Tag Archive | Easter

5th Sunday of Easter, 2017

5th Sunday of Easter, year A, preached 5/14/17

first reading:  Acts 7:55-60

Psalm 31:1-5,15-16

second reading:  1 Peter 2:2-10

gospel reading:  John 14:1-14

*Today we were celebrating the Rite of Confirmation.  I have only used the confirmand’s first initial to protect her privacy.


“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation…  let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood… a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people…  Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

Our second reading for this morning about sums up our journey of faith, and I think it’s a perfect reading for today, as we celebrate S’s confirmation.

“Like newborn infants…”  That’s how all of us come to God, regardless of how old we were when we came to the font for Holy Baptism.  Whether we were five months old, or five years, or twenty five – we all come to God as newborns – with nothing to offer for ourselves.

Newborns are completely helpless, and will die if left to themselves.  They are utterly dependent on others for food, cleanliness, and protection.  Just like the tiniest baby, are you and I before God.  We can’t do anything to make ourselves worthy, can’t ever be good enough.

Our motives even when we do the right thing are often complicated instead of altruistic.  Someone hurts us and we can’t or won’t forgive, we screw up and we can’t forgive ourselves.  We’re a violent people: there is violence in our homes, prisons are filled with stories of violence, and the need for armies is a testimony to our collective urge to fight instead of make peace.

None of this is worthy of God.  So, we come to God helpless.  Beggars, looking for a bit of mercy.  And God gives us everything.  More than we could ever could’ve dreamed.

In our baptism we are made a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation – God’s own people.”

S – on November 11, 2001, Pastor “P” splashed the Water and the Word on you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit – and in that act you were sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.

It doesn’t mean that you, or the rest of us as the Church, are perfect.  Far from it.  To be “chosen,” “royal,” and “holy” isn’t a weapon we use against others, it doesn’t make us better than anyone else – it’s not a sign of OUR worth, but of God’s grace and love.

All we can do is live our lives in a way that says “thank you” for being made into “God’s people,” and the mercy we have received through Jesus Christ.

How do we do that?  Well, the liturgy for the Rite of Confirmation gives us all a good place to start.  As S will affirm in a few moments, it would be good for all of us to reflect upon how WE are continuing in the covenant God made with US in Holy Baptism:

  • “To live among God’s faithful people,
  • to hear God’s Word and share in his supper,
  • to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
  • to serve all people following the example of our Lord Jesus, and
  • to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.”¹

What all that really boils down to is what Jesus said were the two most important commands – to love God and to love neighbor.

As I said, none of us are perfect.  We fail as individuals and as Church.  But it doesn’t mean we stop trying.  And not only do we fail – we doubt and struggle with faith.  And let me make it clear that struggling with our faith or doubting, is NOT the same as failing.

Failing is when we know we’ve done something wrong.  Doubt and struggle are natural parts of faith that are not a sign of failure, but are actually signs of STRENGTH.  

There are positive and negative things about only having one student in confirmation class.  The negatives might seem pretty obvious.  But the positive is that I think S and I have had some good conversations about doubt and struggle.  She has shared with me some of hers, and I have shared with her some of mine.

S, I admire your ability to be as open with me as you have about your questions.  And I hope you KEEP asking questions, because it means you’re actually thinking about your faith.  Not blindly following. Doubt and struggle are ways we “grow into salvation” and in many other parts of life too.

It doesn’t mean we always get the answers, we’re not God after all – and the struggles and doubts can get really frustrating – but God can take it.  The most important thing we need to do for ourselves is to keep talking to God, and to keep hearing the Word and sharing the supper.  Because when we all wrestle, struggle or doubt, the worst thing we can do with God, or with any person or group, is to stop talking, to separate ourselves.

This is why Confirmation is not the end of our Christian education journey, or faith journey, but really is just the beginning.

The questions don’t end, they just change as we go through life, and sometimes questions we “think” we found the answers to come back around again.

Because we really are just “newborn infants” longing…  Faith is never a destination – only a journey.

Welcome to this new part of your journey S.  We, and most importantly GOD, are walking along with you.

AMEN.


