Sermon for 8/19/18 John 6:51-58

So, let’s address the elephant in the reading first and foremost, shall we? This reading is a bit graphic. If someone were to hear this for the first time, they might run away from Christianity and never come back. In fact, some do. They hear this scripture and think Christians are cannibals. In fact, years and years of church doctrine and arguments between church fathers (sorry ladies, but it was always the guys in these meetings) have focused on this one issue: what really is communion? Are we really eating the actual flesh of Jesus? Is it the true presence or just a symbol? What do we believe as Lutherans? Oh my goodness?!? Have I been a Lutheran all my life and had no idea that I’m actually a cannibal?? Relax, friends. We believe that Jesus is truly present in, with, and under the elements of communion. That is, the bread and the wine. But, how he is truly present is a mystery. We believe that when the Word of God is combined with the Holy Spirit, the simple gifts of bread and wine become the true presence of Jesus. But, how that happens is a mystery. And no, we are not eating the actual flesh of Jesus. But there’s also a pretty good reason why the words from today’s reading are NOT the words we hear at communion.

However, Jesus does call himself “living bread.” In fact, in these 7 verses, some form of “life” is referred to 9 times. Jesus uses life, living, and live interchangeably. He also talks about abiding, which for me is another way of talking about life. Because when Jesus abides with us, he is offering us a relationship, a dwelling place, and for me, that is life-giving. Why in the world does Jesus do this for us? Why does he offer us his body and blood? Because “God so loved the world” (John 3:16). And because Jesus came so that we may “have life and have it abundantly” (10.10). Additionally, Jesus is out to save us from ourselves so that we may have eternal life (3.17). When we are fed by Christ and filled to the point that we are overflowing and we start feeding others, our lives look much different than those times when we are spiritually starving.

Through Jesus Christ, God offers us life. And I don’t know that we know what to do with that quite honestly. We often get bogged down in the details that we have life in our bodies, but we’re not living. Many of us certainly aren’t dying, but we aren’t really living either, does that make sense? We may have happiness in our life, but we are lacking joy. Some of us may be surviving, but we certainly aren’t thriving. I don’t know if any of this sounds familiar. Jesus is offering us life. Not just a going through the motions, kind of getting by, life is just okay, barely keeping our heads above water, kind of life. No, what Jesus offers us is life and life abundant. Jesus is offering us life that looks like living into the promises given to us in baptism. I want to make it clear that what Jesus is offering us isn’t a life of sunshine and rainbows 24/7/365. Rather, Jesus offers us abundant life and a relationship of him abiding in us and we in him.

I don’t know if you realize this, but we are constantly being told that we are not enough. Do you realize that literally every single commercial on tv is meant to make you feel like you don’t have enough, you aren’t enough, or that you can be better? And most commercials on the radio do the same thing. What Jesus offers is something different. We are currently living in an empire. Just like Jesus was alive during the time of the Roman empire and ultimately put to death because he was a threat to the empire, we too are living in an empire. Our current empire is that of “not enough.” The Not Enough Empire. Every company, every corporation, even some of the people around us participate in one way or another in telling us we are not enough. Now, this isn’t always done with malicious intent. Sometimes it really is done out of concern or love. But, once you strip away the intent, the flashy colors and jingles, and the really tempting discounts, the message remains the same: you are not enough. Jesus offers us a “right here-right now” life. Meaning, we are complete in Christ just the way we are. We don’t need any product, any procedure, any drug, any vehicle, or pair of jeans to be any better for Jesus. We are enough in him, for him, and because of him.

This life that Christ offers us in body and blood is life abundant. And that is completely contrary to what society desires to give us. In our baptism, we were claimed by God and we continue to be claimed by God every single day. Baptism brings about the “forgiveness of sins, redeems [us] from death and the devil, and give eternal salvation to all who believe it, as the words and promise of God declare” (explanation of baptism in Luther’s Small Catechism). In baptism, we are given and total permission to die to the expectations of this world. We die to the broken record of “not enough.” In baptism and again at communion we are reminded who we are and the message is “you are enough.”

“The words ‘given for you’ and ‘shed for you for the forgiveness of sin’ show us that forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation are given to us in the sacrament through these words, because where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation” (explanation of communion in Luther’s Small Catechism). When God declares to you the forgiveness of your sins through communion, God is declaring you free from all this world desires to label you with, saddle you with, or brand you with. This world wants to point out your scars, your wounds, your faults, your shortcomings, the ways you have failed the world and yourself over and over. Jesus looks at that empire, the one that wants to take us down, and says it is wrong. In communion, the empire of “not enough” is destroyed and we are given and promised new life in three simple words: “given for you.”

