A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

“Oneness and doing hard things” Sermon on John 17: 1-11 May 22, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on May 24, 2020. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Acts 1: 6-14
1 Peter 4: 12-14, 5: 6-11
John 17: 1-11

For the past few weeks in the crisis of the pandemic, we’ve been inundated with phrases such as “in this together” or “alone together,” or “better together.” I absolutely love the sentiment of how we can work together and be in solidarity with each other. This feeds my communal and idealistic soul. It’s the world how I so desperately want it to be. I so want the world to be like the CocaCola commercial from my childhood, you know the one where a diverse group of people is walking with linked arms, smiling and singing with one another-with a coke of course! “I want to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony…” I’ll stop there as I don’t know what the copyright on that might be. But that image of people together in joy is one that I long for, one that I want to help create and one that all too often is illusive. I want togetherness and wholeness to be true. But it doesn’t take long for “perfect harmony” to break down into a cacophony of discord and chaos, kinda like when we all try and say the Lord’s Prayer together on Zoom!

Together is something that as Christians, followers of Jesus, we like to think that we are good at. Community is a value after all. But togetherness, it turns out, is hard. We tend to think that to be “together,” we have to be the same or homogeneous, and that it should be easy and comfortable. But I’m pretty sure that has never been my actual experience with “together.” I’m spending a lot of “together” time with my spouse of 26 years and my 21 year old son, both of whom I love and adore and yet, easy and comfortable aren’t the words that come to mind and I’m sure that they would say the same about together with me…And I don’t think that this is what Jesus means when he prays for oneness in our reading from John today. We overhear Jesus praying for himself, the disciples and for all who will come after them, although we only read the first 11 verses today. Jesus prays for his followers to be one as he and God are one. It sounds really lovely and idyllic, until you think about it for a second. Jesus, God in the flesh, sent by God to be with us, who is one with God, is about to die on the cross, killed by the powers and principalities, as a fulfillment of his mission and ministry. Jesus prays that we too are one with God and Jesus in the mission and life of God. This doesn’t sound very easy and comfortable to me. Oneness, togetherness is hard. It’s not easy and death will occur. When we are one with God and God’s mission and community, we die to ourselves so that others experience life.

Jesus doesn’t pray for us to be safe and comfortable, or for it to be easy,  but he does pray for our protection, which is different as protection doesn’t keep us from what is hard but sustains us through the inevitable suffering. Protection is like the gear the doctors and nurses are wearing on the frontlines of the COVID19 pandemic. The protective gear doesn’t keep them from having to do their hard work, it hopefully, ensures that they can do more of it. So, too, is our protection in Jesus. In our oneness with God, we are one with each other and creation, which means we will do hard things with the presence, protection and care of God. Oneness demands that we are cognizant of being gathered in the arms and life of Jesus all held together so tightly, so close, that we can’t be socially distanced. Oneness acknowledges our lives are so entangled as a giant knot of humanity that when one thread of any injustice or trauma is pulled, we all feel the effects of it. This truth is not easy and it is not comfortable. And Jesus’ prayer doesn’t rescue us from this truth. Jesus’ prayer is that we DO feel the effects of this oneness, that we do the hard work of putting the needs of our siblings and the earth ahead of our own wants, preferences and greed. Jesus knows that we can’t be one, if we intentionally look away from our siblings who are hurting, cast out, marginalized or ignored. Oneness reveals love that is sacrificial, sees and does hard things: love that washes feet, love that feeds the hungry, love that wears a mask in public, love that stays home as much as possible, love that refuses to coopt to the lies of consumerism and capitalism as reasons for existing, love that screams the truth that this virus is disproportionately infecting and killing more of our brown and black siblings, love that demands better from our leaders, love that weeps for those who are discarded as expendable, love that gazes on the earth and all creatures as gifts and not prizes to be exploited. Love that recognizes and accepts that this kind of radical unity will scare, anger and provoke some around us. Love that is tenacious to withstand the voices that call us to simply get along, not cause waves, do what is easy, say that we’re naïve or idealistic or will demand our silence.

