Tag Archive | hope

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.


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

²Augsburg Confession, article 5

³Matthew 18:20


Third Sunday in Lent, 2017

3rd Sunday in Lent, year A, preached 3/19/17

first reading:  Exodus 17:1-7

Psalm 95

second reading:  Romans 5:1-11

gospel reading:  John 4:5-42

Have you ever boasted in suffering?  I mean, really.

I don’t know ONE person, even Jesus himself, who when suffering, has said, “Boy am I glad to be going through this! Look at me everybody – I’m suffering and ain’t it grand!”

The Israelites in our first reading certainly weren’t boasting in their suffering.  In fact, they were a whiny bunch.  The Lord had brought them out of bondage, but that wasn’t enough.  The Lord had given them manna from heaven to eat, and THAT wasn’t enough.  You’d think after all that they would trust that God would somehow take care of their thirst, but no.  They bitterly complained, so that Moses was afraid for his life!  No boasting there.

And there was no boasting from the Samaritan woman at the well either.  It’s clear from Jesus that she has seen her share of suffering.  Whether her reputation was sullied by questionable behavior, or whether she suffered as a childless widow being passed as a possession from brother to brother, her life wasn’t easy.  She’s got no time for boasting about anything.  She’s going about her daily business, trying to survive.

Boasting about suffering?  I don’t think so.  But at first glance that’s what it seems we’re expected to do in our second reading.  And not only that, there’s the part where St. Paul seems to tell us that suffering is GOOD for us – it produces endurance, then character, then hope.

So is the line of thought, boast in your suffering because suffering is good for you, because it will make you stronger and give you hope?

One could argue that surviving suffering makes us stronger, sure – but to have that give us hope?  It seems illogical and cruel.

I’ve never really liked our second reading for today because it’s been used to glorify suffering.  Masters have used it against slaves; abusers against those they abuse; the sick asked to be glad for their sickness.  It’s one of those verses that, when taken out of context, can cause all kinds of unnecessary pain and suffering for people.

But if St. Paul isn’t telling us to just lay down in our suffering – take it and be glad for it – what IS he telling us?

Well, because St. Paul is often quite wordy, a man whose thoughts often went in circles rather than straight lines we have to read SLOWLY.  And sometimes it even helps to draw pictures!*

Through Jesus Christ we are justified and have peace and grace.  This gives us hope – the hope we have of sharing the glory of God.  THIS is our starting point for EVERYTHING.

Now… it is because of this hope, that we can even begin to boast in our suffering.

You notice these verses begin with hope and end with hope – with suffering in between.  This hope, the hope which justification and peace and grace give us, carries us through suffering.

In fact, Paul is saying something quite extraordinary to all those who think faith is the cure-all for everything – those who would argue that as Christians we should be happy all the time or something is wrong or lacking in our faith. Paul acknowledges the reality of suffering in life, EVEN for those who have faith.  It is THIS hope which allows us to boast, even in suffering.

You see, the boasting isn’t in the suffering itself, as if suffering were some wonderful thing – the boasting is in knowing that our suffering doesn’t separate us from God.  Even when we suffer, God is still close to us.  Even when we suffer, we are still able to have hope through Jesus Christ.  Now that IS something to boast about.

The hope given to us through our justification in our Lord Jesus Christ – the peace and grace we have “obtained” through him – give us hope and keep us in hope through all the trials that come our way, because hope does not disappoint us.

So the boasting isn’t some prideful “tooting my own horn” at my trials.  It isn’t some martyr complex, LOOKING for suffering.  It isn’t some formula by which we are KEPT in suffering and told to like it.

It’s being held firm in Jesus’ love for us, knowing he is with us through our suffering.  It’s that Jesus gives us the endurance and character to make it through, even when we’re not sure how we can make it another day.

This endurance and character is even the permission we have to stand against that which brings us suffering!  Those who deal in injustice COUNT ON us not getting this part of it – what a shock when we do.  When we stand up to bullies and say, “Because Jesus loves me I can say ‘no more!'”

“For while we were still weak,” St. Paul writes…  “while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”  “While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son…”

This is where it begins.  This is the foundation.  “While we were still weak… sinners… enemies… we were reconciled…”

THIS is our justification through Jesus.  THIS is the justification, the reconciliation that brings us peace and the “grace in which we stand.”

When St. Paul writes about boasting in suffering he means that even in our suffering we still have Jesus, and Jesus will be with us through it.

