Tag Archive | love

11th Sunday after Pentecost, 2016

11th Sunday after Pentecost, year B (preached 7/31/16)

first reading:  Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23

Psalm 49:1-12

second reading:  Colossians 3:1-11

gospel reading:  Luke 12:13-21


Today’s readings have a strong message, one that’s uncomfortable for many to hear, because especially in our culture, we have a strong attachment to STUFF.  We like our stuff.  We LOVE our stuff.

It’s the American dream to have nice things in a nice house and drive a nice care with a nice bank account.  But dang it, Jesus calls us on it.  And not only Jesus, ALL the readings call us out.

The writer of Ecclesiastes is depressed and hopeless because they’re realizing that all their hard work and toil is ultimately pointless – “chasing after wind.”  They also realize they must pass on the fruits of their work to unknown heirs, “and who knows whether they will be wise of foolish?”

Our psalmist writes, “for the ransom of a life is so great that there would never be enough to pay it, in order to live forever and ever and never see the grave.”  “Their graves shall be their homes forever… though they had named lands after themselves.”

The writer of Colossians reminds us to “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth…  Put to death therefore, whatever in you is earthly” including “evil desire and greed (which is idolatry).”

But Jesus hits the hardest, where it hurts.  “Be on guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions,” and “You fool!  This very night your life is being demanded of you.  And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?  So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”  

OUCH.

This IS a strong message, and one that IS uncomfortable for us.  Not that we in this congregation are in danger of being called ostentatious.  I can’t speak to the greed that might be in our hearts, but I know we don’t show it on the outside.  None of us have big houses.  I know most of you live modestly on more or less fixed incomes.  What are WE, who live simply, to take from these readings that focus on greed and mortality?

We focus on the end point of the gospel – the zinger – storing up treasures ourselves, but not being “rich toward God.”

What does this mean?

Rembrandt. Parable of the rich man, 1627.

Rembrandt. Parable of the rich man, 1627.

Well, first of all, Jesus is NOT condemning the rich man simply for being rich.  There is a difference between wealth and greed.  The man is a fool because he focuses his whole life on his possessions.

On a podcast called “Sermon Brainwave” that I listen to every week, the commentators described this man as living in a “1st person universe.”  He’s all wrapped up in himself.  Look at the language in the parable.  It’s all in first person.

“What should I do, for I have no place for my crops?” “I will do this,” “I will pull down,” “I will store,” “I will say.”  He “thought to himself then spoke to himself.  He’s completely turned inward and there’s no room for anyone in his world but him.

Jesus calls us to a life BEYOND ourselves.  Jesus calls us to see our neighbors.  Jesus call us to love God AND our neighbors in word and deed.

The man is a fool not because he was productive and had abundance – he was a fool because he hoarded it all for himself, and FORGOT about his neighbor AND his God.

Instead of finding the poor around him and sharing from the crops of the field, he built bigger barns to keep them to himself, and “relax, eat, drink, be merry.”

Being “rich toward God” means fighting against the urge to make everything about ME.  It means setting our “minds on things that are above” as we read in Colossians.

Now, even though you and I may not be building bigger barns, I’m sure there are “things” in our life that distract us from loving God and neighbor, things that compete for our attention.  It doesn’t have to be money or “stuff.”

I think Jesus uses greed as an example because it’s easy and obvious.  It’s a temptation because the more worldly successful we become, the more likely we are to think we did it ourselves and deserve more.  It’s a rare person who can be wealthy and successful while being humble and generous.

But there are certainly other things that can distract us from being “rich toward God.”  We can go back to Colossians again for some examples.  The writer gives us a pretty good list of things that distract and/or tempt us from the “things that are above:”

“Fornication, impurity, evil desire, greed,” but also “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language.”  Notice that greed is only one among many distractions or temptations.  And notice too, that many things on this list have to do with how we treat our neighbors.

It is a constant theme in Jesus’ preaching.  It is the ONE thing he called the new commandment for us who follow him – that we love one another.

Love of God and neighbor is central to our faith because it is what Jesus calls us to do.