Jesus prays that we will be one as he and God are one. One not for our own sake, but one in the mission that Jesus names, to give glory to God. That is, to show God: who God is, what God does, how God loves and who God loves, to the whole world. This is why God sent Jesus in the flesh, that God so loved the world, not to condemn it but to save it, not to divide it, but to make it whole, not to control it, but to make the world one, in healing, sacrificial, and radical love. Oneness reveals this glorious truth. When we are one, truly one, we show God to the world. Because we are one with God, and God is one with us, we can’t help but to do anything else. It’s all of who we are and all of us together, as one. Thanks be to God.

 

Separation Anxiety Easter 6A May 15, 2020

This sermon was preached on May 17, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. You can view it on our YouTube channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Acts 17: 22-31
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14: 15-21

If you’re a parent or have worked with or even just been around small children ever in your life, then you know about separation anxiety. It’s when a young child, typically from the ages of nine months to about four or five years old, will cry, or act out in some way when a parent or significant caregiver leaves them. Separation anxiety is about the fear of being alone, of not knowing what’s going to happen when these significant people whom we love aren’t present. It’s an unmooring of identity in some way too. In young children, they know who they are in relationship to other people around them, but without those other people, there’s a loss of self. What do I do? Will I be ok? Where did that person whom I love go? Two of our three children exhibited separation anxiety. Our oldest, Kayla, from the time she was two weeks old, couldn’t have cared less if Mike or I came or went, as she was pretty sure that she didn’t have much use for us anyway. So, it took us by surprise when Andrew cried whenever we went outside of his line of sight. I couldn’t even leave the room without tears for a long time. Our third child, Benjamin, also had separation anxiety, not from Mike or I, but from our nanny! Whenever we picked Ben up from Miss Trista he cried for her. While we were glad that he loved her and she loved him, we couldn’t help but to feel a little hurt. What would often calm down both Andrew and Benjamin were reminders of not being alone and of being loved. A hug, a stuffed animal, or a picture book of the people who loved them were helpful.

In some ways, we never completely ever outgrow this separation anxiety. What we learn are coping mechanisms for our fear of loneliness, isolation and loss of identity. Some of our coping mechanisms are healthy, such as telling yourself when you’ll see that person again, or the intellectual understanding of time and space. We might have treasured objects and pictures that assist us in this as well. But sometimes that fear of loneliness can get the better of us and make us insular and behave in ways that keep us from the reality of love.

Separation anxiety was rampant among the disciples as we continue through our reading of John 14 this week, more of Jesus’ Farewell speech that ends at John 17 next week. Jesus has talked about going and preparing a room for the disciples, about his death, Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial, and the disciples are struggling with what will happen if Jesus is gone. Jesus has admonished them to not be troubled, but if you’ve ever tried to be rational with a toddler screaming for their parent or nanny, then you know how effective, or not, it is to simply say do not to worry. Again, even as adults, what we may know intellectually, doesn’t always translate into our emotions. Jesus knows this too and I love that he simply and lovingly states in verse 18 “I will not leave you orphaned.” Jesus then goes to tell them how they know that is true. In God’s love, we are never alone. God loves and values community, relationship and togetherness. God’s love embodies this truth: in sending Jesus to live among humanity as love in action and then in sending the Holy Spirit, or what the gospel writer John calls the Paraclete. The meaning of paraclete is someone who is called to come alongside us in our day to day lives to teach us,  comfort us, encourage us, advocate for and with us, and to love us.

Just as separation anxiety was high with the disciples, so too, is our separation anxiety high as we are separated from so much it seems: gathering in physical community with those we love and care about, daily routines, our sense of security and safety, and perhaps even separated from our own sense of identity. We focus on these separations and even some of our most helpful coping mechanisms are not enough. Sometimes all of the self-talk and comforting treasures can’t ease our troubled hearts. But we hear Jesus say, “I will not leave you; I am coming.” Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit is coming, is here, to give us community through God and each other, even when we can’t touch. Community that recalls our identity as part of God’s life. Community that reveals the love that is from God, lives in Jesus, lives in the Holy Spirit and lives in us, so that we include others into God’s community.