So we aren’t expected to say, “Guess what?  I have cancer!  Isn’t that great!”  What we can say is, “I have cancer.  But even though I have cancer I know that God loves me and Jesus died for me and is with me to help me through this. Thank God!”

There is a HUGE difference between the two.  We could never say the first, but we are blessed to say the latter.


*My attempt to draw out Paul’s thinking  

2nd Sunday of Advent, 2016

2nd Sunday of Advent, year A, preached 12/4/16

first reading:  Isaiah 11:1-10

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

second reading:  Romans 15:4-13

gospel reading:  Matthew 3:1-12

Way back when I was in seminary, my dear friend, Violet, preached a sermon whose main point has stayed with me for over 20 years now.

She began her sermon by talking about “four letter words,” and their power.  She got a few chuckles, including from me, because Lord knows there have been times in my life when nothing else seems to fit a situation except a four letter word or two.

But then Violet shocked all of us, when she said the four letter word she was think of – the four letter word that hold such great power is… HOPE.  HOPE wasn’t even in the top ten list of four letter words I was thinking of!

What Violet was illustrating is exactly what our readings today also show us – that in the midst of very trying, practically impossible circumstances, HOPE is the power that gets us through.

hope1In our first reading we have a vision of hope despite a bleak reality.  The prophet imagines the shoot coming out of the dead stump of Jesse – King David’s line will be restored, and what a wonderful time that will be.  The peaceable kingdom as it’s popularly called.  The wolf and the lamb, the leopard and the kid, the calf and the lion, the cow and the bear, all living together; little children playing with snakes – no more pain or destruction.

Our psalm is a prayer of hope for an earthly king who will bring justice, who shall “defend the needy” and “rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.”  A prayer that under this king “the righteous flourish” and “there shall be abundance of peace.”

Our second reading from Romans speaks it plainly.  St. Paul even uses hope as a blessing:  “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

He wrote these words to a community with struggles from within and without.  The Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians were having a hard time accepting one another.  It wouldn’t be the first time a church has suffered from factions within.

Yet, in the midst of their division, Paul reminds them that the scriptures were given to us so that “we might have hope,” and that our God is a “God of hope.”  His wish for those in the Roman church, is that these competing factions “welcome one another” and “abound in hope.”

The hope in the gospel is less clear.  When we look at the surface of it we see a lot of judgment.  John the Baptist calling the religious leaders poisonous snakes, and warnings about the wheat and the chaff.  I see hope here in John’s warning for the big shots not to be presumptuous.  We are ALL called to repentance.  No one is better than another.

You and I have as much right (or NO right) to God as the richest tycoon or the holiest saint.  I don’t know about you, but that gives me a LOT of hope.  Through faith, through repentance, through our baptism into Jesus, I, a poor penitent sinner receive grace and mercy.  Our pedigree or social station has no bearing on whether we are “good enough” or NOT “good enough” for the kingdom of heaven.

When confronted with the times, it would have been easy for our biblical writers and prophets to despair.  And certainly in the Bible there are those moments – and sometimes the moments last for DECADES.  But despair does NOT prevail.

HOPE is a four letter word in the face of despair.  Instead of capitulating or simple cursing our circumstances, hope speaks a TRUTH to those circumstances.  Hope looks at reality and says, “Yes, I acknowledge you, but I will not give IN to you.”  THIS is the power that hope has – the power to carry us.


When seen this way, hope is one of the ultimate acts of defiance.  Hope is resistance.  Hope gives us strength to carry on and to ACT.  This is what we mean when we say hope is a four letter word.

We look at the growing darkness around us.  Winter is fast approaching.  The solstice is in a few weeks, when we will experience the “shortest” or “darkest” day of the whole year.  Into this darkness comes the child of hope.  The one of whom John the Baptist spoke – more powerful than him, or any one of us.

This hope is THE light that shines in the darkness, THE light the darkness cannot overcome.

THIS hope, gives US hope.  This hope lifts us up when we are weak and breathes in us the power of the Holy Spirit. This hope gives us hope even when we know we will fail.  This hope gives us the strength to even work for a thing that we know we will never see.  This hope has given people through the centuries courage to stand up against all odds – martyrs, prophets, teachers – all regular believers who had hope.

