Sermon for 3/22/20 Psalm 23

Everyone take a deep breath with me. It is so good to see you and to be together in this virtual community of Christ. Please know I miss gathering in person but I am thankful to all of you that set aside the time to join us this morning. I saw a joke going around Facebook earlier this week that said “my 90 day subscription to 2020 is almost up, how do I cancel?” I don’t know about you beloved, but I have alternated between fits of laughter and fits of tears this past week. Decisions have been made and then changed within a matter of hours. Sleep has eluded me quite a bit; it’s a heck of a time to try and heal an ulcer, I’ll tell you that. So, while that John reading is beautiful and has some lessons for us even for today, I cannot help myself but to preach on Psalm 23. Last week if you were in church or watched you may recall that I talked about the different wells we may drink from over the upcoming weeks. Psalm 23 is a deep deep well for so many of us full of life giving waters. It’s exactly what we need in a time such as this. 

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. What a bold statement! Not just now when we are facing uncertainties, but for everyday life. Now, as I’m sure all of you know, there is a very big difference between wants and needs. God supplies us with all we could ever need. But with the Lord as our shepherd, we shall not want. That seems to be taking on a different tone these days, doesn’t it? Do we want to see one another or do we need to see one another? Do we want to spend time apart or do we need to spend time apart? Do we want 96 rolls of toilet paper or do we need 96 rolls of toilet paper? It’s interesting how something like this pandemic suddenly brings a lot of things into focus, isn’t it? The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 

I thought about that phrase a lot this past week and how we also balance it with our proclamation of “give us this day our daily bread.” God provides us with all we may need, daily. It’s been so tempting to give into the idea of worrying about next week, next month, or even 6 months from now. Believe me, I’ve given into this thinking more once. Then I wondered if God is calling us to really live into the promise of daily bread. God may be calling us to just live in today. After all, after that first phrase, after declaring that God is our shepherd and we shall not want, what does the Lord provide for us? Rest. And God not only provides us rest, but a rest that will restore our soul. 

I wondered what a soul restoring rest looked like. I don’t think this is a nap on a Sunday afternoon while NASCAR is on (sorry, Leon). This is the kind of rest that really fills you in body, mind, and soul. So for me, it is actual rest, time with family, and time to engage in activities I normally don’t have time for: reading, knitting, and catching up on correspondence. As I said, rest has been eluding me this week, but I have had a lot of time with family and I have been spending more time reading. Perhaps God is providing us with opportunities to recharge and rest our souls. 

Now, do I think that this catastrophe was created by God? Absolutely not. I think God is in the midst of all of this suffering. There are people who are dying. There are loved ones who are separated. There are people wondering how they will pay bills. There are people who are putting their lives on the line every single day just to earn money or provide for their families. And the psalmist reminds us “even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff–they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4) This is most definitely a dark valley kind of time. And God is with me. God is with you. God is with all of us. 

In the dark valley we shall fear no evil. Uncertainty brings a lot of fear, doesn’t it? We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I don’t even know what this afternoon will bring. Fear itself can be evil. If we let it, fear can control our lives. Fear can quickly become our god (with a lowercase g). I think we can all think of examples that we may have seen of fear ruling lives this past week. And I’ll admit, I’m quick to say “faith over fear.” I think that faith is important in these times. We should be praying for one another and for the world God made. But I wondered if instead of faith our response to fear should be love. The way that God loves us is the way we can attempt to love the world. The world certainly needs it now, don’t you think, my beloved? After all, we serve a God who overfills our cups. Goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives. All the days. We will never run out of goodness and mercy. It seems in short supply right now. Our response to fear maybe isn’t faith as much as it’s love. 

In these anxious times, God our shepherd is calling you to rest. And if all you do is rest, that is enough. God will restore you. God will fill your cup so that it is overflowing. God will anoint you. God is with you. God the shepherd is with you. God the provider is with you. God our keeper is with you. God our protector is with you. Repeat after me: God is with me. God is with me. God is with me. Indeed, God is with you. May God our shepherd who calls you to rest keep you safe and healthy. Amen. 

Sermon for 2/23/20 Matthew 17:1-9; Transfiguration

I enjoy transfiguration Sunday as this is often called because we can all relate to mountain top experiences, I believe. Maybe it’s that wonderful vacation, an awesome conference, even a long awaited lunch out with friends, mountaintop experiences are those things that allow us to get re-energized and re-centered. Leaving the mountaintop is never fun. As I got to thinking about it, I realized why: once we leave the mountain, we have to face the truth. Vacation is over! That conference is over and our new friends are going back home! That long awaited lunch is over and (worse yet) the bill has come. The truth is always there, waiting for us, sometimes with great cruelty. So, maybe if we can stay on the mountain, we can avoid the truth. And sometimes, I wonder if we purposefully try and stay on the mountain or even create mountaintop experiences to avoid the truth. 

