Tag Archive | God’s Word

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

5th Sunday after Pentecost, 2014

5th Sunday after Pentecost, year A, 2014 (preached July 13, 2014)

first reading:  Isaiah 55:1-13

Psalm 65

second reading:  Romans 8:1-11

gospel reading:  Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23


Jesus told the crowd a parable.  The first thing he said was, “Listen.”

He probably gave them a few moments to shush each other.  With no modern convenience like a microphone he also probably had to talk pretty loudly too.  “Listen!”

I wonder if it was as hard for folks in Jesus’ day to really listen, as it is for us now.  So many times we mistake being quiet and waiting our turn to talk, for listening.  Listening requires not just being quiet while we formulate what WE want to say in return, real listening means focusing on what the other person is saying.

So Jesus tells the crowd to listen – tells us to listen.

A farmer went out to plant.  He threw the seeds all over the place – on all different kinds of ground.  This farmer must have had an overabundance of seed, because he didn’t seem to care where he threw it – he had no concern of running out.

Some seeds fell on the path, some on rocky ground, some among thorns, and some on good soil.  The seeds grow, or not, depending upon the kind of soil in which they took root.  In some places there is no yield whatsoever, in others there is a great harvest.

Most of us hear this parable and are immediately concerned with what kind of soil WE are.  What kind of person am I?  Am I the right kind?  Do I make the right response?  Am I bearing fruit?  Are we rocky, thorny or good?  What will happen to me if I’m rocky soil?

Let me reassure you, if you’re concerned about your soil, if you CARE what kind you are, then you’re good.  Your caring means that you’re concerned about your response to God’s Word, your caring means you WANT to be receptive to the Word in your life.

Put aside any worries you might have had about the quality of the soil that is you – because this is NOT what this parable is really about.

Jesus does NOT call this parable the parable of the soil.  He calls it the parable of the SOWER.  The soil is not the main focus, the soil and the yield are all secondary to the first action of the SOWER.

The true focus of this parable, according to Jesus, is not us (you know, “it’s” not always about us) but GOD.  In the parable as Jesus tells it, the focus is on the sower who spreads the seeds around with such freedom that NO ground is missed.

So what if seed is wasted – the point is to cover every bit of ground, and that the sower has NO concern about running out of seed.  The picture Jesus paints for us is of the sower’s outrageous generosity.  The seed is going all over the place – the Word is for everyone.

“Let anyone with ears listen!”  There’s that “listening” again.  I guess Jesus REALLY wants us to pay attention.

The focus is on the lavishness of the One who gives the Word of the Kingdom to ALL people.  The sower is God, who spreads the seed of the gospel to EVERY person – whether they be rocky, thorny or “good.”

Here’s another reason not to worry about what kind of soil you are – are you rocky?  The Word is for you.  Are you thorny?  The Word is for you too.  And even if you’re good, the Word is for you.  We may even be different types of soil at different times of our lives – but no matter, the Word is for each of us.  It’s God’s action in sowing the Word for the world that matters here.

If we focus on our response, or on our “yield” first, then it’s like putting the cart before the horse.  Everything starts with God – nothing grows without the sower first sowing the seed.

The parable is about the amazing and miraculous work that GOD does in spreading the seed out, and NOT our attempts at putting God’s Word into action.  What a wonderful message this is!  What a perfect image the parable of the sower gives us of God.  The seed as Word – Jesus the Word, spread for each and every one of us.

This parable tells us that there is no one beyond God’s love.  No one is beyond God’s reach, because God is not stingy with the Word – God tosses those seeds everywhere!

It’s outrageous – how careless this sower is with the seeds.  But, it’s not really careless – it’s a sign of the diligence of the sower that he doesn’t want ANY ground left uncovered.  It doesn’t matter what kind of ground you are – you’ll get the seed!  This is God, not taking the chance that any of us will be missed.

Jesus tells us God’s love reaches so far and so deep, that there is no one he will turn away.  The sower doesn’t say, “Oh, that ground over there looks so bad, nothing could grow there.  Why waste the seed over there.”  Nope, he throws the seed down.  The sower even throws it on the PATH, which is really no soil at all, just hard, packed down ground.

Jesus tells us this parable to highlight just how far God goes to make sure we’re included.

So, if we ever think there’s a place where the Word of the gospel doesn’t belong – we’re wrong.

You can use your imagination to think of the absolute worst place, a seemingly unredeemable place – and the Word ESPECIALLY belongs there.  You can think of yourself, perhaps even sitting here in worship, as the worst, most unlovable person in the WORLD and Jesus still says “This is my body given for you.”

NO ONE is excluded.  God’s love is for everyone.  God’s Word is for everyone.  God’s salvation is for everyone – everyone.

“Let anyone with ears listen!”

AMEN.