It’s so easy to find that perfect four letter word to curse.  But for God, the perfect four letter word is word that actually brings energy and passion and a vision for justice and righteousness – the peaceable kingdom, the righteous king, the ability to “with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

How could the people in the prophet Isaiah’s time have imagined a new king from the dead line of David?  How could the psalmist dare imagine a king who would defend the poor and needy?  How could Paul possibly think the Jewish and Gentile Christians would find a way to live together?

How can we, you and I, find a way to make it through all the challenges that come OUR way from within and without?

We see the coming baby in the manger, the savior on the cross, the risen Lord for US – and we have HOPE.


race, policing, and hope

I’ve got a thing or two to say, as a pastor and as a human being.  I realize I may be treading on dangerous waters and that I’m bound to make some folks angry.  So be it.  If I don’t speak, it makes me complicit in perpetuating injustice.

Racial tensions are at one of highest levels I think I’ve seen in YEARS.  I stare at the images on the television screen and read articles in disbelief at how unjust systems are and how in too many places people are simply set up to fail – and fail miserably, even to losing their lives at the hand of the system that in theory is supposed to protect us all.

Much of what our society is facing can be traced to the long shadow that slavery still casts over our national psyche. We CANNOT deny the presence of that shadow.   Hundreds of years seeing a race of people as less than human, and hundreds of years of being considered as less than human – do not just disappear with an emancipation proclamation or a Supreme Court decision on education or a voting rights act (part of which was recently dismantled). The legacy being a “non-person,” of families being ripped apart – husbands from wives, fathers and mothers from children – is still with us.  As a white person I can’t even begin to understand what it feels like to stand in that shadow and be stymied at every effort I make to break out. That leads to frustration and anger, but also, perhaps more importantly, a loss of hope. Loss of hope for one person can lead to depression.  Loss of hope for an entire community, race, or nation can lead to chaos.

People need to have hope that they can make a good life for themselves and their families.  When they lose that hope, not only is protest inevitable, but violence becomes probable as well.  Protesting is part of our history, it’s an act which we cherish because America was born from protest.  I applaud those who plan and gather and protest for their rights and the rights of others.  Violence is different.  Some of these folks are SO angry, SO frustrated, SO hopeless, that they don’t care what happens to them, or anyone else – especially when they see themselves as victims of violence and murder by the system that pretends to protect them.  When someone has no hope, when they feel like they have nothing left to lose, they become a danger to themselves AND to others. When hope is gone, the future is gone.  When the future is gone… we are ALL in trouble.  We all need to have hope.  I have my own ideas about what hope is – I’m a religious person, so for me hope is intimately tied to faith.  But hope is more than a theological concept.  Apart from faith, hope comes from the expectation that we can make something for ourselves.

Yesterday was the first anniversary of Robin Williams’ suicide. Robin lost hope.  He turned his hopelessness in on himself.  Others, whose hopelessness is rooted in anger at injustice, may turn that hopelessness OUT.  I believe this is true for some violent protesters.  I believe it is also true for some in law enforcement.  I’m not condoning violence, not by protesters, or by police – I’m just trying to understand.  I think both the people on the streets and the people in uniform are suffering from a loss of hope.  I think we all need to have a sense of what the other is facing so that we can fight against everyone’s hopelessness. MY hope commands me to do that.  Jesus tells me to see himself in ALL my neighbors.

An important first step in healing the wounds that slavery has left us and to grow hope is to LISTEN. Listen to the voices of those who have been voiceless.  Allow them to speak in their own voices – don’t put words in their mouths, don’t interrupt.  Allow them to be angry.  Listen to their pain, as uncomfortable as that may be.  It’s amazing how hard it is to listen, but it’s also amazing the power that real listening has to give hope.  Then, even as we’re listening, we need to make systemic changes in the practices that have stifled hope – that have left people stuck.  I consider protesters AND law enforcement to be in this quagmire together.

When I hear about an unarmed person being shot dead by a cop or dying in police custody my blood boils.  But I have a brother-in-law who is a police officer – I’ve heard terrible stories of what he faces constantly and he’s not even in a big city.  Remember the Texas pool party incident in June when a police officer tackled a bikini clad teenage girl and drew his gun on the crowd around her?  There was understandable outrage.  But after he resigned from the police force, saying he just couldn’t do his job anymore, it came to light that before being dispatched to the pool incident, the officer had dealt with one uncompleted suicide attempt and another “unusually disturbing completed suicide.”  Having this information put the incident in a whole new light for me.  His actions were wrong, HE knew it and resigned, but I felt a lot of compassion for him.  Why wasn’t this officer given TIME to process those previous calls, perhaps an hour or two (at LEAST) or being sent home for the remainder of the day to collect himself, before being thrown back out in the field to deal with rowdy teenagers?  WHY?  Not enough officers?  No decent policy in place for what constitutes being sent to “mandatory” counseling?  Stigma against seeking help?  Tough guy attitude?  I don’t know.  All we do know is that it created an almost perfect storm.  I’m sure this kind of “set up” for the cop and the young woman is NOT isolated.

