Sermon for 5/28 John 17:1-11

I’m not usually one for eavesdropping. In fact, if I find myself doing it, I immediately internally scold myself and move along. But, have you ever eavesdropped and heard something wonderful? What about eavesdropping and hearing something wonderful about yourself? Who doesn’t like a little ego boost now and again? It can feel really good to hear positive things about yourself. Maybe you’ve overheard your spouse singing your praises to someone over the phone. Or perhaps you’ve heard your kids telling other kids about their awesome parents. Maybe you’ve overheard your boss or coworker. Whatever the case may be, there is something lovely about hearing someone speak positively about you.

In today’s Gospel text, we get the chance to eavesdrop on Jesus. And honestly, we’re not even eavesdropping. We’re not even up to anything sneaky. Jesus is praying. And unlike other Gospels where he goes off somewhere by himself and prays, he instead prays at the dinner table right in front of the disciples. He prays out loud so that the disciples, and us, can hear him. By the way, don’t ever ask Jesus to pray at your dinner party. This prayer actually goes on for around 26 verses or so.  This prayer is part of the farewell discourse in John. We’ve spent almost 3 chapters listening to Jesus say goodbye to his disciples and prepare for his death. Maybe it’s appropriate for Jesus to end his time with them in prayer.

How do you feel when someone prays for you? Not when they say they are going to pray for you, but actually prays for you right then and there on the spot? It can be awkward, can’t it? I mean, I pray for people all the time, it’s part of my job description. But to have someone pray for me is not a feeling I am used to. I trust that you all pray for me on your own time. But to pray for me with me, and with me present is a totally different thing. When someone has prayed for me in my presence, the first thing I feel is guilt. I feel like I don’t deserve such a grand gesture. And I have a hard time being in the moment. My mind starts racing and I have a hard time listening to what the other person is saying. Instead, I’m busy thinking “will they want me to pray for them? What will I say? I feel like this is really personal. Should I be letting this person in like this?” Then, before I know it, the person praying says “amen” and I have no clue what has happened.

And maybe the disciples don’t fully understand what is happening either. After all, the son of God, the savior of the world, the one who would die on a cross to take away all of their sins and ours, is praying for the disciples and us….out loud! On the scale of “big deals” this is huge! Jesus could have prayed for a lot of things, himself included, but instead, he lifts up those whom God gave him: the disciples. Jesus prays for the things that concern him the most. The ideas and concepts that take up the most room in his heart, soul, and mind. He lifts up, verbally, that which is most important to him. And so, as he prays, he prays that we all come to know God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because for Jesus, this isn’t about him. Jesus doesn’t want the focus to be on him, what he has done, or what he is about to endure. Jesus desires for his life to be a light of sorts that shines on God, God’s love and God’s saving and redeeming actions.

Take a moment and think about that. What difference does it make for you personally that Jesus prayed for you? Be selfish for a moment. Don’t think about what difference it made for your family, your co-workers, or even for me. But think about yourself for a moment. Jesus prayed for you. And the amazing thing is (at least for me) is that Jesus didn’t pray for me to repent or leave my sinning ways behind. No, Jesus prayed that I would know God and God’s love through him. For me, that is mind blowing. Next week we will mark Pentecost, a celebration of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church. The church the disciples started and the church we continue to work hard to grow. Because the empty tomb isn’t the end of the story, it’s just the beginning. We have seen and experienced all that God can do through Jesus Christ now it’s our turn to go out into the world sharing these stories, spreading the good news, and reminding people that they are loved. And if we’re going to share that word, perhaps it is best that we are reminded of it ourselves first and foremost.

As Jesus prays for us, he prays for something very interesting. He says “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” And while we may not realize it, this is where this discipleship stuff gets tricky. The first part is pretty humbling: Jesus is praying that God’s protection will be on and over us. Again, pretty amazing. But, the second part of that statement is difficult. Jesus prays that as he and God are of one being, one person, one purpose, that we, their followers, also be one. That means no matter what we call ourselves, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, even just “seeker” that we set those distinctions aside and embrace the only title that matters: beloved children of God. In theory, it sounds easy enough. It’s easy enough until you realize specific denominations got started because those who were supposed to be one couldn’t agree to the point of splintering. You all know that there aren’t denominational sections of heaven, right?

The idea of being one is difficult. It gets even harder when we realize that Jesus is praying for everyone to be one. This means that Jesus is praying for us to be one with those we disagree with, with those who have done us wrong, even for us to be one with those we consider the “other.” Now this idea and this prayer just gets uncomfortable. But remember, Jesus’ main goal with this prayer is that we would all come to know God and the love of God through Jesus. It is impossible for us to know love when we don’t have the ability to look at a sibling in Christ as an ally and not an enemy. So, what do we do? We pray.