¹Lutheran Book of Worship, p. 201

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3rd Sunday of Easter, 2017

3rd Sunday of Easter, year A, preached 4/30/17

first reading:  Acts 2:14a, 36-41

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19

second reading:  1 Peter 1:17-23


There are times in our lives when we’ve all faced disappointment.  Deep disappointment.  Sometimes that disappointment is also accompanied by a loss of hope.  I think I can safely assume that most of us also have gone through periods of hopelessness.  I know I have.

Disappointment and hopelessness can lead to profound grief over what “could have been.”  But grief can also lead to disappointment and hopelessness.  Grief can be the cause or the result.

For our disciples this morning, grief was the cause.  This was just a few days after the crucifixion.  They had lost Jesus.  They had been in Jerusalem, where just the week before Jesus had entered triumphantly to “Hosanna’s.”  A week before, filled with hope.

Now they were leaving, filled with grief.  And this grief wasn’t only for the loss of a teacher.  This was grief for what they had hoped Jesus would bring to their people.  As they would tell the “stranger” walking with them, “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”

They “had” hoped.  Hope in the past tense.  Hope gone.  They were grieving the loss of Jesus, but they were also grieving the loss of hope.

I can only imagine their disappointment.  Their teacher dead, hopes crushed.  The believers hiding and dispersed. I’m sure they felt like God had abandoned them.  They obviously thought there was no reason for them to stay in the holy city.  And so they were walking away in grief.

Pastor Robert Hoch of Baltimore writes, “There are some walks that are longer than others – not because of the miles or even because of the landscape, but because of the burdens…”¹  And into this journey, which Pastor Hoch refers to as a “walk of hopes in shambles” comes a stranger.

They were “talking and discussing” and this man they didn’t recognize asks them a question:  “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?”

One of the disciples, named Cleopas, basically says, “What rock have you been hiding under?  How could you NOT know?”  To which Jesus basically answers, “Then tell me.”

And Cleopas does.  Cleopas pours his heart out to Jesus the stranger.  Most telling is his account of the empty tomb.  He and his companion know about the women finding it empty, they know about the “vision of angels who said that he was alive,” but it seems they couldn’t bring themselves to believe it.

Then it’s Jesus’ turn to talk.  First we need to understand that when he calls them “foolish” – what he really means is “thoughtless.”  He isn’t calling them stupid or rejecting them.  He’s pointing out that their hearts have been “slow” – they’re not connecting the dots.  So he does it for them.

The Word proclaims the word.  Jesus “interpreted to them the things about himself…”  Then after the Word proclaimed the word, Cleopas and his companion implored the stranger Jesus to stay with them. They were living the gospel of Christ – loving their neighbor by showing hospitality.

Then in the breaking of the bread they saw the stranger for who he was.

Grief turned to joy!  Hopelessness to purpose!  Disappointment to mission!  Back to Jerusalem they go to share their experience!

All along, even when they were disappointed and hopeless and filled with grief, and even in their confusion, the Savior was with them.  They just didn’t realize it.

Their words are telling.  And they tell us where WE can find the Lord when WE feel lost, disappointed, hopeless, confused or grieving.

Their hearts were “burning” while Jesus preached, and then recognized him in the “breaking of the bread.”  How Lutheran of them!  This is “CHURCH” for us – where the Word is preached and the sacraments are administered.²

Often when we hit rough patches in our lives, when nothing seems to be going right, when we feel hurt or betrayed or abandoned, when it seems to be one thing after another, we might doubt God’s presence or even existence.  Or we might not doubt God’s presence but doubt God’s LOVE for us while we’re deep in our troubles.

This is precisely when we need to be reminded that we are NOT alone, that God not only exists but is indeed “with us” – Emmanuel – in the midst of all our mess.  And “church” is the best way we have to get that reminder.

Church – where we hear the Word proclaimed, the uncompromising unconditional love of Jesus who gave his life for us, not because our lives are great, but precisely because they are NOT.

Church – where we receive the sacraments of love – the covenants – that God has made with us. Baptism, when we are marked with the cross of Christ forever; and Holy Communion, when we receive the new covenant in Christ’s blood.