Our cops need mandatory mental health screenings.  Not AFTER an event, but BEFORE – to PREVENT many of them from happening.  I believe that if we’re going to hand out guns to cops, and force them to see people who’ve blown their heads off, women beaten to a pulp by their lovers, young boys killed in gang violence, children raped for money – then we should give them support in processing all that horror. NO ONE can see what they see and not be effected.  Police officers cannot foster hope in the places they serve if they’ve lost hope and become cynical and scarred from what they’ve seen.  Don’t tell me we don’t have the money.  We can’t afford NOT to have the money.  Our police officers need to have hope, just as the people they serve need hope. We can’t send out loose cannons to maintain the peace.  It sets everybody up for disaster.

The systems/politics in many of our police departments must also change, so that our officers can be more concerned with attending victims of a car accident instead of pulling over a car that has failed to signal; so that they’re focused on saving little girls from being raped in their own homes instead handing out warrants for the dilapidated car in someone’s front yard.  These changes won’t completely stop bad cops, but it will make them much easier to spot and weed out.  And systems/politics that keep people in hopeless poverty need to change.  Our children need to grow with the hope that if they work hard and follow the rules, good things CAN happen for them.  For too many of our children, this is NOT the reality. You can highlight a few shining examples – our president and first lady, many sports stars or entertainers – but they are not the norm.

I’d also be negligent as a pastor if I didn’t say a word or two about sin – or at least morality.  This is another basic reason to foster hope – to combat the “nothing left to lose” attitude that leads people to disrespect each other. We need to respect our basic laws.  Don’t rape women, or little girls (or boys or men).  Don’t sell drugs.  Don’t steal. Don’t shoot anyone.  Don’t beat up anyone.  The system may be flawed, it may be corrupt – but most laws are there to protect YOU and ME from harm.  If you can say to yourself, “I do all these things so I’m good,” you’re not off the hook.  If you’re a person who holds power in this world, it is your responsibility to grow power in others, not to hoard it for yourself.  If you’re an employer, treat your employees the way you would want to be treated. If you’re a landlord, make your property the kind you would live in yourself.  Look grocery store clerks, retail sales people, bank tellers and gas station attendants in the eye – acknowledge their existence instead of having your face in your phone.  They are your EQUALS – treat them as such.  If we respect each other’s humanity, it becomes VERY hard for us to hurt one another.  SYSTEMS need to change.  We need to speak up and protest until we are heard and until those changes happen. But change also needs to happen within us.  Each one of us must resolve to see the humanity (the child of God-ness) in the other – to gift each other with HOPE.  Either we do that, or we’ll all go down together.

When Cain asked God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  God said, “YES.”***

***Actually God’s answer to that question was more eloquent.  In Genesis 4:10-11 God said to Cain (who had killed his brother Abel):  “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.”  I think that qualifies as a “yes,” don’t you?


5th Sunday after Pentecost, 2015

5th Sunday after Pentecost, year B, 2015 (preached 6/28/15)

first reading:  Lamentations 3:22-33

Psalm 30

second reading:  2 Corinthians 8:7-15

gospel reading:  Mark 5:21-43

There are weeks I look at the readings for Sunday and say, “Thank you God, the readings are perfect!”  This is one of those Sundays.  So much good.

  • In the first reading we find in the midst of defeat, the people proclaim hope in God’s love.
  • In Psalm 30 we have the song of one who has been utterly brought down, who yet proclaims “you have turned my wailing into dancing.”
  • In the New Testament reading St. Paul writes about generosity – showing love for one another by bringing ourselves down a peg or two, so that we can lift other up to be with us.
  • And in our gospel reading we have stories of two desperate people, daring to hope in the midst of their seemingly hopeless situations.

They’re all great.  I could easily preach a sermon on any of these.  How to choose?