Today’s Gospel lesson takes place (of course) on top of a mountain. Peter, James, John, and Jesus had made a nice hike up a high mountain. The disciples couldn’t have known what was to happen next. It must have felt like a dream or some kind of out of body experience. Jesus’ face started to glow, practically blinding them. Then his clothes, we are told, turn a dazzling white. And if that’s not enough, Moses and Elijah appeared there with him. Then(!) it gets even better! We hear from God. Another bright cloud, and from that bright cloud comes a voice “This is my son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” The story could end right there and be pretty awesome. I don’t blame the disciples for wanting to stay on that mountaintop. Up there, they have the Jesus they want: pure, blameless, in the company of prophets, and affirmed as God’s beloved son. This is the Jesus we want. If we leave the mountain, we’ll be faced with the Jesus we get: the Good Friday Jesus, bloody, beaten, bruised, eventually crucified and dead. So, rather than face the truth, the disciples try to convince Jesus to stay on the mountaintop. 

Upon hearing the voice of God, the disciples are shaken to their core, fell to the ground in fear, and cower. I don’t blame them, I probably would have done the same thing. Then, as only Jesus could, he brings the disciples comfort. He touches them and encourages them. “Get up” he says and then, “do not be afraid.” I needed to hear this from Jesus. Maybe you do too. Here’s the truth, my beloved. 2020 has been the hardest year of my ministry with you thus far and it’s only February. As I have been preparing for Lent, which for me brings with it its own hosts of emotions, it’s tempting to me to want to stay on the mountaintop. I guess I fear the truth of difficulty, challenges, and just life at the bottom of the mountain. I worry about how much harder the truth is going to get. 

I am still wrestling with all of the emotions that accompany burying someone so young like Tristan. And I would be lying to you if I didn’t admit that the financial challenges we discussed at the annual meeting and that still loom keep me up too many nights a week. Of course I have my own personal challenges, nothing that is new: mothering, supporting a PhD student, living in limbo of what comes next, maybe we’ll move, maybe we won’t, being a daughter and sister, maintaining friendships, all of that. If I stay on the mountaintop (oh, by the way, you’re staying up here with me) then nothing can get worse, right? We don’t have to face the truth of what happens tomorrow, or next week, or next month. We can stay on this mountain and bask in the glory of Jesus, God’s beloved Son. Sounds great to me. Beloved, this is called avoidance. 

Then Jesus, doing what he does best, says do not be afraid. And that’s not all. See, we serve a God who is with us literally every single step of the way. When God says that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, it’s true. In our lesson today, the disciples don’t go back down the mountain alone, Jesus goes with them. And it’s the same for us. I sometimes remind you (and me) that we are resurrection people. That is still true. We are resurrection people. We are Easter Sunday people. We are Christ is risen indeed people. However, we are none of that without being Good Friday people. And in order to be Good Friday people, sometimes we have to come down from the mountain. We have to tell hard truths. We have to be brave together. We have to be vulnerable together. And in the midst of all of it, we trust, more than anything, that God is with us because Jesus is who he always has been and always will be. 

I don’t know, maybe you’re not like me. Maybe your 2020 has been phenomenal fireworks and celebration after celebration thus far. I rejoice with you, really I do. But, if you’ve been camped out on the top of a metaphorical mountain, unable to move much thanks to fear of the unknown, fear of the “what’s next,” fear of darkness, fear of the not-good-enoughs swallowing you up whole, maybe it’s time we leave this mountain. Maybe it’s time that we start living as we proclaim: people of God who trust in God that will provide in God’s time. We could stay on the mountain, but I don’t know that we would be living in the fullness of life that God provides. Even if coming down the mountain feels like going through hell, we proclaim that God descended into hell ahead of us. There is no where we can go that God has not already gone. I am done living in fear. I am headed down the mountain. I don’t know what I am going to find, but God will go with me, with us. “Get up and do not be afraid.” 

Sermon for 1/26/20 Psalm 27:1-9

At Wartburg Theological Seminary, each graduating class is asked to pick a class verse from the Bible. The same task fell to my class and we hemmed and hawed over several verses before finally deciding on psalm 27:1 “the Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” We joked that chose a verse about not fearing and not being afraid during a time in our lives when many of us did have a lot of fears and many of us were afraid. After all, many of us were waiting on calls, waiting to be sent out into the world to do ministry, having no idea where God would send us. There was a lot to fear. What I appreciate about this psalm since that time in my life is that it has grounded me — brought me back to my true identity as a called and claimed child of God. And while picking my favorite scripture is probably akin to picking a favorite child, this psalm ranks high in my personal favorites. 

I really wanted to preach on that scripture from Matthew 4 today, really I did. But this Psalm just wouldn’t let me go this week. So, like always, I am going to preach to myself this week and you all just get to listen in. Now feel free to pass judgement on me if you wish, but believe it or not, there are very few verses of scripture I have committed to memory. There are a lot of things in my brain already. This verse, however, is one I have memorized. The promise is just too amazing and the grace is just too much for me to want to forget this verse. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” There is a long list of things we could fear, maybe even should fear (have you watched the news lately). But fear can quickly become our god (little g). We can quickly stop truly living our lives thanks to fear. But God is our light and our salvation. We have nothing to fear, my beloved. 

The psalm continues by saying “The Lord is the stronghold of my life.” This language of “stronghold” would not have sounded strange to the people of Israel. In fact, God is referred to as a “stronghold” several times throughout the Psalms. “The metaphor derives from military situations in which a well-positioned fortress with strong walls provided safety from enemy assaults” (Creach, Working Preacher). Therefore, picturing God as a stronghold and calling God a stronghold is akin to admitting that whatever may be troubling us, God’s protection is enough for us. In times of trouble, the temptation may exist to flee. What better place to flee than to God and God’s protection? This psalm reminds us once again that God is a safe place for us. 