God gives us the gift of Jesus and Jesus gives us the gift of the Word and Sacraments, so that our hearts might burn too, and realize his presence with us.

Mosaic, 6th century

The Emmaus road is a hard road to walk for any of us – but even there, especially there, Jesus shows us that he is with us, just as he was with Cleopas and the unnamed companion.

It’s true that sometimes Jesus feels like a stranger to us.  We feel alone – hopeless and grieving.  But even when we don’t see him he is there.  Even when we don’t recognize him he is holding us.

And while the Church isn’t always perfect, indeed is NEVER perfect, the Church is still the place “where two or three are gathered”³ that Jesus promises to be.

Where we are reminded explicitly that God loves us and is with us no matter what.

Where we are reminded that our hope is ETERNAL life, but also that God holds us and walks with us in THIS life too.

This is our Easter hope.  Alleluia.

AMEN.


¹source:  Working Preacher commentary for Easter 3, year A, 2017, at WorkingPreacher.org

²Augsburg Confession, article 5

³Matthew 18:20

7th Sunday of Easter, 2016

7th Sunday of Easter, year C (preached 5/8/16)

first reading:  Acts 16:16-34

Psalm 97

second reading:  Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

gospel reading:  John 17:20-26


Our readings for this seventh Sunday of Easter give us a theme of the power of God:  the power of healing and authority, the power of eternity and the power of unity.

In the reading from Revelation we see God’s power over all time – the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” of all things.

In the gospel we hear Jesus’ prayer to the Father that the believers be ONE, indeed ARE one, through the unity that exists between the Father and the Son.  There is amazing power in this unity – because Jesus tells us that through this unity, WE also have unity with God – we are in God and God is in us – so that the world may know Jesus and his love.  Wow.

And we see God’s power certainly in our first reading from Acts, where I’ve been spending most of my preaching time this Easter season.  This story is filled to the brim with good stuff!  It shows us the power of God to heal, to save and to put other gods to shame.

We start off with the slave-girl.  Not only is she physically enslaved, but she’s also mentally held by a not-so-holy spirit.  For days she pestered Paul and Silas, calling them slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”

Now, for us this might seem a high compliment, except “her proclamation, true as it was, proceeded not from faith but… constituted a provocation.”¹  The not-so-holy spirit was saying, “Come and get me, I DARE you.”  After “many days” of this Paul took the bait, showed God’s power and sent the spirit packing.

But Paul’s act of healing and demonstrating God’s power over the spirit was not without consequences. The girl’s owners lost the income she brought them and they were furious.  Paul and Silas were dragged in front of the authorities on trumped up charges, not give a chance to defend themselves, beaten and thrown in prison.

But that didn’t stop them from continuing to praise God.  Even after the jailer had shackled their feet, they sang hymns and prayed.  THEN God showed God’s power again.  First, God drove out the not-so-holy spirit.  Now God was going to show the Roman authorities who was boss.

About midnight the foundation of the prison shook and the doors and chains were undone.  That act showed God’s brute power, but it wasn’t enough – the next act would be one of compassion and grace.

The jailer, who had shackled Paul and Silas, was going to commit suicide – the desperate act of a soldier who thought he lost all his prisoners.  But Paul stops him.  Paul saves the man who had him bound.  The prisoner sets the JAILER free.  There is no revenge here, only a profound act of grace.

Because the point of the earthquake wasn’t to let them run, it wasn’t to flee to freedom.  It was for them to STAY and show who really had the power – and that was God – the One with true power, not the ones with little keys to the tiny locks in the cheap prison.

And the point of saving the jailer’s life wasn’t so that he could simply keep breathing, it was so that he could be truly saved by the power of Jesus’ life.  Then, the one who once had bound them became their student and nurse – caring for their bodies and tending their wounds.  It’s an amazing story that doesn’t actually end here.  In the verses to come the authorities that put Paul and Silas in prison in the first place end up giving them a public apology!

From healing to beating to prison to freeing to saving to tending – it’s all about who really has the power.