We have been claimed by a loving God.  A God who SO loved us that Jesus came and gave HIS life for us – HIS neighbors – so that we could live.

We have been forgiven by a loving God.  All the sins which weigh us down God raises up on the cross.

And we are called by a loving God to love others.  To show them in word and deed what God has done for them too.

Being “rich toward God” means paying attention to God’s relationship with us – our first relationship – the one that gives us life.  Then, as we often pray at the end of communion, we live “in faith toward [God] and in fervent love toward one another.”

AMEN.

8th Sunday after Pentecost, 2016

8th Sunday after Pentecost, year C, 2016

first reading:  Deuteronomy 30:9-14

Psalm 25:1-10

second reading:  Colossians 1:1-14

gospel reading:  Luke 10:25-37


*I was guest preaching at another congregation this day.


A few weeks ago, right after the Orlando massacre, I began my sermon by saying, “It’s been one hell of a week.”  I sadly find that description accurate again today.  It’s been one hell of a week.

I also found myself saying to my pastoral colleagues a few weeks ago how strangely relevant our worship texts were to what was going on, and what a blessing that was.  And I gladly find THAT description accurate again too.

Today for our gospel, we read one of the most well-known stories in the whole Bible – “The Good Samaritan.” Problem is the meaning of it has lost a LOT of its “oomph.”

More than 2,000 years after its original telling we’ve come to see it as a nice story about a good man who helped someone in trouble.  Well, yes, perhaps.  But that’s only a small part of it.  I think we need a refresher.

There was this lawyer – which in Jesus’ culture meant someone who studied the religious law – the Torah. He knew his stuff and engaged Jesus with a question.  “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus put the question back to him:  “What is written in the law?  What do you read there?”  The lawyer gave him an answer which we can find in Deut. 6:4-5 and Lev. 19:18b – and was widely accepted as the summation of the Mosaic Law.  Jesus praised his answer.

But the lawyer went one step further.  He wanted to make sure he was doing “it” right.  So he asked, “WHO is my neighbor?”  We often ask this very same question.  We make judgments every day about who is worthy of our attention and care.  We make judgments every day about who is “good” and who is “bad,” and what “good” and “bad” people deserve.  We make judgments every day about who our enemies are, and who are friends are.

It seems like a legitimate question.  Who is my neighbor?

But Jesus is an annoying Savior sometimes.  He CHANGES the question altogether.  And he does it with a story.

The Good Samaritan, He Qi

The Good Samaritan, He Qi

A Jewish man was a victim of violence, laying half-dead by the side of the road.  Two Jews from respectable upstanding groups saw the man and passed him by.  Then a Samaritan came, saw the man, and “was moved with pity.”  The Samaritan tended the man’s wounds, brought him to help, paid the bill, and promised to pay for whatever else the man might have needed.

In order for us to “get” the weight of this story, we have to understand one very important detail:  Jews and Samaritans DESPISED one another in the 1st century.  It’s hard to describe the loathing and contempt that they had for one another.

Jesus purposefully makes the “hero” of this story a person the lawyer can’t stomach.

Then Jesus backs the lawyer into a corner by asking, “Which of these three… was a neighbor to the man…?”  And the lawyer was forced to say, “The one who showed him mercy.”  Jesus responded, “Go and do likewise.”

In our day and age we might conclude this interchange with the comment, “mic drop,” or “BOOM.”

In this story Jesus tells us we shouldn’t be concerned about who our neighbor is, right or wrong, deserving or undeserving.  Don’t worry about who our neighbor is – BE A NEIGHBOR.   We no longer have a question, we have a command.  Don’t look out and make a judgment, look IN the mirror and act accordingly.

Jesus challenges the lawyer to see that pity and mercy – loving – knows no human boundaries or division.

Right now, in our country and in the world, we have created SO many barriers between people.  Jesus challenges us repeatedly, but most especially in this story, to get rid of them.

After Orlando, our national presiding bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, wrote, “We live in an increasingly divided and polarized society.  Too often we sort ourselves into likeminded groups and sort others out.”  Also, “We are killing ourselves.  We believe that all people are created in God’s image….  Those murdered in Orlando were not abstract ‘others,’ they are us.”  And this week she repeated, “We are killing ourselves.”