We humble ourselves and lay our troubles at the foot of the cross. We admit that what Christ is asking of us is almost impossible if we attempt it by ourselves. So we call on God. We rely on the Holy Spirit. We trust that there is enough of God’s love to go around. We pray for ourselves, our friends, our families, and yes, even our enemies. A strange thing happens when you start to pray for your enemies: the heart starts to soften. It may not happen overnight, but it happens. It is almost impossible to be in a stance of anger and hate when you are on your knees praying. I don’t pretend that this is easy. Jesus knew it wouldn’t be easy. This is why this prayer didn’t have a date, time, or expiration. This is probably a prayer that will continue for quite some time. This kingdom work stuff isn’t for the weak, friends. The work is hard, the pay is terrible, the feedback is usually negative. But, the reward is amazing glory.

I am going to give you a challenge this week. I want you to pray for someone. I want you to pray for someone, out loud, in front of them. Pray that they are reminded of God’s love. Pray that the discord in their lives disappears. Pray that their life in the Lord is strengthened. Pray without expecting prayer in return. Pray like God is listening because God does. Pray like the cross mattered, because it did. Pray like the tomb is just the start of our stories. And then when you are done, come and eat, and pray again.


Sermon for 5/14/17 John 14:1-14

This is a strange place to find ourselves in the Bible. After all, we are still in the Easter season for a few more weeks. This means that yes, you can continue to consume Starburst jelly beans by the handful. This particular reading today actually takes place before Jesus’ execution. It is part of what is called the “farewell discourse” in John. There has been a final dinner, some feet washing, an announcement of betrayal and denial, and finally, what we heard today. Jesus has practically given the disciples (and us) a play by play description of what will happen on the journey to the cross. Then, almost amusingly, he says “do not let your hearts be troubled.” The disciples must have sat up from their lounging position, bellies full, feet clean, and gawked at Jesus as he continued “believe in God, believe also in me.”

Why might their hearts be troubled? Were the disciples disturbed because they knew their friend Jesus would soon be tortured, humiliated, and executed? That’s enough for someone to have their heart be troubled. Were the disciples being told to not have trouble in their heart because the task set before them was great. After all, Jesus has told them more than once that they should love one another, that they should serve one another, and that they will be doing even greater works than Jesus. In short, they would soon be in the world telling the story of Jesus to any and all who would listen. The responsibility that comes with being a disciple wasn’t lost on the original 12 and it certainly shouldn’t be lost on us. Maybe the disciples were troubled because they have heard that one among them would betray Jesus and additionally, they have been told that Peter would deny Jesus not once but three times.

Perhaps their hearts were troubled after having experienced the most extravagant love. Jesus had humbled himself and kneeled at the feet of his friends, even the one who would betray him, and washed their feet. This was an act usually meant for slaves or servants.   The disciples had watched as Jesus fed around 5000 with only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish and there was even enough for leftovers. The disciples were gathered when Jesus gave a man sight even though he had been blind since birth. Their hearts certainly had to be troubled when Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave after 4 days of death. Maybe, just maybe the disciples hearts were troubled because they weren’t used to such extravagant love. I don’t know that any of us are used to extravagant love.

When you think about it, the disciples hearts were troubled for the same reason ours would be troubled: we’re used to getting the love we deserve and not an ounce more. And the love that Jesus gave was undeserved, extravagant love. That kind of love can feel like love with a catch. The kind of love that makes you say “ok. Ok. What do you want?” We are used to getting love with strings attached. We most certainly are not used to receiving love we don’t deserve and love that we didn’t earn. But that is what Jesus has given the disciples and us over and over and over. Jesus’ love is unconventional. It certainly doesn’t follow any rules. Everyone gets the same amount of love all the time? That hardly seems fair. Anything that is that unconventional is enough to make a person suspicious. It’s enough to trouble a heart, that’s for sure.

On the other hand, we currently have a lot of reasons for our hearts to be troubled. We live in a state of constant change that starts at the government level and spills down to our local PTA. If we ourselves don’t have health problems, we may have loved ones that do. There are financial burdens that weigh on us. As so many of you start to plant, the anticipation and hope may have your hearts troubled. There is enough bad news in the world to last us a lifetime. Additionally, today we are celebrating our graduates and if you’re a parent of one of these graduates your heart may be troubled just thinking about what comes next for your baby. And, I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention today’s holiday: Mother’s Day. It’s a day that can hold a lot of spiritual, emotional, and maybe even physical weight. And so our hearts are troubled. And when we hear Jesus say “do not let your hearts be troubled” it can sound a little like Jesus being a jerk.

Jesus, after all, should know our pain. Of all people, Jesus should know the pain of our heart. Jesus should know the worries of our minds. Jesus especially should know the creaks and groans of our bodies. We have a lot to worry about. We have a lot that troubles our heart. And it’s okay if you hear Jesus say “do not let your hearts be troubled” and you have a response of “that’s not helpful AT ALL, Jesus!” And in those moments of pain, distress, frustration, confusion, and even anger, it’s okay to cry out to Jesus. It’s okay, even, to be mad at Jesus. It is perfectly fine and even understandable for your hearts to be troubled.