There are demonstrations of power that the world understands, but also power that the world cannot comprehend on its own.  The slave owners only knew the power of exploitation and the dollar.  The authorities only knew the power of the crowd.  The jailer only knew the power of chains.

It is the mission of God in Jesus, to use US – you and me – to show the world there is another way. Another kind of power.  The power of God to heal and love.

I hope, as we read stories like this of so long ago, that we can see ourselves.

  • WE are the slave-girl bound – physically and psychologically – that needs healing of our sicknesses.
  • WE are the slave owners, who enjoy profit or a more comfortable life on the backs of others who are exploited in unfair labor practices around the world.
  • WE are the authorities, who all too often judge others solely on their religion or country of origin or hearsay.
  • WE are the jailer, who, just doing what he needs to survive, is driven to desperation and despair at the thought of failure.
  • WE are Paul and Silas, condemned unjustly by those around us, who won’t even give us a chance to say our piece.

IMG_2087 (2)We are them ALL.  And TO them all – you and me – God brings God’s power.  But this power isn’t a fist to crush or chains to bind. God’s power is much greater – the power to heal and love.

God’s power is the power to bring life from death – healing and saving through a CROSS.  That’s greater than any power on earth I know of.  More than any judge or police officer – more than any boss or politician – more than any president or king.

This God, OUR God, who has power over death itself, chooses to love you and me in ALL the roles – sinner and saint – in ALL the times of our lives.

The power of the cross, the power of love that overcomes death, is with us always.  So may we be bold in our mission to show and share that power and love with all the other sinners and saints that “cross” our path.

AMEN.


¹Acts: Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament.  Gerhard Krodel.  Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis; 1986, p. 308.

6th Sunday of Easter, 2016

6th Sunday of Easter, year C, (5/1/16)

first reading:  Acts 16:9-15

Psalm 67

second reading:  Revelation 21:10,22-22:5

gospel reading:  John 14:23-29


A few weeks ago in our Easter journey through the book of Acts, we met Tabitha, the only woman to be called “disciple.”

icon of St. Lydia

St. Lydia

Today Acts introduces us to another woman who was crucial in the life of the baby Christian Church – Lydia.  Lydia has her own, very special distinction, which we’ll get to in a moment.

Just like Tabitha, Lydia worked with cloth – but that’s where the similarity ends.  We don’t know if Lydia made clothing or not, but what we DO know is that she was a “dealer” – she was in sales and distribution.  We don’t know if she owned the business or not, but she definitely traveled trading.

And apparently she traveled extensively because her hometown of Thyatira (in modern Turkey) was a LONG way away from Philippi in Greece.  Not only that, but, even though she was FROM Tyatira, she owned a home in Philippi.  So she most certainly had financial resources.

So Lydia is a well-traveled businesswoman of at least good financial standing.  Interesting and a bit unusual for that time and place.  There’s another unusual thing about her too.  The author of the book of Acts describes Lydia as a “worshiper of God.”

With this title we’re not sure if she was even Jewish or not.  It could be that she was a Gentile who was interested in Judaism – that she joined the other women who were praying outside the city gates to learn from them – to grow in the belief that there was ONE God instead of many.  It’s clear though, that even if Lydia wasn’t Jewish, she was on her way to believing in THE one God.

Paul and his companions had also traveled to Philippi, not to sell anything as Lydia probably did, but to share the gospel.  There, outside the city gate, they found the women gathered for the Sabbath – sat with them, and spoke to them.

There, outside the city gate, God “opened her heart,” and the traveler Lydia listened “eagerly” to the traveler Paul.  And she believed.  She believed and was baptized – and not just her, but her whole household.

A characteristic of a good businesswoman or man is that of persuasion, and we read that Lydia had that.  She invited Paul and his companions to stay with her.  I don’t know how hard she had to work to convince them, but Paul says she “urged” them, and his response was, “she prevailed upon us.”

I don’t know why that makes me smile.  The context implies that Paul may NOT have wanted to stay with Lydia, but she went up against him and won.  Once she and her household came to believe and were baptized, she was called to a ministry of hospitality for Paul and his companions.