Jesus forced the lawyer to see that the Samaritan was not an “other.”  In his act of mercy the Samaritan refused to see the beaten Jew as an “other.”

Jesus says, “Don’t worry about WHO your neighbor is, go and BE a neighbor.”  And BEING a neighbor means LOVING your neighbor as yourself.  Not warm fuzzy love, not even love that means “liking.”

BEING a neighbor by LOVING our neighbor means making sure through words and deeds that they are seen, heard, respected, valued and cared for.  Love your neighbor as yourself.

What groups would Jesus challenge US to love today?  Who are WE called to be neighbors to right now? Who are we called to LOVE?

I don’t know you all very well, so I feel free to give all kinds of suggestions.  Some of them may not be a problem for you, and others may make you gasp.  Actually, the ones that make you gasp should be where you start.  After all, that’s what our gospel today is all about – the GASP.  “Lord, you want me to love WHO????”

  • Love your Jewish neighbor.
  • Love your Muslim neighbor.
  • Love your atheist neighbor.
  • Love your NRA neighbor.
  • Love your gun control neighbor.
  • Love your gay neighbor.
  • Love your straight neighbor.
  • Love your Clinton supporter neighbor.
  • Love your Trump supporter neighbor.
  • Love your communist neighbor.
  • Love your Hispanic neighbor.
  • Love your Indian neighbor.
  • Love your white neighbor.
  • Love your Black Lives Matter neighbor.
  • Love your All Lives Matter neighbor.
  • Love your protester neighbor.
  • Love your law enforcement neighbor.
  • Love your rich neighbor.
  • Love your poor neighbor.
  • Love your neighbor who is sitting next to you right this very minute.

Jesus asked, “[Who] was a neighbor?”  The lawyer said, “The one who showed… mercy.”

Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”

AMEN.

5th Sunday after Pentecost, 2016

5th Sunday after Pentecost, year C, (preached 6/19/16)

first reading:  Isaiah 65:1-9

Psalm 22:19-28

second reading:  Galatians 3:23-29

gospel reading:  Luke 8:26-39


This has been one hell of a week.  And when I say that, I mean it literally.

I know I’ve been preaching on Galatians the past few weeks, but where I feel led today is the gospel.  It’s not a nice, warm-fuzzy gospel which is surprising because it’s a healing story, and we should all rejoice in that.

gerasene demoniac, 2I mean, this man, tormented by demons, shackled and banished by his own people, is healed!  But there is very little rejoicing in this story.  Sure, the healed man is thrilled, BUT NO ONE ELSE IS.

Jesus demonstrated unequaled power here.  But Jesus shows us the Savior he is by using his divine power to heal. Jesus brings this man back to his true self.  Within a short period of time the man is clothed, in his right mind and sitting at Jesus’ feet.

There should be rejoicing right?  Partying like the prodigal son who was gone and has now returned – right?  NO. Not at all.  What is the reaction of the people to this amazing healing?  FEAR.  “They were AFRAID.”

They saw the man they had known for years, the man they had been able to “control” by putting him in shackles and banishing him outside of the city – HEALED – CHANGED.

And they couldn’t cope.  Jesus had upset their “controlling the situation” apple cart.  They couldn’t deal with Jesus’ power, even IF it appeared that Jesus used his power for good.  The people couldn’t handle that power among them. They didn’t know what to do with themselves – or Jesus.

We read, “Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.”  So he left.  Jesus will not force himself where he is not wanted.  Through their actions the people showed they preferred the darkness to the light of Christ.

We have a phrase, “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.”  Well, in this case, the people literally chose the devil over GOD.  They preferred the man wild with demons, and in shackles, over Jesus’ healing.  AMAZING.

And because they banished Jesus, because they chose the comfortable darkness they knew over the new light they didn’t know – they robbed themselves of any other healing Jesus could’ve brought them.  They robbed themselves of hearing the gospel.  They robbed themselves of learning how much Jesus LOVED them.  They robbed themselves of the power of the gospel to heal, love and save.