But, even in the darkest of hours, on the darkest of days, in the darkest of circumstances, we are all still victims of extravagant love. And when Jesus tells us “do not let your hearts be troubled” what he is saying is “do not let your hearts be troubled for anything.” Maybe a better way of saying it is “you don’t have to worry.” This isn’t Jesus poo-poo-ing our concerns. It is a reminder to us that, as always, Christ provides for everything we may need. It’s hard to remember that in those moments of darkness. But remember, Christ is the light that no darkness can overcome. The problem with this statement that Jesus gives us of “you don’t have to worry” is that we must trust that Jesus’ love, his extravagant love, will provide. And if we’re going to be honest, trust isn’t always the easiest trait for we humans to come by.

However, when we take time to step back and observe our lives, we can clearly see the times when we trusted in our own capabilities and resources versus the times when we trusted in Christ and all he could provide. And time after time after time, life, and life abundant comes only when we trust in Christ and all he provides. We are fed by Christ, not by fear. We are washed by water, not by works. We are forgiven by a cross, not by our courage or lack thereof. We are given life by a shepherd, a servant, a teacher, and a rebel, not by our class, status, righteousness, or by anything we buy or anything that’s sold to us as a quick fix.

Friends in Christ, I am not going to tell you to not worry. I worry and my heart is troubled often. What I will do, however, is invite you into the possibility that when your heart is troubled, it is simply God shaking things up to make room for Christ’s extravagant love. The love that provides. The love that protects. The love that gives life. Trouble your hearts, if you must. But do not worry. We are children of a heavenly father, children of a nurturing mother, and victims of obnoxious, extravagant, ludicrous, ridiculous, and mostly extremely costly love.

Sermon for 4/30/17 Luke 24:13-35

It never fails that when the weather is nice, I will get a text sometime between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. It comes from Heather, my therapist, and it usually only says two words “we walking?” Sometimes I beat her to it and let her know if we are walking or not. Heather’s office isn’t that far from the dike, and so, we take the opportunity to walk and talk. This was originally her idea, which didn’t surprise me. She’s really into fitness and is the kind of person that runs for fun. She gave me a warning “there are people who will see us together. They might know what you do. They might know what I do.” She was basically giving me a heads up that our therapy session would be outside, open to the world, and whomever we might run into. She never tells anyone she is my therapist (out of respect for me) but I don’t keep secrets. There are times when our walk is a nice brisk pace and we can manage to get 2-2 ½ miles in during the session. There have been a few times when my own self revelation has made it necessary for us to stop walking. But we always start off the same way: in front of her office, laces tied, and her saying “so…what’s up?” And away we go.

I thought about our walks as I read this walk to Emmaus story this week. And I have come to realize that it’s not the distance of the walk, it’s not the terrain that matters, it’s not necessarily even the conversation, but sometimes your walking companion makes all the difference. The disciples had been walking along the road; it was around a 7 mile journey. I am sure that in many ways, it felt longer. These two had become friends. And now, they lamented the death of their friend Jesus as they walked along the way. I doubt this was a record-breaking pace they were setting. And sure, while they might have been walking a normal pace (whatever that is) they were most likely weighed down by grief, disbelief, and maybe even disappointment.

These are two people who (literally) sat at Jesus’ feet and now, when he comes walking along the road with them, they don’t even recognize him. Usually if someone joins your conversation, you know them. The conversation that follows is fascinating. “What are you talking about” nosy Jesus wants to know. And Cleopas says (paraphrasing) “Have you been living under a rock? Don’t you know the things that have happened?” And Jesus’ response is so loving, so tender, and so amazing that we just might miss it. “What things” he asks? This is Jesus’ version of “so…what’s up?” Jesus is creating space for mourning, for anger, for grief, for misbelief, for all of the emotions that go along with death. More importantly, Jesus is listening.

It’s important for us to remember that Easter Sunday does not erase, undo, or reverse Good Friday. That needs to be repeated: Easter Sunday does not erase, undo, or reverse Good Friday. Jesus died a very real death. It was a very real, very painful death, filled with suffering and agony. Death happened. Jesus wasn’t playing dead, he wasn’t faking it, he wasn’t just “asleep,” he was all the way dead. His friends and followers witnessed this. They witnessed him carrying his own torture device. They witnessed as his executors drove nails into his hands. They witnessed it all. I cannot even begin to imagine that kind of pain. When Jesus asks “what things” he gives room for the disciples to express all of the pain that accompanied them and continues to dwell in them as they mourn their friend.