Now that we’ve looked at Lydia’s story, I will share with you her special distinction in our faith history.

St. Lydia's church, at the traditional site of her baptism.  Greece.

St. Lydia’s church, at the traditional site of her baptism – in Greece.

Lydia is the FIRST documented convert to Christianity in Europe.  And as head of the household Lydia also became the head of the first house church in Europe.  This church in Philippi would grow and thrive, as we can read about in Paul’s letter to the Philippians which would come later.

The book of Acts is about the baby Church – how it grew (sometimes with growing PAINS), and who the early followers supported one another and reached out to more and more different kinds of people with the gospel of Jesus.  How it began to reach beyond Jews to share not only the message, but as we read last week, even table fellowship, with Gentiles.

Our church of today, and by “church” I mean you and me, could learn some good lessons and be inspired by these stories.  In Lydia’s story we have two things that can help us out of our tiny shells.  Paul was willing to go outside his comfort zone to share the gospel with her.

The first thing he did was listen to the vision – to go – to travel to Greece.  The second thing, which in our day and age might slip past us if we don’t pay attention is…  he and his companions went over and sat and talked with… a bunch of women!  This was a definite cultural and religious no-no.   And on top of that, Lydia was probably a non-Jewish woman.  But perhaps Paul had heard of the instances when Jesus reached out and spoke with women.

Lydia was a most UNLIKELY candidate to start the church in Philippi, or to give housing to Paul and his companions.

Breaking out of our shy shells.  Thinking outside the box.   Stepping out of our comfort zones.  It doesn’t mean we have to shout about Jesus from the steps of borough hall.  It’s the little things – our small interactions with people that can make the world of difference for them.

It might be a friend, a neighbor, someone sitting next to us in the doctor’s office, or in the deli line at the grocery store.  A smile, an offer to pray for them if they’re having a tough time – letting them know we are Christians by the love and care we show for them, and for each other.

Jesus has given us everything, even his very life – for you and me.  Though we didn’t deserve it – DON’T deserve it – he died so that we can live now and forever.  In him we find a friend, guide, power, strength, love, peace, courage, and a community in which to live out all our joys and sorrows.

The European church was started through Paul acting on the vision God gave him, and the simple action of seeing some women sitting outside, sitting down, and talking with them.

Breaking out of our shy shells.  Moving in ever small steps out of our comfort zones.

Who knows?  Maybe there’s a Lydia here in [our town] just waiting to hear.

AMEN.

2nd Sunday of Easter, 2016

2nd Sunday of Easter, year C, 2016

first reading:  Acts 5:27-32

Psalm: 118:14-29

second reading:  Revelation 1:4-8

gospel reading:  John 20:19-31


I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but just in case you’ve forgotten – every year on the second Sunday of Easter we read the story of Thomas.  I opened my sermon file and groaned, “Thomas AGAIN.”  It’s a natural reaction to stories we think we know so well.

That’s a danger we all face when we look at well-known Bible stories – the tendency to read them quickly and assume we know all there is to know.  Thanks be to God that when we actually take some TIME with Scripture, many times God grants us new insight, and that’s what happened for me.

What I saw this week, with the help of my gospels professor who wrote a commentary on John’s gospel – is God coming to us in the midst of our frail human condition.

Thomas isn’t the focus when we look at it this way – Thomas is merely a reflection of us – just as the other disciples in the first half of the reading are a reflection of us.

We have two basic human emotions in this reading – FEAR and DOUBT.

In the first half we read, “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews…”

This was no irrational fear – this was real terror that had them locked in that house at night.  They had reason to fear. The same religious authorities that put Jesus to death might be coming for them next.

When you think about it, fear is a big controlling force in our lives.  I’m sure if I would ask you to think about all the things that make you afraid, you could name several.  Whether they’re things related to physical or mental health, finances, the well-being of loved ones, the political climate, crime both locally and globally – there’s plenty of things to fear.

My professor, Robert Kysar, summed it up like this:  “The point is less that [Jesus] can pass through locked doors than that he comes to believers in the midst of their human condition.”