This has been one hell of a week.  All around us are examples of people accepting the comfortable darkness over the power of the light.  All around us are examples of evil forces, forces we usually “think” we can control, except we really can’t.

One week ago today 49 children of God were massacred in Orlando in an act of hatred because of WHO and WHAT they were.  A few days after that at Disney a family trip turned into a nightmare as a child was killed by an alligator.

This week, a young man at my daughter’s school was arrested for possessing pre-pubescent child pornography and for sexual contact with a 13 year old.  My daughter KNOWS this young man.  And he is now out on bail.

Friday was the first anniversary of the massacre in Charleston, when another young man opened fire and killed 9 people in a CHURCH who were having a Bible study, for being who they were.

One hell of a week.  Evil seems all around, and the WORLD seems very dark.

We’re understandably afraid.  WE are like the Gerasene people, going about our business, keeping the evil at bay. Except we can’t.  We can’t possibly shackle it the way they were able to with that poor man. We can’t shackle evil.

We have a choice, you and I.  What will we do with our fear?  Because in our lives there is a power which IS greater than evil, a power greater than our fear.  Will we choose the light, or will we choose to go on living in the darkness?

It seems like a ridiculous question, but it’s not really.  Because living in the darkness, though it’s painful, is easier. It’s easier because we know the script – back to the phrase, “the devil you know…”  Changing patterns, behaviors and thinking – going from darkness to light – choosing the light, is HARD work.

It’s hard to choose love and kindness instead of giving in to the instinct for revenge, or “tit for tat.” There are times when our fear of being hurt prevents us from loving one another.  Times when our instinct to protect ourselves keeps us from doing the thing that will bring ultimate healing instead of momentary relief.

The gospel is not easy.  In times like this, we ARE tempted to tell Jesus to let us handle it and LEAVE. Because calling us to love in the midst of hate is just wrong God!*  We want an eye for an eye!**  Jesus telling us to turn the other cheek is just stupid.**

But in the end it’s only love that will heal us.  Only love that will let us sleep.  Only love that keeps us from becoming the very thing we fear.  Only love that saves us.

Jesus did an amazing work of healing for that whole community and they rejected him.  EXCEPT for the healed man himself.

He begged to go with Jesus.  I’m sure he didn’t want to go back to the same community who rejected both him and the Savior.  But Jesus said no.  Jesus sent him back to the very community that banished and shackled him TO BE A WITNESS.  And he did.

I hope and pray WE choose to be that man.  “Proclaiming through the city how much Jesus [has] done for [us].” Going in peace and serving the Lord by showing THE light and BEING light amid the darkness of our world.

AMEN.


*Matthew 5:44, **Exodus 21:24, Matthew 5:38, ***Matthew 5:39

4th Sunday after the Epiphany,2016

4th Sunday after the Epiphany, year C, 2016 (preached 1/31/16)

first reading:  Jeremiah 1:4-10

Psalm 71:1-6

second reading:  1 Corinthians 13:1-13

gospel reading:  Luke 4:21-30


Our second reading for today is so famous that if we’re not careful we could daydream right through it.

il_570xN.206733546

The LOVE chapter.  It’s become a standard reading at weddings as counsel on how spouses should treat one another.

But St. Paul wasn’t writing this “love chapter” to newlywed couples.  He was writing this to a broken community – a community that was broken, fighting, fractured.  The Corinthians were in trouble.  Paul was telling them how to work through their disagreements and jostling for power so they didn’t destroy themselves.

This reading isn’t about romantic love at all.  It’s about a state of being.  It’s about how we live our lives.  This kind of love isn’t directed at an individual, it’s something we have in ourselves that flows out of us.  For while I’ve said over and over that “love” is a verb, “love” is also a quality that we exude.

And love isn’t something we can manufacture ourselves.  When the pastor preached at my wedding, (not on this reading – we chose something different), he was clear to tell my husband and I that any kind of love we think we can “make” is a pitiful kind of love.

REAL love doesn’t come from us at all, it only flows through us to others.  Real love comes from God.  

  • In 1 John 4:7 we read, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”
  • The gospel of John tells us the reason Jesus was born among us was love.  “For God so loved the world…”
  • And Jesus gives us the new command to carry this love that comes from God through him – to one another.  “A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must also love one another” (John 13:34).