Jesus is the living bread. Living bread for living people. Living waters for living people. The bread of life for the life of the people. The waters of life for the life of the people. In a world that constantly tells us we aren’t enough and that we need more in order to be happy, our call as disciples is to smash that empire by declaring that we actually have all we need in water, bread, and wine. And the world will never understand that. The world may think it’s offering us life, but it is only temporary. Eternal life comes through and from one place only and that is in Jesus Christ. We get to see Ryder receive eternal life today. And why? Because “God so loved the world.” And that includes Ryder and that includes us. Thanks be to God!

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Sermon for 8/5/18 John 6:24-35

Welcome to week 2 of what I jokingly call our “carb loading” series. I say this because last week, this week, and the next 3 weeks all speak about bread. Last week, I laid a little bit of groundwork for the rest of the weeks. If you missed it, you won’t be far behind. What I hope you remember, or what I want you to remember, is that we are fed to feed. We are fed by God through Jesus Christ in order to feed other people. This feeding is done with food, yes, but with other things as well: a phone call, a visit, a quick text, a letter, a card, a casserole, and on and on. And the great thing is that while we are being fed by Jesus to feed others, others are being fed by Jesus to feed us. This is what the body of Christ looks like. I also invited you to remember or have the verses of John 3:16-17 going through your head as well because I am going to continue referring back to those verses. Luckily for you, I have made this handy-dandy poster cheat-sheet so that you can remember those verses.

Our text for today comes right after the feeding of the 5000 where we had a feast of loaves and fish and enough left over to fill how many baskets? (12) A crowd continues to follow Jesus and when they finally catch up with him, he asks them a question. He says (basically) “are you looking for me and following me because I gave you something to eat and now you want more? Or… are you looking for me because you finally understand I am the son of God and I offer more than bread?” Jesus tells the crowd gathered who he is. He tells the crowd that they must “believe in him whom [God] has sent.” It seems simple enough. But the crowd isn’t pleased with that answer. They say Moses gave us bread in the wilderness. What are you going to do to prove you are who you say you are? The nerve of these people, right? I always believed that when someone shows you who you are, you believe them; or when someone tells you who you are, you believe them.

Then Jesus, meaning no disrespect to Moses, tells them it wasn’t Moses that fed you, it was God! And continues to say “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Because remember, “God so loved the world… Indeed” God sent the Son into the world in “order that the world might be saved through him.” And I love the crowd’s reaction. They say “Sir, give us this bread always.” But, I often hear it more like this “sounds good! Where can we get us some of this bread??” And I have to also imagine Jesus rolling his eyes and wanting to say “guys!! I’m right here!” But instead, we have the very first instant in John where Jesus identifies himself as the “I am.” And what an incredible statement he makes following that “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

So! Wait! Wait! WAIT! The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. AND THEN! Jesus says he is the bread of life! Whoa! We should probably believe Jesus when he says who he is. God, the all knowing, all powerful, all loving, all encompassing being that we profess our faith to week after week, is the same God that sent us Jesus. God is the source of the bread from heaven. And the bread of heaven is Jesus. And God gives us Jesus why? Because God so loved the world. I know this sounds like some kind of crazy circular argument, but I just think that when we see the relationship of God to Jesus and then Jesus to us and this relationship is all because God loves us, then I am going to figure out all the different ways that I can say this until you start to believe it. I am going to keep saying it until I believe it.

Jesus Christ is God’s love letter to the world. Let’s take a brief step back and remember last week’s reading. Jesus fed the 5000, right? If Jesus fed the 5000, and Jesus is from God then wouldn’t the feeding of the 5000 just be another sign of God’s tangible abundant love? God so loved the world that God loved the world and then kept loving the world and then kept loving the world and then…. But there must be a catch, right? There is no way that God can love us that much. I mean, God created us, right? So God must know all of the things we try and hide. God knows our deepest darkest secrets. God knows all of the times we’ve messed up. God knows the depths of our sin. So there’s no way God can love us. There’s no way God should love us. There must be a catch. We feel like there has to be a catch because that is the way we humans love one another.