Jesus says that this love is the commandment, the action that he has been revealing his whole earthly ministry and is how community is built. This love that transcends separation, differences and divisions. This love pulls us from our anxieties and shows us the presence and actions of God in our lives-through one another. This reality of always being in community, even if we’re physically separated, is a promise that we can cling to and see. We can see that we don’t have to worry about being separated because the truth is that we can never truly be without God or God’s people. Yes, much of how we are connecting right now feels very inadequate and in many ways it is. But as the ancient Desert Mothers and Fathers of the early Christian faith found, solitude doesn’t have to mean loneliness or despair. The Holy Spirit comes alongside us with tangible signs, such as water, bread, wine, phone calls, texts, pictures, FaceTime, yes even Zoom to show us that we are never separated from God and always loved.  Thanks be to God!

 

Our Way of Life Sermon on John 14 Easter 5A May 9, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on May 10, 2020. It can be views on YouTube at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC channel.

The texts were:

1 Peter 2: 2-10
John 14: 1-14

This has been one of those weeks where I get to the end of each day and think: Why am I exhausted even though I didn’t actually get done what I needed to? I look at my task list teeming with items waiting to be checked off and yet, they just continue to sit on the page, mocking me and reproducing each day exponentially like rabbits. It can make you feel frustrated at best and worthless at worse. This week was one where honestly, I found myself doing the 14 year old angsty couch flop a couple of times because it was all the energy I could muster. Just lie on the couch and suck up oxygen. Then I start to go down the path that maybe that’s all I’m good for. After all, we are what we produce, what work we can show for our efforts. It’s the way of life that we’ve been sold: that the more we produce, the more value we have and the more we matter to people and the world. We euphemistically call this “work ethic” and don’t get me wrong, yes there are simply things that have to get done just for life to toodle along. But somehow, somewhere, we decided that more was more, that what we did was equal to who we are and that who we are needs to be important, the brightest, the best. We must have all the answers or know how to get them at least. This is our purpose; this is our way of life. The entire culture we live in is structured to support this way of life. Some professions pay more income than others, some professions are  more esteemed than others, certain groups of people matter more or less than others. It’s topsy turvy who counts in this way of life where the intrinsic value of human life is quantified. In the past few weeks/months, this way of life has been significantly challenged and questioned by the pandemic and the repercussions from it.

This way of life isn’t new and throughout history some lives have mattered more than others. The disciples in our gospel today would be caught in this same way of life under the Roman Empire and the Institutional church. What you could do, your social status, your ability status, your gender status designated your value. The disciples were not people on the upper rungs of society and yet Jesus had chosen them. But it’s clear from all of the questions and confusion the disciples had in our gospel reading, that they clung to the societal structure ingrained in them: the need to produce and prove their worth. Little did the disciples know that they were gathered on the night before the way of life that they had always known would change forever. In the midst of this Jesus says to them “you will do greater works than the ones you saw me do and because I am going to my father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father is glorified in the Son.” You see, it’s not about what you will or can do, it’s not about your social status. It’s about Jesus and the way of life with God that Jesus offers.

Jesus knows that the way of life that the world offers us is unsustainable, not life giving and doesn’t honor our dignity. God sent Jesus to help break the patterns of life as usual and to show us a different way to live: in love and relationship where your value isn’t based on what you do, say, wealth or talents, but you are loved because you are you and you belong to God. Your task list doesn’t have to be impressive or done. Your real job, your real life work is to live in the truth and promise of Jesus that there is more than the striving of this world, that the way of life that we have known, can’t sustain us like Jesus’ love can. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, but not to exclude anyone but to open up a different way to live for all people.

The way of life that we had just a few short weeks ago is no more. The way of life where we thought everything was fine, where we thought we had control, where we thought we were making some sort of progress towards financial security, or personal health or whatever, is gone. What we are discovering is that way of life wasn’t good for everyone and maybe it wasn’t good or us or anyone. What’s been revealed is how much our actions impact one another. How certain people, of whom before we never gave a second thought about, are now the most important in our food supply chains, healthcare and cleaning systems, educational systems. Whether we like it or not, the pandemic will change our way of life forever. There will be no going back to what was, in our lives, in our jobs, in our churches, as what was, no longer exists. And that causes us grief, it causes me grief. Jesus sees our grief, our suffering, our pain right now and sits with us in it because it’s real and we can’t diminish it or ignore it. We find ourselves like the disciples that night before their lives changed,  on the precipice, in that liminal space of a new way of life opening up to what’s next. We will need to walk through the pain and suffering first, but then new life awaits.