And not only that, but this – Jesus also calls us to love our enemies!  We like to forget this inconvenient teaching, but it’s part of the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5:44,46 – “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… For if you love those who lo e you what reward to you have?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?”  The Corinthians were certainly dealing with enemies outside of, and even within, their community.

So, like I said, this chapter has very little to do with romantic love, and everything to do with how we conduct ourselves – our demeanor, our personality.  It is meant for each one of us as believers.  St. Paul wrote this for you and me and all who follow Jesus.  It speaks the truth about how we are to BE in the world as believers, and part of that is how we treat one another.

And St. Paul is wise here, because he not only tells us what love looks like, he tells us what love does NOT look like. First, what love IS:  it is

  1. patient,
  2. kind,
  3. rejoicing in truth
  4. bears,
  5. believes,
  6. hopes, and
  7. endures all things.
  8. It is also eternal because it “never ends.”

What love is NOT:  it is not

  1. envious
  2. boastful,
  3. arrogant,
  4. rude,
  5. insistent,
  6. irritable,
  7. resentful,
  8. or rejoicing in wrongdoing.

This is hard work.  Love is hard work.  It is a commitment that goes beyond hugs and kisses, candy hearts and Hallmark cards.

  • Try being patient with a three year old whose new mantra is “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy…”
  • Try not being irritable when you’ve had a horrible night’s sleep and a full day of things to do ahead of you.
  • Try not being envious of your neighbor as they fly off on their next vacation while you’re just trying to pay your monthly bills.
  • Try being kind when you have to spend the next two hours with someone who grates on your last nerve.

THIS is what St. Paul is talking about.  This is how you and I are called to live and conduct ourselves with our loved ones and NOT loved ones.

Actually it’s impossible.  Jesus is the ideal for 1 Corinthians 13, you and I are just poor imitations.  It’s a perfect example of Lutheran theology’s “saint and sinner.”  We try, we fail, we try again, we fail, we try again, and so on and so on – with our only fuel for going on being God’s forgiveness – God’s love.

So why love?  Why work so hard to let the love that is in us flow out?  Why try at something when we know we’ll never be perfect at it?  Because, although we know we’ll never love perfectly, love gives our lives meaning, purpose and shape.  It DEFINES us.

It defines us because love is the eternal thing that binds us to God and one another.

All the trappings with which we surround ourselves, even the gifts that God has given us to serve – these are only temporary comforts, successes and talents.

St. Paul opens and closes this chapter with reminding us that our earthly power and success and talent are just just noisy and clumsy without love, and that one day all those things will pass away, just like us.  All our earthly gifts will end.  Love will not.  It is only love that carries on – the love from God through Jesus to you and me, and from you and me to each other.

So why love?  Because there is really no other way for us to BE.

It’s work, and it’s painful sometimes – to love does mean to grieve – but the alternative is living death.

Creation came from love, Jesus came from love – Jesus IS love – and Jesus calls us to love.  It’s as simple, and as complicated, as that.

Love is the hardest, but as St. Paul wrote, it’s also the “greatest.”

AMEN.

 

1st Sunday of Advent, 2015

1st Sunday of Advent, year C, 2015 (preached 11/29/15)

first reading:  Jeremiah 33:14-16

Psalm 25:1-10

second reading:  1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

gospel reading:  Luke 21:25-36


IMG_8870More end of the world stuff.  More talk about – the “days” that “are surely coming,” “those days,” what the Lord “will” do, all the things that “will” happen – at some unknown point in the future, perhaps some events even happening now.

I preached about this a few weeks ago – how our preoccupation with “when” these things will happen just isn’t productive OR faithful.

What we learn over and over again (and AGAIN in today’s readings especially from Jesus and St. Paul) is how to go about waiting UNTIL “those days” arrive.

This is the focus of the season of Advent – waiting.

We wait for the birth of the Savior, but we also wait for “those days” that are surely coming – what we call the Second Coming.

But of course we hate to wait.  Stores have had Christmas decorations out along with the Halloween merchandise.  I saw houses decorated weeks ago.