If you have a friend that offers you space, you know what a gift this is. We so often want to fix, not listen. We want to offer solutions without fully understanding the problem. And sometimes, we are tempted to join our friend in their situation. What I mean is that when a friend is complaining, even about something mundane (like bills or laundry) we tend to agree. We support our friends, right? But is it always for their good? We join in the lamentations “I totally understand, I also have 9 loads of laundry waiting for me.” Or maybe “I know! Visa called me like 4 times last week. I sent them straight to voicemail.” And maybe what our friends need, maybe what we need every once in awhile is not to be fixed, not to be offered solutions, not even to be given solidarity. What we need is the space to voice our heart, no matter how wonderful or how painful that will be.

And yes, while Jesus does offer this space, he follows the space with a bit of a lecture. However, at the end of the lecture, he gathers his friends for a meal. He takes bread, breaks it, blesses it, and feeds his friends. It is in that feeding that the disciples recognize their fellow traveler for who he really is: the risen Christ. And if you go back and read the passage again, did Jesus say anything while he was doing this? No. He was leaving space for silence, for contemplation, for pain, for suffering, for mourning, and for discovery. Jesus feeds the disciples, just like before his death, and by doing so, he brings them back into community.

In this feeding, they are reminded of his love, his care, and his mercy. They are also reminded of their new identities as disciples (instead of fishermen). They are also reminded that Jesus has always and will always provide for them. And this is all done without Jesus saying a word. How comfortable are you in the silence?  How often do you leave room for silence? Are you quick to fill silence with noise because it makes you nervous? Maybe you don’t like silence because it makes you uncomfortable. But friends, as I have said before, if we are talking, we miss listening to God. Because it is in our silence that God moves, acts, and speaks.

Brothers and sisters, we are surrounded by a lot of noise. Some of it is helpful noise, but a lot of it really is just noise. What happens when we start to rid our world of noise? Turn off the radio, mute the commercials, resist the urge to interrupt; something happens. We really start to listen. We start to enter into deeper relationships with one another. We start to see one another as a fellow travelers on the road: fed by Christ. Offer one another space. It will feel a little weird at first, maybe even a bit unnatural. But it will become easier the more you practice. Offer space. And in that space, make room for the Holy. Make room for all possible emotions. Make room for God.  We don’t intentionally NOT listen to one another, it’s just habit. But maybe we don’t listen to one another as a protection for our emotions. We are surrounded by people we have the ability to love and who have the ability to love us. And that happens in the silence.

Sermon for 4/23/16 John 20:19-31

Many of you may know that one of my greatest joys in life is my call as a big sister. I love my brother and sister. They are almost 3 years younger than me. They will turn 36 in May. Yes, they. My brother and sister are twins. Jonathan Anthony came first and one minute later, Jayna Christine made her entrance into the world. Jon constantly reminds Jayna that he is one minute older than her. Even though they will be 36 soon, I still refer to them as “my babies.” I helped to care for them, and in some ways, I still do. Growing up, I often got asked what it was like to have a brother and sister that are twins. I always thought that was a strange question. I didn’t know any other way.

They had some of those strange twin tendencies. They have dreamt the same dream. They have felt one another’s pain. They love telling the story about how (back in high school) they both started singing the same do-wop song at the same time. There are times that I have been jealous of their relationship. They are still close even to this day. I love being a big sister. We are told that Thomas is called the “Twin.” But, we never find out who his twin is. And with a name like “doubting Thomas” one has to wonder if anyone would actually claim Thomas as their twin.

If you’ve ever had a nickname or known someone who has and it is a nickname that they despise, then perhaps you can sympathize with Thomas. As we were debating over the name we would call Ellen, we tried to think of all the things that could rhyme with “Ellen” that kids might call her as a cruel nickname. Bullies are a reality and are mean. I have to believe that more than once, Thomas maybe even begged his friends, the disciples, “you guys. Please don’t call me that. I didn’t ask for anything that you all didn’t ask for. Or wouldn’t ask for.”

It was dark that first day of the week. Word had spread that the tomb was empty. Simon Peter had seen it for himself. The Lord was no longer in the tomb. Jesus came to Mary and Mary had spread the word. The disciples had gathered in the house and they locked themselves in. They apparently didn’t know that walls, doors, barriers, nothing stops Jesus. All of the disciples were there but Thomas. We aren’t told where he was. But, we can assume that word had gotten to him as well that Jesus had been raised. I have to wonder if Thomas wasn’t out in the world looking for the risen Lord. Instead of living in fear, Thomas was wanting to live into life.

When Thomas is finally told that his friends had seen Jesus, he must be befuddled. A man being resurrected is hard to understand; it’s a hard concept to grasp. Thomas wants to believe. He wants to see, hear, touch, taste, and smell that the resurrection is real. He wants to stick his finger into the wounds of Jesus, pull it out bloody, and declare that life and relationships is what Jesus promised us and Jesus always comes through on a promise.