And when Jesus comes to the disciples in the midst of their fear, what does he do?  Does he chastise them for not being faithful enough?  NO.  He gives them the gift of PEACE.  He says, “Peace be with you.”

Jesus comes in the midst of the turmoil and fear and speaks peace.  To OUR fear he speaks peace.

peace

In the second half of our reading Thomas is still reeling from grief.  What would we think if a group of friends told us that they had seen a deceased loved one ALIVE?  What do we think sometimes when we hear the Easter story of gruesome death and and empty tomb, Jesus walking and greeting Mary in the garden, and appearing to the disciples out of nowhere in a locked up house?

What do we think when we experience suffering in ourselves, our loved ones and in the world?  How can there be a God?  And if God DOES exist then why doesn’t God do something?  Thomas’ reaction is our reaction.  We’re incredulous.  We DOUBT.  Doubt can be painful.  It can be crippling.  It can leave us stuck and floundering.

When Jesus came to Thomas in the midst of his doubt, what does he do?  Does he rebuke Thomas for his lack of trust in the witness of the other disciples?  NO.  Jesus speaks to Thomas what he spoke to the other disciples the week before – PEACE.  Once again, he says, “Peace be with you.”

Jesus comes in the midst of the turmoil and doubt and speaks peace.  To OUR doubt he speaks peace.

peace

Jesus comes in the midst of our human condition, whatever it might be, and brings us peace.

Because life is messy.  Nowhere in the scriptures do we find perfect people in perfect circumstances. Perhaps Eden – but by the third chapter of Genesis that’s already messed up.

Scripture speaks to our lives in all its messiness.  Jesus speaks to us in our messiness.

We see this in all three of our readings today.  In Acts we see the conflicts that arose AFTER the disciples had unlocked the doors and let go of their fear.  John’s letter to the seven churches in the book of Revelation is written precisely because those communities were having great hardships.

Easter doesn’t mean we’ll have the perfect life.  Easter doesn’t mean life won’t be messy.  Our gospel today gives us the examples of FEAR and DOUBT as things we confront.

What Easter DOES give us is a way to live WITH our fear and doubts and all the other messiness.  And that way is PEACE.  

To quote my professor again:  “The wholeness and fulfillment of Christian life is summarized in THIS word, and it is presented as a gift from the risen Christ.”

And this peace isn’t a cure-all.  A week after being given this peace, the disciples had only progressed a little – from locking themselves in to simply having the doors SHUT.  It would be a while yet before they would become the bold evangelists we find in the book of Acts.

  • PEACE from a Christian perspective isn’t simply the absence of conflict.
  • PEACE is the presence and strength of God within us.
  • PEACE is knowing that despite the messiness we are loved by a gracious God.
  • PEACE is being reassured that through the Holy Spirit the same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in us.
  • PEACE is God’s promise that we are NEVER alone.  In all our fears and doubts, Jesus is with us.

Peace may not change the circumstances around us, but I believe peace DOES change US.

So, as Jesus spoke to his disciples, I speak to you now, and after the prayer of the Church we will speak to each other, “Peace be with you.”

Peace.

peace

AMEN.


quotations from John:  Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament.  Robert Kysar, Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis, 1986.

7th Sunday of Easter, 2015

7th Sunday of Easter, year B, 2015 (preached 5/17/15)

first reading:  Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

Psalm 1

second reading:  1 John 5:9-13

gospel:  John 17:6-19


 

Don’t you just love St. John?  Don’t you just love the way he present Jesus’ words – so clear, so plain? Don’t you just love the way he has Jesus spell everything out for us, so that we can easily understand what he means?

I hope you realize I’m being sarcastic.

Our gospel reading for today is one of those that you have to read over and over again, very carefully, before you even start to decipher what Jesus was trying to say.

It’s no wonder that people get frustrated with reading the Bible.  When we come to passages like this one, it’s easier to just give up and grab for the newspaper than to try and follow the maze of Jesus’ thoughts.

I wish sometimes that St. John’s gospel could be more like St. Mark’s – just give us the main point and get on with it.  But we can’t beat up on John too much, because in the end, there’s something to be said for his style – for the way in which he records Jesus’ words.