Now I don’t know about you, my beloved, but I am bombarded by messages from the world that go against this. Apparently, according to the commercials I see on television, I need the expensive face cream or botox, the newest diet trend or botox, a different job with a huge paycheck, well behaved children (notice I said “children” plural), a well manicured lawn to go with my well kept house, and did I mention botox? But did you notice that the psalm didn’t say that the Lord is our stronghold once we get our lives together? This is the good news that the Lord welcomes us just as we are; not after we are our own version of perfect, but when are forgiven and loved, which we already are in God’s love and by Christ’s actions on the cross. 

Then the psalmist asks of the Lord something I think we all desire. Verse 4 says “One thing I ask of the Lord, that I will seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.” And isn’t that it? I mean, more than riches, more than land, more than a supermodel body, what I really desire is just to live with the Lord, to sit at his feet, to ask him all the questions of my heart. Sometimes I wonder if we dare ask the Lord for such things because we wonder if we are actually deserving of such things. We may not ask because fear there’s a catch. We may not ask because we fear our list of sins and shortcomings will be listed before we are able to dwell in such a glorious place. Maybe we may not ask for fear of who else might be dwelling there. 

But here’s my thought, beloved, and I’m willing to be wrong about this: when (not if) we are in the glorious, light filled presence of the Lord, does any of that matter? I want to believe that when we are in the Lord’s light, in the Lord’s stronghold, in the Lord’s house, his shelter, his tent, God’s love will just simple drown out any questions and doubts we may have. We will, I believe, know without any doubt, that we truly have nothing to fear and nothing of which to be afraid. I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s a powerful statement. Because whether I want to admit it or not, I have a lot to fear. I mean, some of what I fear is valid: what kind of world will exist when Ellen is an adult? Will another war be waged in my lifetime? And then there are the fears that I dare not even speak out loud. These are the fears that many of us have that are usually coated in shame or the inability to forgive ourselves. But, but(!) the Lord is our light and our salvation, who shall we fear? Nothing. And while I don’t want any of you to be in any hurry, we don’t even need to fear death. 

God’s love is our light and salvation. God’s mercy is our light and our salvation. God’s forgiveness is our light and our salvation. The cross is our light and our salvation. We need not fear anything. This is why I have this verse memorized, because I need this reminder daily. No matter what I fear, no matter how often the darkness may tempt me or call my name, the Lord is my light and my salvation. I have nothing to fear. You have nothing to fear. Thanks be to God. 

Sermon for 6/23/19 Luke 8:26-39

In my experience, mental illness doesn’t come with casseroles. Usually when a loved one is diagnosed with something that affects his or her life, people stop by with casseroles and offers to help? A new cancer diagnosis? Here’s a casserole, an offer to drive you to chemo, and a future date to clean your house. A new MS diagnosis? Here’s a casserole, plans to modify your house so it’s easier to get around, and a team to walk in the next charity fundraiser. An autism diagnosis? Here’s a casserole, me learning more so I can be a better advocate, and keeping a lookout for tagless clothing (true story). Suicidal ideation with manic bi-polar swings? No casserole. No companions for the journey. No house cleaning. Mental illness is often kept in dark places, hidden from human and public consumption, and shrouded in secrecy and shame. As hard as I’ve tried, I can’t shake the idea that the man in today’s story, Legion, has been and is suffering from a mental illness. I would also love to say that things are better now for people with a mental illness. Pharmaceutically, they are. But, people like me with mental health issues are still often relegated to places of darkness, secrecy, and shame. I will continue to talk about mental health from the pulpit because it needs to be spoken of. People need to know they’re not alone and that the church takes seriously the issues of mental health.

Legion had been living in a tomb. Legion had been living in a place that was sequestered, dark, isolated, and a place meant for the dead. Legion was very much alive but I doubt he was living. We aren’t told whether Legion decided to segregate himself or the pressure, judgement, and shame put on him by the others in the town sent him to the tomb. Make no mistake, my beloveds, we all have tombs. Sometimes we are very familiar with the tombs in which we reside, other times our tombs are like a terrible vacation home that we only sometimes visit. So the question I asked myself (which I pose to you now) is how do we live in our tombs and/or what keeps us living in or visiting our tombs? I think some of the things that drive us to our personal tombs are: shame, secrets, fear, expectations, our own disbelief, isolation, misunderstandings, identity, and even our physical health. How might all of this actually look? Maybe you’re driven to the tomb by the secrets you keep: an affair, a situation at work, or an assault. Maybe you’re driven to the tomb by shame. The one or two drinks a week have turned into 5 or 6 a night. You still sneak that one cigarette after dinner even though you told your family you quit. Some of you may have thought you didn’t have a tomb but then this recent planting season happened, or didn’t. And doubts crept in. And you questioned your identity because if you’re not farming, then what in the world are you doing? Before you know it, you found your tomb. We all have tombs.