But instead of sympathy, the disciples most likely roll their eyes. Maybe they wondered why their word wasn’t good enough. Maybe they even doubted “sure Thomas. Like Jesus is going to let you do that!” Seven days pass. Thomas doesn’t give up hope. But the disciples, again, behind locked doors (like that’s going to stop Jesus) are greeted by the risen Lord. And, because Jesus knows everything that we need and provides for it, he presents his hands and side to Thomas. For Thomas, his belief was a whole body experience. Sure, he had heard about the risen Lord, but he needed to experience it for himself. Jesus says to him “do no doubt but believe.” And the moniker sticks.

What if, brothers and sisters, what if we are Thomas’ twin? What if we are filled with just as much doubt as our twin, our brother, our fellow disciple, Thomas? Doubt is almost a 4 letter word in the church, isn’t it? We don’t make a lot of room for doubt. God forbid someone find out that our faith isn’t what we pretend it is week after week. We have questions we’re afraid to ask. Traditions we keep doing but have no idea why. Words we keep saying that are hollow. Eating, smelling, tasting, seeing, and hearing the risen Lord, but wondering all the same. But, there’s no way we are going to voice any of that out loud. Because, what if we’re labeled doubters? What if we’re labeled frauds?

Doubt is probably one of the biggest obstacles that keep us from mission. There’s a desire to try new things. There is a desire to change (yes, I said the naughty four-letter word “change”). But doubt sneaks in and we shy away from mission. Yet Jesus says “do not doubt but believe.” Friends, what if we took the power away from doubt? What if we claimed our “twin” status as a source of pride? If we spoke the truth to doubt, we take away its power. We take away doubt’s power and we are able to (like Thomas) declare that Jesus is “my Lord and my God” instead of worshipping doubt.

What would be our version of putting our fingers into Jesus’ hands or side? Sometimes we just need permission to speak our doubts. And the Lord, who meets us where we are, breathes the Holy Spirit into us and encourages our belief. Here are my doubts: I doubt that I am worthy of God’s love. I doubt that my sins have been forgiven. I doubt that I am making a difference. I doubt my abilities in this place. I doubt every week when I prepare to step up here that I am doing what God wants me to do. And yet…I keep doing it. I keep believing. And I don’t believe because I’m some sort of super Christian. I don’t believe because I am a pastor. I don’t believe because I want to encourage all of you. Honestly, I keep believing in Jesus and what God does through Jesus because time and time again, Jesus has shown himself to me.

Doubt serves as a block between us and what God desires for us to be doing in the world. When Christ is at the center of what we do, we cannot fail. We can learn, we can grow, we can figure out what didn’t or doesn’t work, but failure doesn’t happen on God’s watch. Jesus always gives us what we need, when we need it. God has equipped us for mission. Just as Jesus sends the disciples, so we too are sent. We can attempt to put up walls, shut doors, turn off the lights, or whatever we think will keep Jesus away, but it never works. Jesus breaks down barriers, enters into rooms with locked doors and is the light no darkness overcomes. Maybe instead of being filled with doubt, we need to be filled with wonder and awe.

Our twin, Thomas, didn’t need proof. He only wanted what everyone else had: a direct encounter with the risen Christ. He wanted reassurance of his already established relationship with Christ. Thomas desired assurance that the one who had entered into the room, the one who was now sending them out was indeed the resurrected Christ. He desired reassurance that the Jesus he heard was raised was now the one standing in front of him: the one Thomas now sees. My doubt is very real and very big. But, my God is bigger. If it takes me putting my fingers into crucified flesh for me to proclaim Jesus’ love for you and for me then Jesus will gladly offer up his hands to me time and time again. Maybe Thomas is my twin. I don’t doubt the resurrection; I simply want to taste, see, hear, touch, and be in the presence of the resurrected Lord. I don’t doubt the resurrection; I simply want to be reminded of God’s love for me through Jesus Christ. If that makes me a doubter, then so be it.

Sermon for 4/3/16 John 20:19-31

I find it interesting that we get this story after Easter every year. It seems strange that after we’ve declared that Christ is risen, the tomb is empty, death doesn’t have the final word after all, that we get the story of Thomas who is filled with doubt. Let’s not forget just last week, Peter didn’t believe what the women told him so he had to go back to the empty tomb and see for himself that Christ had indeed risen. Jesus had come among the disciples, but Thomas wasn’t there. So, it’s understandable that when his friends tell him that Jesus has returned that he wants proof. A week later, the friends are gathered again when Jesus comes to them once again. And Thomas is present this time. And Jesus, knowing all that he knows, presents Thomas with his hands. Thomas just needed affirmation that his friend really did rise again after the third day just as he said he would.

Maybe that’s why you’ve come back. Maybe you’re here every Sunday (or nearly every Sunday) or maybe you’ve come back after last week because you have trouble believing it too. I love being a Pastor. I love sharing the story of God and God’s love with lots of different people. I want to make sure that everyone who is able to hear or understand will come to comprehend that God’s grace is for them too. But, I have an issue with modern Christianity. We have seemed to do away with making room for doubt. I don’t know when or how this started but it seems that the church is turning into a place where doubt and questions are no longer welcomed.