Well, instead of looking deeper into ONE of the passages, I’m going with a theme.  And the theme I see running through all four of our scriptures today is that of INCLUSION.

The people in Lamentations were a militarily defeated people.  Their country had fallen.  They felt the oppression of a foreign force.  Yet they DARED to speak of God’s steadfast love.  Even though they were on the “outs” politically, and in some ways felt on the outs with God too – they dared to proclaim that ultimately they were “in” – that their hope was in the Lord of compassion and mercy.

They might look like they’re out, but they’re NOT.  “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.”(v22)

Even when things aren’t going our way in life – especially when we might feel oppressed or actually are oppressed, God is with us.  Even if the rest of the world treats us like we’re “out” – with God we’re always “in.”

Our psalm this morning is just beautiful.  One of my favorites actually.  Our psalmist was dying and in emotional distress.  Their health, be it physical or spiritual or emotional, was broken, and the Lord restored them.  “Weeping spends the night, but joy comes in the morning.”  “You have turned my wailing into dancing; you have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.”

When WE are in THAT night, the night of weeping – when we’re wailing in sackcloth – God can feel so far away.  We see the rest of the world moving around us while we languish, and feel “out.”  Our bodies betray us, our minds tell us lies about being unworthy or forgotten.

But even in the midst of that we hear “NO.  You are ‘in.’  Joy is coming.  You WILL dance.  In fact, joy will be your garment.  You’ll wear it.”

St. Paul’s message of inclusion is less about how we feel.  He is concerned about how we treat our neighbor.  He challenges the followers of the Lord Jesus to be generous and genuine.  He gives us Jesus as an example – Jesus became poor so that we could be rich.

As followers we are to DO something for those on the fringes, on the outs, of society.  Give according to your ability. And Paul isn’t just talking about our spiritual gifts here.  He is plain talking about money.   He challenges us to reflect on our ABUNDANCE and our neighbor’s NEED – to make sure there is a “fair balance” – to give accordingly so that everyone can have “enough.”  Paul challenges us who are “in” to come together to make sure there is a place for those who are “out.”

And the theme of inclusion is no different for Jesus in our gospel reading.  Our two stories from the gospel bring us extremes of people on the outside looking in, and Jesus breaking down the dividing wall.  Two people, a respected religious leader whose daughter was dying – the ultimate “out” – and a woman who was as outside the community as you could get without actually being dead, FELL BEFORE JESUS.  Literally fell at his feet.

Jesus goes with Jairus, but on the way they’re interrupted by the poor woman who is truly “out.”  Her problem with blood made her unclean – UNTOUCHABLE.

But this woman on the outs has HOPE – hope that merely touching Jesus’ clothes will heal her, since she CANNOT touch his skin.  She sneaks up behind him and touches him daring for a cure.  But she cannot hide.  Jesus KNOWS. But he doesn’t condemn her, he commends her faith and bids her go in peace – “you’re in.”

Jairus’ daughter in the meantime has lost her chance for cure – she has died.  Nothing more to be done but begin the grieving.  But Jesus says no.  It’s NOT too late.  He sends the grievers away and commands the girl to rise.  “You are not ‘out’ of this life, you’re ‘in.'”

In our political, emotional, financial and medical circumstances we can often feel “out.”  Out of step, out of line, outside the box, left out, shut out, cast out.  Between our personal  and societal problems, decisions that have come from the Supreme Court, violence and hatred in our own country and around the world, this indeed may be the way we feel.  Debates, anger, mistrust swirl.  Some celebrate while others weep.

According to the world it may indeed appear that some are “in” while others “out” even in the church – but NO. NEVER with God.  NEVER.

EACH ONE OF US is precious, unique and LOVED by God, demonstrated through the sacrificial act of Jesus on the cross.

Our “out”ward circumstances are NOT a sign of our place with God.  For as we learn in our readings today – ALL are included:  the oppressed, the poor, the sick – there is NO ONE “outside” the reach or embrace of God’s steadfast love.

So know this brothers and sisters – no matter what it looks like, no matter what it FEELS like, YOU ARE INCLUDED, surrounded by God’s mercy and love.

Thanks be to God!


***This is the first time I have preached since the events in Charleston.  While not specifically named in the sermon, our national church (the ELCA) had given us a special prayers to use this day, as well as a letter from our presiding bishop, The Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, which was read publically.  Rest assured Charleston and the issue of race was not neglected in our worship.