Legion is tormented by evil spirits. I don’t know that we talk enough about evil spirits or even know enough to talk about them. But evil spirits are very real. This is a common topic of spiritual conversations in churches in countries where witchcraft is practiced and very real. As someone with a brain health disease, I can attest that evil spirits are real. Legion is bound, literally, by his spirits. The spirits kept him under guard and bound with chains and shackles. Even if Legion did manage to break free, he was driven out into the wilderness which was another place of darkness, uncertainty, and lack of life. How might evil spirits move in our lives, then my beloved. Evil spirits tell us lies. Lies like “no one cares” or “you’re all alone.” Evil spirits whisper doubts in our ears. “You’ll never do this” or “this will never work.” Evil spirits also seem to control our internal dialogue. This is the way we speak to ourselves. When my evil spirits are working at full throttle, I say things to myself I would never in a million years dream of saying to any of you or my beloved Chris or Ellen. But, I believe my internal dialogue maybe a little too easy. Evil spirits move about in rumors, anxiety and anxiety like symptoms, and fear. Evil spirits, external and internal want to keep us bound and in tombs. Evil spirits obviously don’t know that Jesus will always meet us where we are even if it is a tomb being held captive by our own thoughts.

That’s exactly what Jesus does to Legion. Jesus removes the demons, casts the demons into a herd of swine, and the swine (as a result) ran into a lake and were drowned (sorry Mommsen’s). Jesus freed Legion. But, an interesting response from the townspeople was fear. They were afraid because of genuine fright. After all, who was this Jesus and how was he able to do this to so many demons? And maybe they were afraid because now they had hope. It’s the kind of hope that says “if it can happen to Legion…maybe it can happen for me.” Fear can look like a lot of things to a lot of people. Legion literally had his identity changed in this moment. I believe that his actual name wasn’t even Legion. He had just been called that for so long that it had become his identity. After the demons left him, Legion was clothed and “in his right mind” as we’re told. He will become part of the community again. Jesus has the power to claim us and the identity that comes with that is something no powers can overcome. This is the identity given to all of us in baptism.

When Jesus claims us, we learn that healing is possible. Restoration is possible. Relationships are possible. Inclusion is possible. Community is possible. Recognition is possible. Now, here’s the thing. Legion had a “place” in society. He was that society’s outcast. That was his place. Jesus removed him from that place and gave him a place in society once again. A place where he wouldn’t be feared and a place where he would be included. The town people were certain of Legion’s place before Jesus came along. Then Legion was healed and they got scared. I mean, if we can’t be certain of certain people’s places and situations in society, of what can we be certain? Jesus. Even if no one else sees us or recognizes us, Jesus always will.

Baptismal promises will be made to Basil Sue today and it’s a good time for all of us to be reminded. We have all been marked with the cross of Christ. No demon can erase that. We already belong. Even if it feels like you belong nowhere, you do belong to Christ and there is a home for you in God’s kingdom. You have been sealed with the Holy Spirit. Sealed, protected, shielded. Even in your tomb dwelling moments, you are sealed, claimed, called, and protected by God the Father through Jesus the Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. What sometimes frustrates me with stories like this is that it all seems to tie up in a neat little bow. Legion is healed and Jesus is on his way. We know all too well that healing seems to never come for those we love that struggle with mental health issues. I know this well. In those tomb moments, it’s good for us to remind each other of the promises made to us in baptism. In those tomb moments, it’s good for us to remind one another that Jesus continues to show up right where we are, without judgement, to be with us (even if the place we are is dark, dim, and full of death). It’s in those tomb moments, that we, the body of Christ need to show up and be with one another and believe enough for those struggling with disbelief. It’s to us,the body of Christ, to show up and share our light with those in the darkness. Well, we do all of that, and bring a casserole. Amen.

Sermon for 5/5/19 John 21:1-19

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!) In the second half of this reading, Jesus addresses Peter three times. And each time Jesus addresses him, he calls him “Simon, son of John.” There is something about that identity. This is the third and final time since the resurrection that the disciples have seen the risen Lord in the Gospel of John. Peter previously tried to deny Jesus three times. He has tried to go back to fishing. But, during breakfast, with the familiar smell of a charcoal fire wafting in the air, Jesus really gets to the heart of the matter: identity.

What is your identity? Maybe the better question is how many identities do you have? How many of those can you wear at one time? I have several: pastor, wife, mom, friend, daughter, sister, Bearcat, activist, and on and on. But, my most important identity, at least to me, is my baptismal identity. I am Jealaine Rae, child of God. As great as that sounds, I don’t always remember that my baptismal identity is my primary identity. But, it is my baptismal identity that allows me to respond to all of my other identities. It’s easy to forget that though. When I’ve gone from a day of visits, to a council meeting, to home in time to hopefully read stories and do bedtime, grab a late dinner, put a load in the laundry, I forget that in all of that God claims me. I forget in all of what I do that God knows me.

A challenge also arises when we desire to forget, leave behind, abandon, or even deny our identity. While Jesus was on trial and Peter was in the courtyard, warming himself by the fire, those gathered around asked Peter “you are not also one of this man’s disciples are you?” And Peter responded with “I am not.” (see John 18:17, 25) Talk about a denial. But when Jesus appears to Peter and the others after the resurrection, he does not desire to shame or guilt Peter. You notice that Jesus doesn’t ask Peter for an apology or ask him to repent; neither does Peter offer it. And it may be easy to think that Jesus asks this question of “do you love me” three times to remind Peter that he denied Jesus three times. But, this is not the case. Jesus is simply reaffirming who Peter really is, who Peter has always been, who Jesus needs Peter to be now.