A way of new life that reveals the deep truth about who we are and who’s we are. The way of life that reminds us that all people are created in God’s love and we are to reflect this truth in our actions, words and lives. The way of life where people matter more than money and the way of life where we seek to not harm creation. The way of life where people of color can go for a run safely in their neighborhood, the way of life where mental health is taken seriously, the way of life where all are truly safe and valued. A way of life where God’s love prevails. Jesus is inviting us to open our hearts, minds, souls, imaginations to what living in this way of life might be. It won’t be doing more, it might be doing less or doing everything differently. We may not see it fully now, but maybe we’ve caught glimpses of it in how we’ve cared for each other in this pandemic. By calling people, giving what we have, serving and yes, staying home on the couch. Jesus promises that this new way, life and truth is here, and for us all. Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

Don’t Miss the Obvious Sermon on John 10 Easter 4A May 1, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on May 3, 2020. You can view it on our YouTube Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC or go to oslcslc.org

The texts were:
Acts 2: 42-47
Psalm 23
John 10:1-10

Have you ever been to a carnival or an amusement park where that have that weird house of mirrors or other type of maze? I’ve been in one exactly once and frankly, its’ not for me. You enter that mirror room or hall and you can’t figure out what’s real, what the next step should be, if what you think you should do is correct. For me, it incites a little panic that I’ll never get out and be stuck there forever. You can get so flustered that you miss things that should be obvious. But once you start to cut through the distractions, and false information, you can recognize what you might be missing. You see the path or the door that has always been there.

Maybe right now, you feel how I do, that we are being inundated with a bazillion pieces of information all day long and somehow, we are to sift through it, figure out what’s relevant and helpful and then use it to go forward in our lives in some sort of meaningful way. What media outlet is least biased? What voice is the most logical? What’s the truth? There’s so much that we can’t understand or make sense of.  It’s decentering, exhausting and leaves us overwhelmed with all of the distractions and voices to choose from. It’s like living in that giant hall of mirrors.  I think this is true about our lives in general in the 21st century, but then you add a pandemic to the mix, the whole thing seems up for grabs. I think this is why verse six from our John 10 reading this week has been ruminating around in my brain, “but they did not understand what Jesus was saying to them.” Ah ha! THIS I actually understand! Not understanding is the ONLY thing I understand right now!

We think we understand this passage in John 10 as the Good Shepherd text but really Jesus is still addressing the situation we read back in Lent in John 9, regarding the man born blind whom he had healed and whom the religious authorities had subsequently thrown out of the community. You might recall that Jesus found the man after he had been expelled and the man professed his belief in Jesus, even though up until that point, he had only ever heard his voice. Jesus affirms this and talks about how blindness is beyond physical sight. Jesus doesn’t stop talking at the end of chapter 9, he simply switches tactics. Jesus offers many metaphors and figures of speech, confusing those who are still listening. They’re just not getting it. And I wonder if I really get it either.

This metaphor packed passage is one that has been used for centuries as fodder to make distinctive claims about being a follower of Jesus. Jesus speaks seemingly exclusionary statements about who listens to him, as well as who he is and who others are. Jesus says that his sheep will listen to his voice and not that of the stranger or those who will rob, destroy, and kill. Jesus says that he is the gate, which can also mean the door. This leads us to assume that Jesus is saying that not everyone listens, some get lost in the other distractions and not everyone can be in the fold, so to speak. We worry if we belong, if we are listening and if we will find the right path through the distractions. But just like we get distracted and lost in the information piled on us each day, we get lost in the images that Jesus is using and miss the words of promise that Jesus offers.