Now, that’s not necessarily the case in this particular church; I’m just speaking about churches in general. When I talk to people about why they don’t go to church or why they stopped coming to church, the general feeling is guilt and shame. But then when we dig a little deeper, sometimes the people hesitate to come to church is because they have questions, they have doubts, they have some issues and don’t feel that the church is a safe place to bring those doubts. We somehow believe that everyone who walks through the church doors already knows all the answers, is 100% strong in their faith, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to be the dummy that asks questions and draws attention to myself. But, of all places, church should be a place where you can come with whatever doubts you have and feel welcomed.

The kind of doubts we need to make room for aren’t just the doubts related to faith. Church must be a safe place for all doubts of all kinds. Church needs to be a place where anyone can come with doubts and be welcomed and also be assured that they’re not alone. If there’s anything we should learn from today’s story is that our God is a god that welcomes doubts and will answer not with judgement, but with peace. We serve a God that when we cry “we need proof” God holds out a hand. None of us have it all figured out, so let’s make church a place we can come and sit with our faith and our doubts and be okay with both. Maybe your doubts are faith related. Maybe you struggle to believe that a man really can come back to life after being dead for three days. I get it. Logically, it makes no sense at all. It hasn’t happened since. We’re supposed to just believe this because some book tells us that thousands of years earlier this happened? It’s okay if you doubt. The fact that you’re here is proof enough that you want to know more and that you believe enough to walk through the doors.

Maybe the kind of doubts you have are more to do with everyday life than with faith. Are there doubts at work that you’re struggling with? As many of us draw closer to planting season, it seems as if doubt is a small component of what we do. The irony that my Royals will open their season tonight and I’m talking about doubt isn’t lost on me. This is a team, after all, that many doubted year after year. Some people even think that their World Series win last year was just a fluke. Maybe you’re doubting what life has in store for you as you sit with a new diagnosis. Maybe you’re doubting our economy, our political process, our leadership, our government; with the current state of things, who can blame you? Maybe it’s more personal than that. Are you doubting your marriage?  Are you doubting your physical health? Are you doubting your mental health? Maybe you’re doubting that if anyone knew whatever secret keeps you up at night that you would still be loved. Are you doubting the image you see in the mirror? Are you doubting who God has called you to be? Maybe you or someone you know is even doubting their sexuality. Whatever your doubts may be, please hear me loud and clear: doubts do not make you a “bad” Christian, whatever that is. Doubts make you human.

God did not create us to go through life blindly. One of the places I see God acting most clearly in my own life is when I wrestle with my doubts. I am not removed from having those doubts. I had more doubts about my faith life and my call upon graduating seminary than I did entering. My classmates and I joked that going to seminary is the only place where you can graduate with more questions than answers. Remember, God’s love and faithfulness to you, to us, is not dependent on your faith and your love for God. Thomas wasn’t a horrible disciple for asking for proof that Jesus was risen; he was human! He was simply asking for what any of us would have asked for. And because we serve a loving God, he got the proof he was needing.

Doubts, my brothers and sisters, are what drives our faith. While this may sound strange, doubt makes our faith stronger. Doubt brings us back to the baptismal waters and doubt brings us back to the table over and over again. Doubt is what makes us stand at an empty grave and cry “alleluia!” Doubt is being willing to say “I don’t know what I believe, but for today, I’m here and that’s enough.” Expressing doubt isn’t a sign of weakness. In fact, expressing doubt is probably one of the bravest things anyone can do. And maybe all it takes is one person to express doubt for you to finally be able to breathe and say “oh good! Me too!” So, in that light, I want to share some of my doubts with you. I’m not sharing them with you so that you can assure me that they’re not true or whatever, but again, so you’ll know you’re not alone.

I doubt I’m forgiven. I understand that I am. My brain comprehends this fact. My heart struggles with it daily. I struggle and wrestle with my mental health, which you all know. But the doubt creeps in when I wonder how long you all will be able to tolerate it before you give up on me. As most parents know, I doubt my parenting ability on an almost daily basis. I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world, but Lord, it’s the hardest job I’ve ever had. I doubt the future. We’re on the brink of a big change at our house and I have no idea what’s in store and that drives me crazy. I doubt the future of this country. I doubt some of the relationships in my life. And yet… Yet, I come every week, and am fed. I am fed by you. I am fed by you and am fed by you watching you feed one another. I am fed by the bread and wine. I am fed by water and a promise. And, believe it or not, I am fed by doubts. Alleluia, Christ is risen! And it’s okay if you doubt that.

Sermon for 3/27/16 Luke 24:1-12 Easter

I want to read the first part of the reading to you again, just the first sentence. “But, on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.” (Luke 24:1) Let’s back up even further and read a few verses ahead of this one. “The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.” (Luke 23:55-56) “But on the first day of the week…” And just like that we get a sense that our story is going to change. By just one little word, “but.”