People have to work to earn our love. You love me and then I’ll love you. Do x,y, and z for me and then I’ll love you. And if we screw it up, we write one another out of each other’s lives. Just like that. But that’s another reason why God is God and we are not. God doesn’t just stop loving us. We may think that God can, should, or even does stop loving us. But it just doesn’t happen. Last week I talked about the idea that we are fed to feed. This is another one of the ways that we are fed: we are fed by the love of God through Jesus Christ. We are so filled up with this love that we then love others. Sometimes that looks like actual love: a hug, a light touch on the hand, the promise of accompaniment. Love can look like forgiveness and reconciliation. Sometimes love sounds like this “I don’t know the answers, but I’ll stick with you until we figure it out.”

God fed us with abundance through Jesus Christ. God fed us with baskets of love. Enough love that there is left overs. We can never have too much love. Then, just when we think we’re full, God, through Jesus Christ, reminds us that Jesus is the bread of life and that we will never hunger or thirst. We will never hunger or thirst for actual food or the food that fills our souls. When we are told God so loved the world, there is no catch. God feeds us with abundance. We do nothing to earn it. We believe in the one who sent us Jesus who continues to offer us love until we really do believe that it is for us and that it really never will run out. When everything around us is chaos, when it feels like the world is coming to an end around us, when we don’t even know right from left, the one thing we can know for sure is the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Sermon for 7/8/17 Mark 6:1-13

**NB: the sermon is shorter this week as those of us who attended the ELCA Youth Gathering shared about our experiences. For a full recap, check out our Facebook page: Elvira Zion Lutheran Church. **

 

Last week, 31,000 Lutherans gathered in Houston for the ELCA Youth Gathering under the theme of “This Changes Everything.” The guiding verse for the Gathering was Ephesians 2:8 “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” I assumed that the “this” in “This Changes Everything” was grace. And while that’s not wrong, we also learned that God’s hope, God’s love, God’s grace, and, of course, Jesus changes everything. We heard stories from people that had been changed by God’s hope, grace, and love. We heard of people learning about Jesus and it changed their lives. We were swept away by the infectious music that praised Jesus. And all of us, in one way or another, were changed.

In Mark’s Gospel today, Jesus sends the disciples out to villages to teach. He also gave them “authority over the unclean spirits.” He sent them out very specifically and with specific instructions. They went out in pairs and took nothing with them except a staff, the shoes on their feet, and maybe a tunic (but not two). They were to heal, teach, preach, feed. Basically, they were to be the eyes, hands, and mouth of Jesus. However, the disciples were told that if they did not receive a welcome, to shake the dust off their feet and go on their way. And we may think that is rude, but it is possible that we have all turned away Christ on occasion. Maybe it’s been in the ignoring of the immigration crisis at our borders, thinking poorly of the single parent using a food assistance program, or, sadly, we often ignore Christ when he comes through the voice of our youth.

“What can you possibly know” we say “you’re still so young and have so much to learn.” And we ignore Christ. The dust settles long before we realize our mistakes. So today, my beloved, you will hear from four of your youth. These four were Jesus to me while we were in Houston. I learned with them and from them and I am better because of them and Kristi. And our stories are not just limited to today. What we experienced in Houston will go with us for the rest of our lives. And sometimes our stories will be welcomed. We’ll be offered a seat at the table, something to eat, and space to tell how we encounter Jesus. And other times, we will be shooed away and will have to shake the dust off our feet. That won’t detour us. When Jesus changes you, as he has for the 6 of us, and, I hope, all of you, you will go to any lengths to share the good news that God’s love, hope, and grace, and most importantly, God’s son, Jesus, does, in fact, change everything.

Sermon for 5/6/18 John 15:9-17

Very rarely do we receive anything without a catch or strings attached. Sometimes we receive things with strings attached we didn’t even want (“call now and receive a second set of knives absolutely free!”) But there are very few things in life that come without any expectations at all. If you have a child or have children in your life and they are on a kick of being extra nice or sweet, what is our first reaction? “What do you want?” If you’ve ever been in love or if you recall that time when you were falling in love, there might have been an anxiety surrounding actually saying “I love you.” The anxiety of saying it was bad; the uncertainty of having it said in return was almost worse! The expectation is that if you say “I love you” that someone else will say “I love you too.” When you’re newly in love, that’s a challenging barrier to cross. It’s unfortunate that sometimes when we hear someone say “I love you” that we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. As in “I love you… can you loan me $20.” Or “I love you…please let me drive.”