I believe there are times when we all desire to deny our identity. Any parent will tell you that there have been days when you want to scream “my name is no longer mom” (or “dad”). The ladies who helped with Lucille’s funeral can attest that I came back from the burial, grabbed my lunch, and went to seclude myself into my office. I actually said “I can’t people anymore.” At the same time, there may be those times when we flex our identities a little more. My dad is a fan of the idea that whatever he says goes, because “I’m the papa!” For extra emphasis, he’ll sing like he’s in “Fiddler on the Roof.” There has been more than one occasion when I introduce myself I make sure that I emphasize that I am “PASTOR” Jealaine Marple.

But there are those times when we desire to deny our identity out of fear. There is the worry that we won’t meet expectations. There is the fear that we will meet expectations and then more will be expected of us. There is the fear of disappointment. There is the desire to deny our identity because we may be judged on that identity or even rejected. And that hurts. And if we’re going to be honest, sometimes we deny who we are because there is a fear that we won’t be liked or even loved for who we truly are. We don’t want to be alone. We don’t want to be without a community or support system. So sometimes, identities get denied. What happens when we wish to deny our identity of “child of God.” Moreover, why might we want to deny that identity?

Jesus lays it out for us in this conversation with Peter. Just in case you thought this conversation was just for Peter, it is for us too. The resurrection has happened and we are faced with the “now what.” If we profess and confess to love Jesus what is that going to look like on a practical level? If we believe that “God so loved the world” (see John 3:16) what will that look like as we encounter the world on a daily basis? Jesus is the good shepherd. We hear that in John 10. Jesus even says in John 10:16 that there are “other sheep that do not belong to this fold.” Meaning, there are sheep, people, who have not yet come to know Jesus but Jesus is going to make them part of his fold as well.

So we fast forward to this conversation and Jesus says to Peter, “feed my lambs…tend my sheep…feed my sheep.” For Peter and for us, this is our identity as disciples. This is our identity when we say we are children of God. This is our identity in Christ. We are to care for one another. We are to feed one another. We are to love one another. With an assignment like that, I can understand why Peter may not want to be a disciple. I can understand why going back to fishing, even on a bad day, looked a bit more appealing.

I can understand this because the world can be really hard to love. The problems of this world seem impossible to solve. Hate, violence, injustice, war, and power all seem to be the preferred language. If we’re going to be honest, our identity as children of God and as disciples has the power to just break our hearts over and over again. We are going to run into broken systems, people who feel broken, corruption, and what may feel like speed bump after speed bump. That much hurt has the power to not only make us deny our identity but leave it behind altogether. Sometimes, yes, it would be easier to operate in the world as someone who doesn’t know Christ. Sometimes it would be easier to turn and look the other way. It would be easier to not care.

But Christ calls us to something better and deeper. And yes, it’s going to break our hearts. And God is going to take those broken pieces and use them and keep us moving forward. We don’t do this discipleship thing on our own. While we may desire to leave behind our identity as children of God or identity as disciples, God has made a permanent mark on us. As much as we may try and ignore it, God’s love projects us forward into service to others in the world. The problem with our Christian identity is that we see the world as Christ sees it. The joy of our Christian identity is that we see the world as Christ see it. Our identity in Christ is secure. God has a firm grip on us, even on the days when we struggle. God has a firm grip on us even in the moments we’d rather have nothing to do with God. Peter has seen what life in Christ looks like: abundance upon abundance. We have seen it too. This is what discipleship is: to witness God’s abundance upon abundance and then make that happen for others.

It’s not an easy identity. It’s not a glamourous identity. But our identity in Christ is quite possibly the most rewarding identity we have. We may not see or experience that reward until we are in God’s kingdom, but the promise is there. We have seen the empty tomb. We have experienced the risen Lord. Soon we will be fed. Then Christ sends us out to feed the world. Our identity is love. Our identity is hope. Our identity is intertwined with the proclamation that alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

Sermon for 4/18/19 John 13:1-17, 31b-35; Maundy Thursday

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) It’s a nice thought, isn’t it? We should love one another. And for Jesus, this isn’t a suggestion. It’s isn’t a passing thought. He says exactly what it is right there: a new commandment. What that means is that it’s not optional. However, we make it optional; perhaps a little more often than we should. I’ve been thinking about this commandment off and on for the last few weeks, honestly. Knowing that Maundy Thursday was coming up, that’s just how my pastor brain works. And I’ve come up with a theory that I haven’t quite fleshed out all the way yet, but I’m going to share it with you anyway. If we actually, truly, really loved one another the way Jesus commands in this gospel, it would be an act of civil disobedience.

Let’s first start by talking about what civil disobedience is and how I’m using it in the context of this message. So, a common definition is “the active, professed refusal of a citizen to obey certain laws, demands, orders or commands of a government or occupying international power. … it is a non-violent action” (wikipedia). Martin Luther King Jr is probably one of the best and well known faces and voices of civil disobedience. But he was also known to say that it should be “a display and practice of reverence to the law” (ibid). Since Dr King, there have been several attempts and demonstrations of civil disobedience including women’s marches, Black Lives Matter marches, and marches and demonstrations against school violence, just to name a few. I don’t necessarily think that these protests, marches, and acts of civil disobedience are always a response and distrust of our government, although many may feel that way. But, I really believe that it is the citizens of this country that know our government can do better and so we demand that it does.