It’s as if we were told “wait” or “hold on” or even “however”. This story is taking a change. The women saw Jesus laid in the tomb. They saw it with their own eyes. They then return to the tomb to prepare his body, as was the ritual. But, the stone was rolled away from the opening. But, there was no body. But, they were confused and perplexed. But, they were greeted by a messenger. But, they learned their friend, Jesus Christ was risen, just as he said. But, they didn’t see him, and yet, they believed. But they believed because they remembered his words. And they couldn’t wait to tell the others.

“But, these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe” the women. (23:11) But Peter went and saw for himself and was amazed. And had we been there that Sunday morning, had we been among those women heading for the tomb, had we been able to look in and see it empty for ourselves, our reaction might have been a confused “but….but….??” How can this be? We saw what happened to Jesus. We heard what happened to Jesus. Honestly, our logical, scientific minds might struggle to make sense of any of this at all. A man isn’t supposed to come back to life after being dead for three days. But, Jesus did.

Darkness cannot keep Christ away. Death cannot keep Christ away. The devil cannot keep Christ away. Nothing in this world can keep Christ away. And just when we thought the story was over. Just when the curtain was torn in two. Just when grief started to set in. God, through Jesus Christ, with the power of the Holy Spirit changed the story. God interjected a “but” a “wait a minute” into our story. And because of that, we are saved. Because we serve a God who keeps promises, we are saved. Alleluia, Christ is risen!

But, maybe you’re thinking there’s a catch. Certainly this Jesus, who was dead and who was raised again so that all may have eternal life, didn’t actually die for you and for me, right? Maybe you don’t think you’re forgiven. Sure, you hear the words of forgiveness. We even heard them earlier in the service. “Jesus Christ loves you and frees you from your sins by his blood.” And when you hear that do you think “yeah…everybody but me!” Because I don’t know about you, but I have a terrible time forgiving myself. I know where I have sinned. I know where I have come up short. I know where I have failed in not only not loving God but not loving myself. I fully understand and comprehend what happened to Christ on the cross. What I don’t understand is how someone can love me that much. I always want there to be a catch. I want to find the passage in the Bible that finally finally points out to me that this amazing sacrifice was for everyone except me.  

And instead, I find “but.” With the uncertainty and the confusion of the women at the tomb, my heart starts to listen; maybe yours does too. With the empty tomb and with the resurrection, with the good news that Christ is risen indeed, we might just start to believe that this act, this one amazing act is for us too. But, this is for you too. But, there are no exceptions. But, you can’t change the story! No matter how you think you’ve failed or fallen short, in the resurrection, God triumphantly proclaims, “but no!! This is for you too!”

It’s okay to be skeptical. It’s okay to struggle with this belief. Here’s the thing: your forgiveness and the amount that God loves you does not hinge on your belief! With every “but” we may give God, God answers us in return, crushing our doubt. “But, I haven’t been to church in years!” You may say. And God answers “But, I love you anyway.” Maybe you say “but I don’t know if I can believe that a dead man can come back to life. How is that even possible?!?” And God answers “but here is Jesus, crucified and resurrected for you anyway.” Maybe in a moment of vulnerability you whisper to God “but I struggle with love. I have family members I don’t talk to. Friends that I have abandoned. Relationships that have severed and ended. I don’t even know if I can love myself.” And in the bread and wine, the body and blood of Jesus Christ, God comforts us and says “but, this is love. This bread, this wine, is love, broken for you and shed for you.

God had the power to change the story. God sent us Jesus. While on this earth, Jesus taught, and fed, and cured, and healed, and walked, and prayed, and stood with those on the margins. He was sent to save creation. He was sent to be a king and a messiah. On the cross, people began to doubt. No king dies like that. No messiah is executed with nails. And then God changed the story. But, a king like Jesus did die for us. But, our messiah, Jesus Christ, had his blood poured out for our sins. God had the power to change the story for all who were gathered at the crucifixion, all who gathered at the tomb, and all who went out preaching and teaching in Jesus’ name. And God has the power to change your story too.

When you give yourself over to God, when you invite the Holy Spirit to stir in your life, when you believe, even if you don’t see, when you look into an empty tomb and cry “alleluia”, you are admitting to yourself and to the world that God has the power to change your life. When you think your life’s path and journey is set, God steps in and says “but…” and offers you something better and more amazing than you could have ever imagined!

Brothers and sisters in Christ, it gives me great joy to share with you that our story has been changed. Death is no longer. Our sins cannot and will not define us. Love had the final word. But, love had the final word. Alleluia! Christ is risen!!