So maybe it is because of that, we have a difficult time with the idea of abiding in Christ’s love. Perhaps we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. Maybe we’re waiting for the catch. We may even resist abiding in Christ’s love because we honestly don’t have anything to give in return. But isn’t that how our relationship with Christ sometimes works? Maybe you’ve never thought of it that way. But it may just be possible that Christ gives us what we need when we need it. All things on God’s time. So when we are invited to abide in Christ, it is most likely because that is exactly what we need.

I’ve talked about the use of “abide” before and what that may mean. But, it essentially means that we are to live or to dwell. Christ invites us to live in his love; to dwell in his love. If we think about this from a practical standpoint, what does living in something usually mean? It means we have safety, security, comfort, peace, and stability. When Christ invites us to abide in his love, we are being offered safety, security, comfort, peace, and stability. The expectation is that we do it. That’s it. We aren’t ask to make a donation. We aren’t ask to only stay for a few minutes. We aren’t asked to convert (x) number of people so that Christ has more people to love. Sometimes, as cruel and strange as this sounds, it really is about us as individuals.

While it is important to be the community of Christ together, it is equally as important to know that you, as an individual, is loved by Christ. Sometimes we need that reminder. We need that safety and security that can only be offered by dwelling and abiding in Christ. We need that reminder that nothing can come between us and the love that Christ has to offer. I preach a lot about being a disciple and what that looks like. It is so important that we follow where Christ has to lead us. It is crucial that for the sake of God’s kingdom we do what we can to spread the word of God to others. Our own faith grows when we share it with others. At the same time, being a disciple is hard, thankless work. We need a soft place to land. What better place is there than in the safety and security of Christ’s love?

We may forget that God is a parent like figure. If you didn’t have a good relationship with your parent or parents, maybe thinking of God like a parent isn’t comforting. Or maybe God serves as the parent you wish you had. But, when I think about what it may mean to abide in the love of Christ, I think about the relationship with a parent. I think about that comfort. I also don’t care how old you are, sometimes you just need the comfort of your mom or dad. If that image doesn’t work for you, maybe imagine how a mother bird gathers her babies under her wings to protect them. Abiding in Christ brings us comfort that nothing Earthly can compare. It is the comfort of knowing you can be you. You don’t have to be someone or something you aren’t. You can let your guard down and be who Christ truly created you to be. Which means that you are going to allow yourself to be loved without feeling guilty about it.

Our human brains have an issue processing grace. We may understand it on a scientific or even theological level. We understand how grace works. We may know (as the good Lutherans we are) that we are saved by grace alone. We are not saved by our works or deeds. We may understand amazing grace or we may be the wretch the song speaks of. But when the rubber hits the road, the biggest thing stopping us from abiding in Christ is ourselves. We don’t think we are worthy of such things. We don’t think we deserve it. And you know what? We aren’t worthy and we don’t deserve it. And that is what makes the love of Christ different from the love we can receive from one another. Christ’s love doesn’t come with a catch. Christ’s love doesn’t come with strings. Christ’s love has no expectations other than we just receive it. This love is so powerful and strong that we may want to fight it, but Christ will win.

We are able to do a lot of things of our own power. We can recharge our batteries with a good night’s rest. We can answer the call of hunger with a great meal. Our thirst can be quenched in a number of ways. We can soothe a lonely spirit with friends or family. But there is nothing that can fulfill our body and spirit’s need of Christ’s love other than abiding in Christ himself. There is no amount of rest, food, liquid or social gatherings that can fill the space that is meant for Christ. We were created by God. So yes, sometimes we just need to return to our creator to be fed and loved. What does that look like from a practical sense?

In order to abide and dwell in Christ and the love Christ has for us there may be a few things worth doing. First, get yourself in the mental head space to fully accept the love of Christ. Maybe you need quiet or even silence. Turn off the phone, television, or whatever. Maybe you enter into a time of prayer. Then, just be. Ask God to fill you with the love of Christ. That’s it. There’s no catch. Maybe prayer time for you is time in the boat, or on a jog, or in the planter, or whatever. Just opening yourself up to receive the love of Christ makes you more aware that it’s been there all along. Don’t fight it. It is all too easy for us to fight Christ’s love because we don’t think we’re worthy or deserving. But it’s easier if we don’t fight it. Lastly, take a posture of thankfulness. Listen to your souls and your spirits, my beloved. Christ may just be calling you to take a break. You cannot save the world. You may not even be able to save yourself. You cannot fill others from a dry well. Come, abide in Christ. Dwell there for a while. Rest and be fed.

Sermon for 4/22/18 John 10:11-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon for 4/15/18 Luke 24:36b-48

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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