Jesus was probably the original example of what civil disobedience looked like. After all, we have example after example of how Jesus didn’t live by the rules of the Roman empire. He also didn’t live by the hard and fast rules of religion though either. If you are able to think back on different Bible stories, we can cite many examples of this: healing people on the sabbath, hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes, flipping tables, and then facing Pontius Pilate head on, with no reservations, no lies, no excuses Jesus enters Jerusalem. And in what was probably one of his final acts of ministry, Jesus engages in civil disobedience. He does so in a super mundane way (at least for us): he shares a meal with his friends and then washes their feet. Who knew that this act of love could be an act of disobedience, but that’s exactly what it was and that is exactly what it continues to be.

Up to this point, Jesus had more than enough opportunities to turn his back on his disciples or just plain leave them behind. But we know that’s not how Jesus worked. The love and grace that Jesus showed his disciples and us is really disobedient. How? Because since the inception of time, we have been told to fear “the other,” put ourselves first, watch out for number one, and only surround ourselves with people who are good for us and to us. Jesus kind of ignored all of that and surrounded himself with a group of good-enoughs that, even in the end, would abandon him. Despite this, Jesus took the form of a servant and got on his knees and washed the feet of those around him, even Judas, the one who would betray him. I doubt I could have been so brave and so loving.

Let’s look at who is at the table again and maybe the idea of loving these people will start to sound more like an act of disobedience. “Judas, who he knows will betray him; Peter, who will deny him; James and John, who will be unable to keep watch and pray with him; and the others who will forsake him in his hour of darkest need. We will watch in wonder as Jesus’ response to this inner circle that has disappointed him over and over and over again is not to chastise or scold or punish, but to take a towel and a basin of water and gently was the ugliness of each one in turn” (Tisdale, “Feasting on the Word” p279). Society tells us we shouldn’t love the people that surrounded Jesus. But, Jesus does.

Society, the news media, social media, and our government spends a lot of time trying to scare us. Have you noticed that? Fear is a hot commodity in this nation. If I could buy stock in fear, I would be very very rich. But, I’d rather buy stock in love and live in poverty. We are to fear people who have brown skin. We are to fear people who have accents. We are to fear people who even dress a certain way. We are to fear people based on who they love. We are to fear people based on how they vote. We are even to fear people based on their favorite news source. Don’t believe me? If you watch Fox News, you probably have heard that the people who watch MSNBC or CNN are stupid or don’t know what is going on in the world; maybe that they’re even anti-American. If you watch MSNBC or CNN you may have heard that the people who watch Fox News are stupid or don’t know what is going on in the world; maybe that they’re even anti-American. See, it can be said of everyone. This is why, my beloved, when Jesus tells us that we should love one another, it is an act of civil disobedience.

Now, I know that some of you have never engaged in civil disobedience or for some of you, maybe it’s been quite some time since you’ve done that. You may be wondering where to get started. I think Jesus has the ultimate answer in this scripture: sit down with people, have a meal, listen to their story, and then, wash their feet. I mean, “the fact that Jesus spends his last meal with his friends, pleading that they love one another in spite of their own difference and disagreements, is compelling, to say the least” (ibid). I have found that it is almost impossible to hate someone once you are able to see their humanity. When you share a meal with someone and you are able to look one another in the eyes and listen to one another’s stories, it is harder to wish ill upon that person. I understand that we may not be able to literally wash feet, but perhaps we can ask ourselves how we can be in service to one another. Being in service to one another may be another act of disobedience.

Soon, we will all come to this table. We come not because we are worthy or holy, but because God, through Jesus Christ invites us, warts and all. It is a place where we come and Jesus washes us clean, washes all the ugliness out of hearts, and feeds us time and time again. No one is turned away. No one is told no. No one is fed with stipulation. Because bread broken and wine poured is what love looks like. Believing that we are fed with the body and blood of Jesus is disobedient because the world doesn’t want to believe that such a grandiose meal exists! And while this body was given “for you” and this blood was shed “for you” let us remember that is also a plural “you” as in “all y’all.” The same people we are told we should fear get fed too. The same people we are told we should hate get fed too. Allowing yourself to be loved by God is a disobedient act. Who knew disobedience could look like and feel like redemptive love?

Sermon for 10/21/18 Mark 10:35-45

Sometimes I wonder if we fully grasp what it means to be a Christian in today’s society. Because, in all honesty, we’ve got it pretty easy. In this country, at least, we are not a minority. Our lives are not in danger because we’re Christian. We don’t have to gather in secret to worship. We do not run the risk of physical harm just because we’re Christian. Many of us wear symbols of our faith either through jewelry or tattoos and don’t think twice about it. But, I think that if we lived a life that Jesus lived and the life that he was asking the disciples to live, we wouldn’t or couldn’t do it. For so many of us, our faith is our lifestyle, but it is not our core identity. There’s not very many of us who have given up much, or anything, to follow Christ. But, that is exactly what Jesus is challenging the disciples and us to this week. A life of service and a life of humility.

This story is a complicated one. A part of the story that we don’t hear is that preceding this, Jesus tells about his death for the third time. Jesus doesn’t hold back. He tells them that he will be spat on, mocked, flogged, and killed. Immediately following that, James and John make their request to sit at his side, one on his right, one on his left. James and John are asking for seats of power. It’s as if (as one of my colleagues put it) they’re asking to be vice president and secretary of state. Soon, James and John will see one person on Jesus’ left, and one on his right, but they will be the criminals sentenced to hang with him. James and John showed unadulterated enthusiasm for following Jesus and being able to drink the cup and be baptized like Jesus. They don’t realize that they’re agreeing to being crucified. I have to admire their confidence.