Sermon for 5/10/15 John 15:9-17

When you take the readings as they are given to us, which is to say, out of context, it’s difficult to get the whole picture of what is truly going on. Jesus is still talking with his disciples, much like our reading last week. But he is actually in the middle of what is known as his “farewell discourse.” He is trying to prepare his disciples for his eventual departure from this earth. He is trying, as hard as he can, to prepare them for what will be a gruesome death and a victorious resurrection. And it has to make the disciples feel good that what Jesus is telling them is simple, “I love you.” Those are glorious words that anyone would long to hear. Ellen is learning some sign language thanks to daycare and for the first time the other night she was sitting on my lap, facing me and signed I (pointing to her eye) love (arms crossed across her chest) and you (while pointing at me). I cried.

At that point in time, she could have asked me for whatever she wanted and I probably would have given it to her. You all know that I love music but I have never heard anything so amazing to my ears as her little words enthusiastically telling me “I love you.” I hope that is what it feels like to hear the same thing from Jesus. I have said it before to all of you, but I feel like I need to tell you again, I love you. From the moment I received the paperwork for this church I knew I loved you but I had no idea how deeply I love you. Seriously, I love you all an obnoxious amount. It’s ridiculous!

Jesus says “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” I would like to think that everything Jesus said was said with intention and with great thought. In some ways, I am grateful that Jesus calls this a commandment. In other ways, it is really frustrating that Jesus calls this a commandment. Why couldn’t Jesus have said “this is my suggestion” or “this is my request”? But no. Instead Jesus says “this is my commandment.” Much like his other commandments it is something we should take seriously. And if we’re serious and honest about it, loving people is one of the most rewarding things we can do but it’s also one of the most challenging things we can do.

Here’s the other thing. Jesus didn’t put conditions on this commandment. He didn’t say “love one another…except for this person or that person.” He just said “love one another.”  Loving one another is easy when it is someone that you actually do love, like your spouse or a parent. Loving one another gets awkward when you talk about casual relationships like your dentist or hairdresser. Loving one another gets down right difficult when you talk about relationships filled with betrayal, despising, or hate. I am going to be honest with you, brothers and sisters, and I don’t expect  you to feel the same way I do, but if you do, that’s okay. Just know that you’re not alone in your thinking. I think it’s easy, really really easy, to love someone who looks like me, thinks like me, talks like me, acts like me, votes like me, reads like me, eats like me, and on and on and on. When I have trouble is when I try to love someone, or moreover, when I am commanded to love someone, who doesn’t fit into my nice little box of “people I think I should love.”

We talked about this a bit in confirmation and it was amusing. You all should watch 7th and 8th graders squirm when we start to talk about love. I wove our conversation about love in with our conversation about the Lord’s Prayer. We hear “love one another as I have loved you” and later we will pray “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Both have implications of an expectation, really. Jesus says to us (paraphrasing) “You know how I love you? Yeah. Do that to one another.” And at the same time, we ask God to forgive us while at the same time we forgive those around us.

We are not in this alone, brothers and sisters, we are created to be in relationship. We are created to be in community. The difficult part is that sometimes those relationships and communities don’t look like anything we expected. It’s easy for me to love you, believe it or not. But how can I love someone from my past who has done nothing but hurt me or the ones I love? Let me put it on a larger scale for you. Jesus is commanding us to love the president—even if you didn’t vote for him. Jesus is commanding us to love John Boehner—even if you don’t agree with him. Jesus is commanding us to love Freddie Gray (the African American male killed in Baltimore) while at the same time forgiving and loving the officers arrested for his death. Jesus is commanding us to love the single, unwed, pregnant teenager, and the abuser who put her in that situation. Jesus is commanding us to love the gay young man and his parents who kicked him out of the house. Are you starting to understand the complexity of God’s love?

Here is the difficult and awesome thing about God’s love: it never looks like we expect it to and honestly, that’s a good thing. Because when the rubber hits the road, brothers and sisters, we don’t deserve love any more than anyone else. Yet we receive God’s love. We receive that love from the moment we hear “you’re forgiven” all the way through the alleluias because death doesn’t have the final word. We receive that love from the moment of our first breath until our last; from the splash of baptismal waters to the closing of our caskets. And beyond, really. God’s love is super offensive because God’s love is extended to people that society says aren’t worthy of love. God’s love is super offensive because it’s extended to people we say aren’t worthy of love. Most of all, it’s offensive because it’s extended to us.

And yes, it is difficult to have this kind of love for one another and especially for those we don’t think should get our love. The language used here isn’t “go love one another” it really is translated such that it could say you are capable of loving one another because you are grounded in the life giving Christ. So when we think of a commandment, especially this one to love one another, it isn’t commanding. It’s a promise. The promise is from Christ that because we are grounded in him, our only response will be love. Jesus said we should love one another, and this includes our enemies. The way I look at it is this: what do I have to lose? I could spend the rest of my life loving the hell out of my enemies or refuse to do so and make my life a living hell. I’m not willing to take the risk.

It’s not easy work, friends. Thanks be to God we have one another, Christ, and enough food for the journey in the form of bread and wine.