We miss the other things that Jesus says: such as the sheep do listen. Jesus is the gate or the door. Jesus came to give us abundant life. We miss the promise in this passage that no matter what happens, no matter who tries to rob us of our dignity, worth, or voice, Jesus is there. No matter what or who tries to divide us from each other or the love of God, Jesus is there. No matter what stranger may try and come along and tell us that they can offer us an easier, better life, Jesus won’t let us go. No matter if we come or go out to the pasture, Jesus is always there as the door that opens wide to let us in or out as we need. The door is for us, and for all. It’s not about who’s in or out, the point is that with Jesus, the door is always there and will open. We can’t get lost. We don’t have to understand why, we only have to keep listening to the promise. We will listen to our shepherd because Jesus’ voice is the only one who calls us by our name, our true name as beloved child of God. Jesus’ voice is the only one who will lead us to what really matters, the truth of our lives: it is God who gives us true abundant life: pastures of peace, protection of our spirits from harm, steadfast presence with us no matter how deep and dark the valley might be. We are in relationship with Jesus and so we are whole and holy.

Living in abundant life means that we cling to these promises from God in the midst of what we don’t understand, in what is painful, hard and uncomfortable. The promise of this abundant life  is for you, for me and for all people. The promise is that with Jesus, we don’t navigate life alone, we are gathered in loving community and we together, follow the voice of love that calls to us: love of God, love of our neighbor, and the love of creation. This voice of love is only one we hear, the only one our hearts respond to, this voice of love cuts through all of the other distractions and false promises, this voice of love leads us to Jesus, the door that is for all people, the door that opens to truth, love, grace and life.

 

Broken and Whole Sermon on Luke 24 Easter 3A April 26, 2020

This sermon was preached on April 26, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be views on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:
Acts 2: 14a, 26-41
1 Peter 1: 17-23
Luke 24: 13-35

Most of our lives we strive to keep the things we own from breaking, whether it’s a cherished china set from a grandmother, or an essential appliance, or our cars. Broken things are considered useless, a nuisance and undesirable. We may try and fix those things when they break but more and more in our society, we consider many things disposable, not worth anything if they are not perfect or up to manufacturer specs. But when something is broken, we sometimes only then realize its value and importance to us. When something breaks and we can see all the pieces, we can then see what it might be again. Maybe not perfect, but with value, worth, and a purpose again. Broken doesn’t always have to equate with the end. Broken might mean a new and different existence. But it takes a new vision to see it.

In our gospel story, we read about the disciples who saw their whole world broken apart and so they headed out on the road. We have a lot in common with those disciples, Cleopas and his companion, on the road to Emmaus. We are sad, disillusioned, and feeling trapped by the realities of our lives. It seems that so much of our world has broken: social structures, our financial security, our health systems, our experience of community, our sense of safety, and on some days, it might feel like our sanity too. Brokenness abounds as we had hoped for so much more. We had hoped that this disease wouldn’t spread, we had hoped it could be contained quickly, we had hoped for an easy and accessible treatment, we had hoped that it wouldn’t physically separate us, we had hoped that as a nation we could work together, we had hoped for so much more than this. If we’re honest, we had hoped that this wouldn’t affect us as all. We had hoped that somehow, we would be immune from any of the ill side effects of a pandemic and that our lives wouldn’t be disrupted, broken open and vulnerable. Like the disciples, we had hoped for so much.

And also like the disciples on the road, we need a place to tell our story, to share our grief, to process our trauma, to try and parse out all the details that seem surreal and perhaps still too raw to make sense of. So we call one another, share in Zoom times, gather around YouTube, write good old fashioned letters, send cards, texts, and emails. We listen, we pray, we share what we know, our part of our common story-even if it’s not complete. We have time that we can’t fill, silences that are deafening and bodies that feel the grief of missing the ones we love.

But something else happens on this journey, in those spaces cracked open by fear, pain, trauma and uncertainty-we notice that we are not alone. We notice someone coming along beside us who asks us what’s going on and walks with us, not questioning where we’re going or the validity of our story, our pain, our trauma and lament. Our companion then breaks the story open even more, sits with our pain and sorrow to affirm it’s truth and fills in the cracks of our story by showing that we are connected to a larger story, we are held by promises made long before us that continue to today. This promise that stays with us in the ordinariness of our homes and shows us that in broken things, love, light, hope and life spill out. Broken bread reveals the presence of Jesus. Broken things such as our hearts, our hopes, our dreams reveals the presence and promise of Jesus more clearly.