We are probably just as confident. We enthusiastically claim the label of “Christian.” We quote Bible verses. We hang them in our homes. We teach the commandments to our children and grandchildren. We reach out into the world in the name of Christ. Absolutely none of this is a bad thing. We may not be as blunt as to outright ask Jesus for a position of power, like a seat on his left or right, but perhaps we think that doing all the right things will garner us favor with Christ. Maybe worse yet, perhaps we assume that our faithfulness to Christ will bring us riches. Not money necessarily, but health, friends, more members, and on and on.

I also wonder if James and John asked what they did because they were operating under an umbrella of fear. They asked Jesus for seats of power before any of the rest of the disciples could. What if there wasn’t enough to go around? How quickly they would forget their requests as soon as they saw what Jesus’ version of power looked like. We operate out of fear quite a bit as well. We hold on to so many things for a time period that has yet to come; it’s called “just in case.” What I find interesting about James and John’s request is that they asked on behalf of themselves. In that brief moment their fellow disciples moved from companions to competition. And despite pledging allegiance to Jesus, confessing our faith in him, and singing his praises, when push comes to shove, we choose fear over trust. We choose to put our confidence in our own abilities rather than in Christ. And we look out for ourselves rather than being concerned for our neighbors.

Jesus knows all of this. After all, Jesus knows the depths of our hearts; our deepest wishes and darkest fears. Knowing all this, he points the disciples and us to a life of service and to a life where we will be last on this earth, but first in God’s kingdom. And as a reminder and an example of how we are supposed to live this life, Jesus shows us how to live this life of service and humility. He shows us, James, John, and the rest of the disciples what this life will look like all the way to the cross. Do we want what Jesus has now? Do we want this power? Do we want to claim that we can handle it?

Here’s what’s frustrating for me in this reading. I know so many of you who have sacrificed a lot. I see it week after week. I see it as you rush in during the first hymn and sigh as you slump down into the pew frustrated that you didn’t make it on time after promising yourself you would…even with all the kids. I see the sacrifices made as I look in your eyes and listen to your voice. I ask how you are and you say “fine” but your eyes and voice tell me that you’re anything but. The worry of crop prices and a harvest challenged by mother nature is so very present. I see the sacrifices you make for yourselves, for your families, and for this church. And so when Jesus tells us once again to make more sacrifices, perhaps there is a small part of me that wants to yell at Jesus “how much more do you want?”

I mean, from the sounds of it, Jesus is asking (maybe challenging us) to follow him all the way to the cross. Jesus asks us through his actions and leadership if we’re willing to give up everything we know of comfort to follow him. Are we willing to lose our homes, jobs, friends, family, privilege, maybe even our good names, just to follow him? Again, Jesus! How much more do you want? Don’t you know what I’m going through already?

But Jesus was sent into this world to free us from our sin. Jesus came into this world to free us from ourselves. We may think we want power, prestige, and fame, but what will that cost? What will be the cost to our relationships? What will be the cost to our ethics and morals? Jesus came to challenge our ideas of what it looks like to have abundant life. Jesus came to challenge our ideas of what it looks like to have power. I think Jesus knows what we have sacrificed. All of us have had to sacrifice something in life. And maybe you feel like no one noticed. Like all of your hard work, your worries, your late hours, your pacing,  your whatever has gone unnoticed. But Jesus saw you.

The good news, my beloved, is that following Christ actually frees us from what we think we want and instead frees us to receive what we need. Let that sink in for just a moment. We ask Jesus for places of power. He asks if we’re willing to follow him all the way to a cross. The cross is where our best intentions go to die. The cross is where the feeling of not being enough goes to die. The cross is where all the sacrifices you have made are recognized and Jesus says “but wait! I have something better for you.” When we are a servant to all and last on the list, we have nothing but room to be filled up with Christ’s love. Christ frees us from the expectations of this world and prepares us for kingdom living. I don’t know about you, but that’s good news to me. God doesn’t expect me to be the world’s best Pastor, or the world’s best mom, wife, daughter, or friend or whatever. What God expects me to be is the best receptacle of love that I can be. All God desires for us is to open ourselves up to the love of God through Jesus. We don’t need seats of power, we don’t need to be rulers or titans for God to love us. Serve others. Serve God. God will love us. The sacrifices of this world are taken up in the cross. God will keep coming to us and for us in love. Even in the moments that we’d rather shoo him away; even in the moments we’d rather run from that love; even in the moments that we’d rather deny that love. God will come in love over and over again. Thanks be to God!

Sermon for 6/24/18 Mark 4:35-41

So I will admit that I struggled and have continued to struggle with scripture this week. Did you know that Pastors do that? Knowing what to say to you week after week isn’t always easy. I pray a lot and listen to the Holy Spirit. But, sometimes like Job, I wrestle with God and with scripture. Many times, it is personal. I know what I need to say, but I don’t want to say it (mainly because I don’t want to hear it). Or I have a lot of people telling me what I should say, but they don’t know you like I know you. Sometimes I even know what I want to say but I just can’t find the right words to say it. Often, it is a combination of all of those things. This week, I wrestled a lot with faith versus fear. I didn’t like that they seemed to be pitted up against one another. Why can I not be faithful and have fear? Just because I am afraid doesn’t mean I’m don’t have faith. Does it?