When I was learning Greek in seminary, the language in which the New Testament was written, our professor told us that one of many reasons to learn Greek was so we would be forced to read the passages slowly.

When we can read them quickly, we tend to skip details that might be important – or assume we know what a passage means without really thinking about it.  For example, one word, when carefully looked at, can change the whole meaning of a passage – or open it up for us, when it first appears confusing.

And that’s what I want to do this morning.

There are words and phrases that Jesus says repeatedly in this prayer to the Father, and I want to concentrate on one – GIVING.

“Those whom you gave me… you gave them to me… everything you have given me… words that you gave to me, I have given them…” and so on.

WE READ VARIOUS TENSES OF THE WORD “GIVE” NINE TIMES IN JUST SEVEN VERSES.

Give (1)

There is a pattern we discover when we look carefully and slowly at how Jesus uses this word, a pattern which says something important about the way our lives and faith should be shaped.

First – the Father gives to Jesus.  Then, Jesus receives the gifts.

And what does Jesus do with the gifts the Father has given to him – the word, the truth, the joy, the unity?  Does he keep all these gifts to himself?

NO.  As he received from the Father, he himself gives away.  He passes it on.

In verse 8 we read a good summary of this.  Jesus says, “…for the words that you gave to me, I have given them, and they have received them…”

This is a good model for you and me.  As God gave to Jesus, so Jesus gives to us.  Everything we have, everything we ARE, comes from God – everything down to the gift of life itself.  And when we receive from Jesus it is then our calling to pass it on, just as Jesus did.  We extend what we are given to those around us.

Unfortunately though, in our society, we are constantly tempted to act otherwise.

It’s in our nature.  Just think of how hard it is to teach children to share.  It’s a never-ending battle.  And it can be just as hard for grown-ups.  But the consequences when grown-ups don’t share are considerably greater than the consequences for not sharing the building blocks or matchbox cars.

When grown-ups can’t or won’t share, or give away, people usually suffer and/or DIE.

Poverty comes when we won’t share our wealth – hunger comes when we won’t share our food – wars come usually when we won’t share the land or the power.

ABOUTMEGiving or sharing can be especially hard when we believe that the accumulation of money or “things” will bring us joy.  Just drive this car, wear these clothes, get this nice big house – and you’ll have it all. Giving or sharing is hard when we’re brought up with messages like “pull yourselves up by your bootstraps.”

Giving or sharing is hard when we’re jealous of those who have “more,” and when we live in a culture that preaches a gospel of self-fulfillment and egoism.  What’s most important is what feels good for me. I am not my brother’s keeper (although we KNOW what God thought about THAT excuse!).

When we’re bombarded with messages that tell us to keep things for ourselves, and to look with disdain on those we deem less fortunate – that somehow their LACK of success is a symptom of laziness or inherently inferior – it becomes hard to give anything away.

As a result we become isolated from one another.  But God NEVER intends for us to lock ourselves away from each other.

God does not want us to be so protective of our stuff and ourselves, that we lose out on the joy of relationships – with one another AND with God.  God doesn’t want us to hoard our God–given gifts, but to share them – to give them away.

As we receive, so we give – and not to focus on the human approval of the receiver, but on our spiritual NEED to give.  PERIOD.

After all, Jesus didn’t make our “deserving” a requirement for his giving, did he?  In fact, he gave himself precisely because we DIDN’T deserve it!

As the Father gave to Jesus, as Jesus gives to us, so we are to give to one another.  At the end of our reading Jesus makes this clear by saying that just as HE was sent, he now sends US.

“For the words that you gave me, I have given to them…”  “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent THEM into the world.”

Let us go then, and give to all around us what was first given us –

the Word of Life, the Word of Truth, the Word made flesh – Jesus Christ our Lord.

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AMEN.

5th Sunday of Easter, 2015

5th Sunday of Easter, year B, 2015 (preached 5/3/15)

first reading:  Acts 8:26-40

Psalm 22:25-31

second reading:  1 John 4:7-21

gospel reading:  John 15:1-8


Today we celebrate a very happy occasion – the first Holy Communion of L___.