I’m not going to be the liturgical judge and jury about Advent – there are many Christians that don’t observe Advent – but I think there is value in it.  I think observing Advent is good for us, because Advent teaches us about waiting, even if we really don’t like it.  Advent has been celebrated in the Christian Church since the 6th century, so it’s one of the more ancient traditions we have been given.

But waiting is HARD.  The anticipation involved in waiting is truly hard to live with.  Whether we’re waiting for medical test results, vacation to come, a phone call, the birth of a baby, the death of a loved one – waiting is hard.

We’ve all been the children in the back seat of the car, pleading, “Are we there yet?” only as adults we may use fancier language.

Usually waiting is hard because there is nothing else for us to do.  But this is not the case for us in our life of faith.  Jesus gives us plenty to do in the waiting time.  We’re not meant to bury our heads in the sand, circle the wagons, hunker down or disengage from the world.

We have a life’s worth of work to do while we wait!  We have work to do on ourselves and for each other.

Jesus tells us to “be on guard,” not against all the signs that are coming, or that even might be here already, but on keeping our hearts close to him.

And it’s interesting and telling, that along with the more obvious temptations of drunkenness and dissipation that weigh us down and distract us from faith, Jesus also mentions “the worries of this life.”  Almost nothing weighs me down more than worry.  And what is worry but the anxiety and anticipation of something bad that “might” happen.

Jesus warns us that amidst all the signs, temptations and worries that might distract us, we need to keep our eyes on the prize – life with him.

And St. Paul shows us what that life needs to be like.  He writes to the Thessalonians in vs 12-13:  “And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.  And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”

There’s A LOT going on here.  Like I said a few moments ago, enough to keep us busy for a lifetime while we wait.  St. Paul writes about inward and outward states of being and doing.

He speaks about our hearts, just as Jesus did.  But Paul brings it up in prayer, that the Lord “strengthen” our “hearts in holiness.”  He prays that we be continuously drawn closer to God.  The answer to this prayer is an ongoing journey that we travel even beyond this life.

But our journey of faith while waiting isn’t only internal, it is external as well.  As Paul writes, “increase and abound in love for one another and for all.”

The love Jesus has for us needs to overflow from our lives to the lives of others.

In the life of faith love isn’t just a feeling.  Love is a VERB.  Love is something we DO.  And St. Paul tells us our job is to “increase” and “abound” in it.  That means we’re never done with it.  We can never retire from our calling to love.

And we are not just called to love one another in our little group – a fact that we are often quick to forget.

When Jesus tells us to love our neighbor – sometimes that neighbor is someone we don’t like very much.  Sometimes that neighbor is someone who has hurt us.  Sometimes that neighbor is a stranger who looks different, speaks differently, or is a different religion.  We forget that the greatest example Jesus gives us of a neighbor is a Samaritan, and Samaritans were despised by the Jewish people of Jesus’ time.

St. Paul reinforces this broad vision of love when he exhorts us not just to love each other, but to HAVE love, to DO love for ALL.

This means everybody.  No exceptions.  Love is a hard thing to do.  It’s especially a struggle to love those who hate us or wish to do us harm.  And we’ll never be perfect at it.  My goodness, we’re not even perfect at loving those who love us, loving those we really love!  But it doesn’t mean we give up.  In fact, Paul tells us to do more and more and more of it!

Our waiting for the birth of the Savior to us, and our waiting for the days that are “surely coming” are NOT empty.  They are filled with reflection and soul searching and clinging to the cross – and they are also filled with actions of love, of “being” love, of representing the love of Christ, to all those we meet.

To love one another as he first loved us.

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.

2nd Sunday of Easter, 2015

2nd Sunday of Easter, year B, 2015 (preached 4/12/15)

first reading:  Acts 4:32-35

Psalm 133

second reading:  1 John 1:1-2:2

gospel reading:  John 20:19-31


Every year on the Sunday after Easter we read the story of doubting Thomas.  Partly because we hear Thomas’ story every year, I DON’T want to preach about it today.