I was always taught that a healthy amount of fear was good. It’s good to fear a lake you can’t see the bottom of. It’s good to fear going to a new country, new place, or when meeting new friends. I think fear keeps us aware of who we are and whose we are. But, lately, I think that fear is causing us to build walls and keep people away. Thanks to the news, social media, and pretty much everything that surrounds us, we have been drowning in messages of the “other” being dangerous. We are sinking in messages that we need to fear not being loved, not being enough, not measuring up, and being left out or left behind. It doesn’t have to be anything major, either. There’s the fear that our teeth aren’t white enough, our hair thick enough, that we don’t drive the right car, and that we don’t smell the right way. If we let it, fear can control our lives.

The disciples were in a group of boats sailing across the sea of Galilee when a storm blew up out of nowhere. The sea does that on occasion. It is nothing if not unpredictable. It’s easy to forget that this wouldn’t have been strange for the disciples. After all, most of them were fishermen, remember? They knew the power of the sea. But let’s talk about the setting for a moment. It was night. Their boats were more like fishing boats than luxurious cruise liners. A great storm had blown up. The winds were fierce. There would have been tremendous waves that ebbed and flowed. The sailors must have known that they might have to literally abandon ship in order to be saved. This was a serious storm. So when the disciples woke Jesus, it wasn’t a timid, reserved, or even polite “teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” It was probably more of a “TEACHER!! DO YOU NOT CARE THAT WE ARE PERISHING?!?” And, as Jesus has done thus far in the stories that we have heard from Mark’s gospel, he doesn’t follow the rules.

Jesus doesn’t start throwing buckets of water out of the boat. He doesn’t console the disciples. He doesn’t prepare to abandon ship. Instead, he rebuked the wind and demanded peace of the sea. And it happened. The disciples went from “holy mackerel we’re gonna die” to “holy mackerel who is this guy?” in a matter of moments. Jesus didn’t calm the storm as much as he showed dominion over it. This leaves the disciples, and us, perhaps, to struggle not so much with the question of what Jesus is or what he can do to who Jesus is (and what does that mean for us). I also have to wonder if part of the disciples awe was a disbelief that someone with Jesus’ powers would be associated with such a ragtag group of guys. “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” And if he is capable of such things, what in the world is he doing with us?

Perhaps Jesus says what he says to the disciples because they had seen proof of his identity several times before. They had seen what he was capable of. This wasn’t his first miracle with the disciples as witnesses. After all, this group of 12 was to be his “insiders.” Perhaps they even thought they fully understood Jesus and who he was. But, fear won over and they forgot everything that they had learned up to this point. The disciples have been front-row witnesses to everything that Jesus had done up to now. If they can’t figure out who Jesus is, what hope do we have?I wonder, then, if the lesson that Jesus is trying to teach us, and the disciples, is to never get too comfortable.

We should never rest to assured on our “Christian” laurels. We may assume we know and/or understand how Jesus would react to a certain situation, but we would most likely find ourselves in the wrong. I think the real fear in our lives should be any confidence we have in answering with vigor “I know what Jesus would do.” Because often our idea of what Jesus would do is colored by our own biases and misconceptions. I also wrestle with this idea: do we fear Jesus because we don’t know what he will do or do we fear Jesus because we think he would do the same as we would do? I don’t know that I have a clear cut answer to that one. As soon as Jesus exercises dominion over the storm, the disciples realized that he wasn’t as much of a what as he was a who. And once again, Jesus reminds us that he is all about relationships.

I’ve come to realize I fear the most when I don’t trust. It’s not as much of a faith issue as it is a trust issue. And the only way we learn to trust is in relationship. And this includes relationships even with things we may not think we can have a relationship with. You might have seen we got a new camper. I am going to learn to trust that camper by spending time with it, learning its noises (and what they mean), finding out all the ins and outs of it. We do the same with one another. We learn to trust one another as we spend time with one another. Trust and faith then slowly go hand in hand. We often say “I have faith in you” when really what we mean is “I trust you.” So I have to wonder if when Jesus asked about the disciples faith if he was really asking them “don’t you trust me?”

Jesus is the model for accompaniment. He has shown the disciples (and us) more than once already that he is going to be by their side and by our side no matter what. Here’s the thing, faith moves us from “what if” to “even if.” Perhaps the good news in all of this is that even if we do have fear, even if our trust is wavering, even if our faith isn’t as strong as perhaps we’d like it to be, Jesus will never leave us. Jesus always has a hold of us. In the greatest storms and in times of dead calm, Jesus will not only be with us, but will also provide for us and care for us. This is the Jesus that is relentless in caring for all of creation, and that includes us. This is the Jesus that may question our faith, but still goes to the cross willingingly. When we gather here every Sunday, we are reminded and remind others that we are loved. When we gather around the table, we are reminded that Jesus loves us. When we gather around the font and are splashed in grace, we are reminded of a relationship that lasts a lifetime and even through death. Jesus, who has the powers to calm even the stormiest of seas, will provide for us always and never leave us abandoned. Christ calls on us to have even the slightest bit of faith to believe it. Let us worship love and life, not fear and mistrust.

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 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.