We are physically broken apart as a congregation right now, and I clearly see Jesus in all of you. I see Jesus in how we’ve helped each other learn new technologies to stay connected, I see Jesus in how we’ve prayed for one another, I see Jesus in how you check in faithfully with each other, and particularly those who need the companionship. I see Jesus in how we’ve offered what we have to our community in need. This community might be temporarily broken apart physically, but we can’t be broken apart from being the body of Christ. This is the promise.

The brokenness in our world is where Jesus will be seen, for brokenness creates space where none before existed, and what will we fill this space with matters. When our hearts, dreams, hopes and lives are broken, will we fill it with stuff, with fear, with self-preservation, or with blame of others? Or will we allow for the love of Jesus to enter and fill us with hope, peace, and service? Jesus’ love is indeed seen in broken things, and when our self-centered patterns, our myopic vision, our systems of injustice, abuse of creation are broken wide open for all humanity to see, and we are overwhelmed by how to put it all back together, Jesus’ wholeness will be revealed.  Like Cleopas and the other disciple who saw Jesus revealed in the breaking of the bread and ran in the risky, dark night to tell others, we, too, enter the darkness and brokenness to tell others the story of Jesus who we’ve seen and walks with us in brokenness, in lament, sorrow, fear, and pain and promises to stay with us right where we are broken and all. We are broken and we see Jesus’ light comes in, we are broken and we see God’s love is poured in, we are broken and we see new life begins. Broken is not the end, it’s the beginning of something new with God. Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

 

FOMO or What Thomas is Missing Sermon for Easter 2A April 18, 2020

This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah on April 19, 2020. It can be viewed on YouTube at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC channel. Please subscribe! Check out our Children’s Worship videos too!

The texts were:

Acts 2:14a, 22-36
1 Peter 1: 3-9
John 20: 19-31

Maybe you have heard the term: FOMO-it’s a shorthand to refer to a very human state of being: Fear Of Missing Out. It starts early in our lives, such as at Christmas or birthdays and it seems that everyone else got a better present. Or when we see all the cool things our friends are doing on social media, like going to concerts or vacations and we think “hey, why am I not invited?” or “why am I not having that much fun? It’s not fair!” It’s a fear of missing something important or a fear of not being important ourselves. Well, I don’t know about you but as we have journeyed through these past few weeks, I am noticing that I have a serious case of FOMO, all the stuff I’m missing out on. Gathering with all of you for worship, Easter, going on vacations, time with friends and family, and the list goes on. And not just me, but my family, such as my son’s and niece’s college and high school graduations, respectively, which are canceled. I’m sad for them as they are missing out on an important milestone in their lives. No parties, no pomp and circumstance, no robes, no boring speeches. This all leaves a hole, a gap. It’s a fear that I’m missing out on life, that I’m not complete. Or maybe I’m just afraid that I don’t matter without all of these events, or not noticed, or not missed. Or just plain afraid.

This idea of FOMO resonated with me as I read our gospel passage from John today. I think Thomas gets a bad rap from people who aren’t comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s the evening of that first resurrection day, and the disciples are huddled in fear of the Temple authorities and probably the Roman ones too. We get the translation they are in a house, but “house” isn’t in the Greek. The doors “of where they were” were locked. We don’t know where the disciples are, and it doesn’t matter as Jesus shows up-through the locked doors. He comes to them in their fear and gives them peace and breathes into them-reminding us of God breathing into the first human. And then affirms that the Holy Spirit is with them and they are to go to tell people that they are freed from their sins because of Jesus. The disciples now have their own experience of the risen Lord, like Mary from that morning and it seems to have quelled much of their fear. But not all the disciples are now without fear, we learn, as for some reason Thomas wasn’t with them, he was missing. Why, we don’t know. Maybe he had something else to do? A family member to care for, or maybe he was the disciples’ designated person to go get food, a daily task in the ancient world.

When Thomas returned, his friends told him “We have seen the Lord!” What happens next is often misinterpreted as Thomas doubting. I don’t think he doubted them-I think he was upset with missing out on his own experience of Jesus! He had a hole, a gap in his life. Like us, Thomas didn’t like the feeling of FOMO. He wanted to be part of the group, see what they saw, know that he was important to Jesus too, and not be physically distanced. What we hear from Thomas is sadness, fear, anger and lament. But not doubt.

