest and crucify him.

And I know what you may be thinking “of course Jesus didn’t run from pain and fear….he’s Jesus.” Right. I get it. But part of our call to be disciples as I’ve been talking about week after week is to not only point to Jesus but follow him as well. It’s easy for us to talk about Jesus. It might even be easy to point to Jesus and the ways that he moves and acts throughout this world. But to literally follow Jesus is scary. Our fear takes hold and gets the best of us and then we go looking for those man-made easy buttons.

Jesus goes to places we don’t like to even think about going. Jesus goes to disease infested, war torn, s-hole countries (as President Trump would say) that we’d rather not think exist. But he goes there because the promise that God has made to all of humanity is that we will not be abandoned by God. And so God sends us Jesus. If Jesus descended into hell, you can bet that going places that other people would rather forget probably seems like a cakewalk. And I’m not proposing that we need to all pack our bags and go on a mission trip. I mean that following Jesus is something that can start small. Anytime you may find yourself thinking or expressing the feeling of “I can’t go there” or “I can’t talk to them because it would just break my heart” then that is exactly where you need to be. Because that is exactly where Jesus is. We may want to avoid pain and fear but that is exactly where Christ normally hangs out.

When God says “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” God is telling us that EVERYTHING that Jesus has told us and will tell us about his life, death, and resurrection is true. And if that is true, my beloveds, then the pain and fear we may feel not only is real, but we’re not alone. And the pain and fear we go through will vanish in death thanks to God’s saving action on the cross. Beautiful Miss Shelby is going to get baptized today. And in baptism we never promise a life without pain and fear. Of course, we don’t want that for her. But it will happen. But in baptism we are promised a life where Jesus is going to be with us every single step of the way. No matter what.

I hope that Shelby will learn and I pray that all of us can learn that instead of reaching for the “easy button,” instead of being tempted to do whatever it is we need to do to escape pain and fear, that we instead remember that in our pain and in our fear is where Christ tends to be. In our pain and in our fear is usually where we learn the most. In our pain and in our fear is where we find out who we are and whose we are. We too often are like Peter: desiring to be comfortable, set up shop, and avoid not only pain and fear, but those dark valleys. But if we somehow are able to avoid those, are we really living the life that God intended for us? We don’t go searching out fear and pain, but it is out there.

For some reason, we may also think that in order to be people of God that coming to church means coming “cleaned up.” When we come to God’s house we certainly cannot be filled with pain and fear. People don’t like to see that. We must come neat, put together, and with the appearance that all is fine and good. But if we believe that Christ truly is present in this place, and I really hope we believe that, then why would we not come as we are even if that means coming full of pain and fear? If Christ is going to meet us here, Christ will meet us in our pain and in our fear even if no one else does. Many of us work really hard to present masks of ourselves to the world, pretending to be perfect. But I am sure that Christ would prefer us to be present over perfect. Christ would prefer us to be flawed over fake.

Shelby’s transfiguration starts today. She will be transfigured into a child of God. And for you, my dearests, be reminded that your transfiguration started long ago at these waters as well. God met you here and continues to walk with you. It is okay to fear. It is okay to have pain. Our God is a God who suffered on a cross. There’s no pain that compares to that. That suffering erases ours. If you’re looking for an easy button, you’ll find it in the cross.