This is not to say Thomas’ story isn’t important, because it is.  Doubt can actually play a crucial role in faith.  Doubt can be a good thing, because it means we’re actually thinking about our faith, not taking it for granted.  Being open and honest about our doubts and questions can help our faith grow.

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Resurrection window, First Lutheran Church, Waterbury, CT

What I want to talk about today is this – now that Jesus has been raised, so what?

Christ is risen, he is risen indeed! Alleluia!  So what?  What difference does this make to you?  What difference does this make for me?

I’m not talking about heaven.  That’s all fine and good.  But we have no control over that.  Thankfully Jesus took care of that for us.  What I’m asking is about the things over which we do have control.

What difference does Jesus’ resurrection and lordship over us make in our lives today and tomorrow? Because his death and resurrection isn’t JUST about heaven and the future, it’s also about our life in the here and now.

How do we answer the “so what?” question?  Because how we answer that question helps shape our WHOLE life – how we live day to day and over the long-haul, how we view ourselves and one another, and how we view the Church.

We get a clue to the answer in our first reading for today.

The “so what?” has a lot to do with our relationship with one another.  This makes sense given Jesus’ response to the question of the most important commandment.  He said it was to love the Lord God, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  On Maundy Thursday Jesus gave us the new commandment to love one another as he has loved us, and put that love in action by washing the disciples’ feet.

In the reading from Acts we hear that the early believers sold what they owned and held all things in common.  The sold everything to share with others and to give to those in want.  We read, There was not a needy person among them…

An ideal community.  A community founded in faith and sustained by the common sharing of goods so that everyone had enough – – NOT in proportion to one’s ability and strength, but by the strong and well-off taking care of the weak and the poor.

This is a immense challenge to the way we live our lives.  We’ve grown so mistrustful of each other, so suspicious of one another’s motives – even during Easter dinner I was having a debate over whether to give money to a person sitting on a city street holding a sign that read, “Homeless, please help,” with a box for donations on their lap.

My teenager challenged me, and for all my nice logical arguments about concerns over drug use, and wanting to connect that person to services that would help them long-term, I had to admit there was also a part of me that was afraid of my OWN wallet going empty.

What Jesus and the early church SAYS to us and SHOWS us is indeed an enormous challenge to our thinking and our lifestyle.

We are Christians, and Jesus told us to care for the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, work for justice.  No exceptions.  No litmus tests.

Jesus washed the feet and DIED for the one who betrayed him and the one who denied him, so who are we to deem anyone unworthy of Jesus’ love or our help?

Theologian Gerhard Krodel wrote, “Spirituality dare not be divorced from social responsibility…” and “to believe in God is inseparable from caring for and sharing with the members of the people of God.”***

Jesus calls us to COMMUNITY – not to some individualistic society where it’s dog eat dog, each man for himself or survival of the fitest.

I’m thankful that we in our congregation, and in our larger Lutheran Church, take Jesus’ command to love and serve our neighbors seriously.  For a congregation our size and age we do a great deal to help those in need both near and far.  We are part of a larger Church that reaches all over the globe, proclaiming God’s love in word and deed – working to alleviate human suffering, advocating for justice, seeking peace.

I’m thankful that we live out the example in Acts.  We’re not perfect – very few people in history live up to the ideal given to us by those first brave followers.  Having these examples keeps us humble, so that we don’t think too highly of ourselves, so that we always strive to do better and confess (as we’re commanded in our second reading) when we have fallen short, as individuals and as the Church.

So… the “so what?” of the resurrection is this – in thanksgiving for Jesus’ immeasurable sacrifice and gifts to us, we live our lives as part of a COMMUNITY, where in the words of John’s letter, we have fellowship with God and EACH OTHER.   We love our neighbors and even our enemies as Jesus commanded us – we work for peace and justice so that all may see God’s love shine through our words and deeds.

That way, when others look at us they’ll see Jesus – and when we look at them we’ll see Jesus too.

So little by little we edge toward that ideal community of the first followers.  It may be work, hard work, but it’s a labor of love given to us by the Lord of love.

AMEN.


***Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament:  Acts.  Augsburg Publishing House: Minneapolis, MN, 1986, pp. 116, 117.