A week later, Jesus comes again and he acknowledges Thomas’ FOMO. He tells him to touch his wounds, we don’t know if Thomas really does, but just being in the presence of Jesus was enough for him. Jesus then says to him, “don’t unbelieve, but believe.” The word doubt isn’t actually here in the text. Its “unbelieve.” In John’s gospel, to believe is to know that you are in relationship with God, it’s to know that you are loved and that you love in return. When Jesus says, “don’t unbelieve” it’s not to shame or scold, but to remind Thomas that his relationship with Jesus is sure, he’s important to Jesus and he won’t and can’t miss out on the promises of God just because he wasn’t there the first time. Thomas is indeed part of the wholeness of life with Jesus.

It seems that right now there are lots of gaps and holes in our lives. We’re not able to participate in life with the ones we dearly love as we want and we feel inadequate, sad, scared and even angry. I know I do. We’re people who are used to being physically with other people, and we feel complete and affirmed when we are together. We, like Thomas, are afraid of what we can’t experience, what we’ve missed, and being disconnected from what matters.

But Jesus comes to us through our locked doors and our locked hearts, breathes into us the breath of God that connects us to the very life of God and each other no matter where we are. Jesus comes to us with his own wounds, his own story of suffering, fear, pain and death and says that there is more than this story of fear for us too. There is abundant life, and we won’t miss it. Jesus breathes life into us and shares with us peace through the Holy Spirit. This peace doesn’t end our fears or difficult circumstances but offers to be with us as we walk through it, to heal us and reveal that there is more than our present situation. We don’t have to worry about not being in the right place at the right time, because God is in every place and every time and will find us.  Jesus comes to us and reassures us that we won’t, we can’t, miss out on relationship with God, God’s promises and life together, for God won’t allow it. We don’t live in fear of missing out, we live in the promise of being whole in the love, hope and life of the risen Christ. Christ is risen! Alleluia!

 

We Have Seen the Lord! Easter Year A 2020 April 13, 2020

This sermon was preached for Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on April 12, 2020. In light of the pandemic, this sermon was offered from my backyard at sunrise. It can be viewed on Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC YouTube channel.

The texts were:

Acts 10: 34-43
Colossians 3: 1-4
John 20: 1-18

One of my favorite musical groups is a trio called the Wailin’ Jenny’s-it’s a play on Waylon Jennings of course, and their music is folk. On their album entitled 40 Days, there is a song called “Beautiful Dawn.” The words are poignant and speak to the mysteries of our lives. The opening verse is:
Take me to the breaking of a beautiful dawn.
Take me to the place where we come from.
Take me to the end so I can see the start.
There’s only one way to mend a broken heart.

Beginnings and endings. Just mere hours ago we once again were immersed in the story of Jesus’ death and burial, what the witnesses at Jesus’ crucifixion assumed was the end. After all, this what we are all told. Death is final. Certain. And forever. The disciples were working off this paradigm, despite what Jesus had told them about rising from the dead. Their hearts were broken, their friend and teacher had been killed by the Roman Empire. They were afraid too, what had just occurred was dangerous. They were all implicated in the previous days events and logic told them that their deaths could be next. So, they hid behind locked doors, separating themselves from the rest of the community for their own safety and future. They hoped that this would blow over in a few days or couple weeks at most.

Mary Magdalene though, left the safety of the room in the cover of darkness and alone for the essential task of caring for Jesus’ body. When she arrived and saw the stone removed, she was shocked and perplexed. Mary ran back to tell the others. Peter and the beloved disciple returned with her to the tomb. Why they were running, I don’t know. I would have thought that running would attract attention, but maybe they were hoping to go to the tomb and back before sunrise, or maybe they were giddy with being out of the house for the first time in a few days. The disciples entered the tomb to find the linen wrappings discarded and the head cloth, rolled up and set aside. The beloved disciple believed that Jesus was resurrected, but it is clear from John’s commentary that he was still in the dark, so to speak. Then they both returned to their homes. They saw the empty tomb and just went home. No shouts of alleluia, or Christ is risen, no trumpets or fanfare. Maybe it felt like an anticlimactic ending to the crucifixion? Or maybe more like an epilogue? You know where at the end of a movie based on true events you get a snapshot of what the characters are doing now? Something to tie up loose ends nicely.