We didn’t look ahead of time at what the readings would be when we chose today as the date, but they’re perfect!  Thank you Holy Spirit!

Today we hear about sharing the Word, bearing fruit – and what that fruit looks like.  And this relates wonderfully to the gift we receive of Christ in Holy Communion.

In our first reading we have one of my favorite stories, and one that has brought me much comfort through the years.  The story of Philip and the Ethiopian.  Philip is called to share the gospel with this man who is searching for truth – and we have a baptism, the sacrament by which we are brought into the faith.

In our gospel Jesus tells us that he is the vine and we are the branches, that we abide in him and he in us – and that we are pruned so that we can bear much fruit.

But what does it mean to bear fruit?  Ahhh…  This we find in our second reading.  And it is easily summed up in one word – LOVE.

It rolls off our tongue so quickly.  It’s so small – deceptively small, because love is no small thing at all. In fact, love is the most important thing there is.

“God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”  Sounds A LOT like our gospel reading – all this “abiding.”

Jesus talks about us abiding in him and he in us – and our second reading talks about abiding in love/God and love/God abiding in us.

“Abide” is a verb.  It means to accept or act in accordance with a rule or decision.  To comply with, follow, heed, conform to or stand by.

So abiding in Jesus, abiding in love, isn’t something that “describes” our relationship – it’s something we DO, and something God DOES – and that thing is LOVE.

But what does it mean to love?  How do we love in a world that seems so filled with hate and intolerance and disrespect?

It seems every time I turn on the news some new awful thing is happening – events caused and made worse by our human ability to be cruel to one another instead of loving.  Either that or we’re confronted with natural disasters where we feel paralyzed by the destruction and death.

As with all things, we start with Christ.  WE love because he first loved us.  So what does Jesus’ love look like?  How does Jesus “do” love?

He talked about love, but he also fed the hungry, healed the sick, welcomed and stood with those who were deemed “unclean” or unworthy by the religious authorities.  He challenged those religious authorities when they were more concerned with rules than with people.

novgorod-icons18And even as he hung on the cross he forgave them and all of us.  We have the cross as the supreme act of love – he died so that we could live.

Jesus saw us, little children, playing in the street, ignorant of the danger of the approaching car of sin – and pushed us out of its path, even though he knew it would cost him his own life.  Because that’s what love does, it gives itself for the other.

But before he would journey to that cross, Jesus gave us another gift – as if the cross wasn’t enough (which it most certainly was).

Jesus gave us the gift we celebrate today – the gift L___ will receive for the first time – the gift of Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, the sacrament of the altar.

Even as he knew he was being betrayed, Jesus gave the disciples, and you and me, this mysterious wonderful holy thing, in which he becomes present for us and gives us forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.

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This is what love is.  This is how we “do” love.  By giving ourselves for one another.  By acting in ways that show respect and deep care for the well-being of the other.

We may not always like each other.  We may not even KNOW each other.  But real love – the God abiding in us and we in God kind of love – is love that acts without thinking if the other deserves it.

We may bicker with each other, even dislike one another, but I know for a fact that when someone is in true need here, we rally.  That is love.

We see riots on tv – but we also see people helping one another, forming lines against the violent to protect the police, each other and one another’s businesses – and we pray for ALL involved, that peace will prevail and that people can respect one another and see Jesus in the other.  That is love.

We see suffering in Nepal, people we don’t know and will never meet, and yet we’re compelled to send what we can to help them recover “because he first loved us.”  That is love.

We give of our time and financial means to help folks locally too, and see Jesus’ face in the face of our neighbors.  And we welcome everyone into our midst, with whatever baggage “they” bring, however different “they” are from us, with whatever questions and doubts “they” have – because we see Jesus abiding in “them,” just as Jesus abides with us.  That is love.

Love is the thing that binds all of us together – so that in the end there is NO “they” and “them” – only “US,” growing out of God’s love for us.

A love Jesus showed every day of his earthly life, most especially on the cross, and in giving us the gift of Holy Communion.

May we be constantly reminded how we abide in that love, and how that love abides in us, both now and forever.

AMEN.