But Mary stays in the garden and also looks into the tomb. Instead of linens, she saw angels, only she didn’t seem to recognize them as angels, as she seems unafraid. They ask her “why are you weeping?” and unabashedly she simply states what must be the truth, someone has taken Jesus.

Just then Jesus appears. But again, in her raw grief, her vision is clouded as to who is in front of her. Jesus asks here the question that runs throughout John’s gospel: “who are you looking for?” Mary, misunderstanding that the one she is looking for is right in front of her, asks where the body of Jesus might be. Jesus calls her name and she clearly sees. It’s Jesus! He’s alive as he’s said! Instead of sitting with her and chatting, or hugging her, Jesus states not to hold on to him but go and tell the others that he is returning to the Father, to God, and not only his Father and God but theirs as well. Jesus’ resurrection is more than just a second chance at life, only to die again, Jesus’ resurrection and ascension affirms that we belong to God, we belong to a different kind of life that can’t be taken away.

This seems wrapped up nicely-Jesus comes from God and returns to God. The End. But what if I told you that what we are celebrating today isn’t the end, but the beginning. Easter is where our story with God begins. The resurrection and the ascension of Jesus that seems like the end to us is really the beginning of the only way to mend our broken hearts.

On this Easter Sunday we have more in common with the first Easter, that first resurrection day. Like the disciples, our hearts are broken. Our hearts are broken by what looks like endings around us: gathering in person for worship for a while, handshakes, feeling secure at the grocery store, taking for granted grocery workers, delivery people, truckers, gas attendants sanitation workers, healthcare workers. Our hearts are broken by the death, the sickness and the fear all over the globe. Like the disciples, we may not recognize this as a new beginning today. The beginning of what God is doing in the world through Jesus to mend our brokenness, our broken society, our broken relationships and our broken hearts. Jesus resurrection and ascension points to the truth that God is all about new beginnings, the truth that life and love will prevail, even when it looks like the end.

Like the  first resurrection morning, ours today is filled with unknowing, isolation, weeping and fear. We’re not gathered to shout Alleluia or Christ is risen. No songs of praise by choirs and children. No Easter brunches, no egg hunts, no lilies. And like that first Easter Jesus comes to us. Jesus meets us right where we are and asks who we are looking for? Are we looking for organ music, lilies, certainty, comfort and familiarity? Or are we looking for Jesus? Jesus, who lives because God’s love and life force overpowers death and destruction. Jesus who meets us in weeping and calls us by name. Jesus who assures us that he’s going to OUR Father and OUR God. Jesus who draws us all into God’s life and makes us one in God’s abundant life, even if we aren’t all in the same room. Jesus who tells us don’t hold on to what we know, to what’s safe and comfortable, because our new beginning is to go out and proclaim to the world: “We have seen the Lord!”

We have seen the Lord dear ones of OSLC, we have seen the Lord in how we have adapted to being community quickly in this new way. We have seen the Lord in cards, phone calls, texts and technology. We have seen the Lord in how we stay home so that others may live. And people around us will see the Lord as we serve our neighbors in need such as with our new OSLC Community Support Initiative constructed by your council. This is a new beginning of partnerships in the wake of the pandemic to be a part of God’s healing work in our community. Using funds that we no longer need, we will offer Utah United Way COVID 19 Relief Fund, the Fourth Street Clinic Humanitarian Fund and Utah Food Bank Mobile Pantry each a minimum of $3600 over the next three months as our community recovers. We will pledge to continue to support our existing partnerships such as Family Promise, Crossroads Urban Center and others at our 2019 levels regardless of our 2020 offerings. This is only the first phase the beginning of what we will do as God’s people for our neighbors. We invite you to join in this initiative through prayer, presence at these agencies when it is safe, and/or giving to this initiative at any level. We trust that our whole lives, our whole community at OSLC is held in God’s promises to hold our endings and to bring us to new beginnings, to new life.

We see beginning. We see Jesus who meets us and calls our name. We see Jesus who mends our broken hearts with unending love, mercy and grace. We see Jesus who shows us new life and launches us on a new beginning, to proclaim God’s promise, God’s word of life is final. The empty tomb is the beginning of the fullness of life for us and all creation. Christ is Risen! Alleluia!