Saturday, April 11, 2015

Second and third and more chances

Acts 4: 32-35: 1 John 1:1—2:2: John 20:19–31

Tiger Woods is playing golf again, and doing well, for the first time in a long time. It seems to me that since his infidelity to his wife became public, he has struggled to put together a good game. Looking on as a pastor, it has seemed that his spirit is troubled.
With his divorce and the media attention and the subsequent loss of commercial endorsements, he sank quickly from the top of the game to near the bottom. He seemed to have lost everything, including the respect of the people. How could this not affect his game?
Recently the focus has been on his back surgery. This weekend – at least on Saturday morning when I was writing – it seems he is back in the game. The public has forgiven him for his infidelity. He has been given another chance.
… Thomas needed another chance to see the risen Jesus. On the day he was raised from the tomb, Jesus appeared to the disciples in the guest room of the home they were staying in. Thomas was not there that day and he missed seeing Jesus. I’m sure he was disappointed and frustrated. He wanted what the others had experienced.
The next week, Jesus appeared among them again, and this time, Thomas was there. Jesus knew Thomas well, and offered him the opportunity to touch his wounds to verify that it really was Jesus.
Thomas didn’t need to touch the wounds; he fell on his knees and worshiped Jesus as his Lord and his God. Not only did Thomas get another chance to see Jesus, he responded by naming him as divine.
… Jesus is good at giving more chances:
Peter is known for his statement of belief in Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God. This is followed by his refusal to believe that Jesus will suffer and die and be raised. While Jesus responds, “Get behind me, Satan,” he never casts Peter away from him. Peter always gets another chance with Jesus.
 In the last chapter of John, Jesus meets Peter on the beach and asks him three times to feed Jesus’ sheep. This is often interpreted as a three-fold forgiveness after Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus. Peter’s response is to lead the new church into the future, and to eventually die on a cross, upside down.
The Samaritan woman at the well was given another chance, after five previous relationships with men. This next chance with Jesus sent her to town to tell everyone about Jesus.
Lazarus died. He lay in the tomb for four days, long enough for his body to begin to rot – but Jesus gave him another chance at life.
In this little reading from Acts today, we discover that the first believers are trying hard to live as Jesus commanded. They have formed a community in which no one has too much, and all have enough. It sounds wonderful.
Until, that is, unless we try to live that way ourselves. Those of us with much would have to give it up. Those of us with not enough would finally have enough. Can you imagine sharing your possessions as the first Christians did? It’s hard to let go of those possessions we are accustomed to having. We might need several chances to get this right.

… We often need second, and third, and fourth, and fifth chances:
·         Our relationships are not always what we want them to be.
·         Our commitment to wise use of our finances is not always what we want it to be.
·         Our love for all our neighbors is not always what we want it to be – or at least what Jesus wants it to be.
·         We do not always put God first in our lives.
·         We don’t always want to be with God, on Sundays or any other day.
This reading from First John puts it right on the line for us. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” We are sinners. Every week, we begin worshiping God with the statement that we are imperfect children of God. We are people who need lots of chances to do life God’s way.
And every week we hear God’s forgiveness: God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We are sinners, yes, but we are forgiven sinners. We are sinners with lots of chances to get life as children of God right.
This week, pay attention to all the times you fail to love as Jesus wants us to love. That’s probably the most frequent, and rarely noticed, sin. And the one for which we get the most chances to do better. Watch for all the times you judge someone as different, as less than you, as sinful, as not lovable. Confess your failure to love, and ask for Jesus to forgive you.

Forgiving God, we know we are far from perfect. Accept us as we are, forgive us, again and again, and make us perfect with your loving embrace. Amen 

Easter sunday sermons

I just realized I never posted these. So, a week late, here are the Easter Sunday sermons. Mark from the sunrise service, John from the 10am service.

Starting over from the beginning
Mark 16:1-8

Have you ever read a book and reached the ending and said, “Wow! I didn’t expect that!?” So, you read the book again, to look for signs in the book that foretold the ending. Knowing the ending, you are more aware of the little things that lead to the climax and finish line. Maybe you even begin to wonder what else you missed, so you read the book a third time, looking for stories and clues you hadn’t noticed before. A few years later, you read the book again, and it’s like the book is an old friend, but also entirely new, because you have a different perspective on it now.
The Gospel of Mark is like that. We read it every three years in the lectionary cycle, and every year, we come upon Mark’s particular way of ending his story of Jesus. Because we know the ending from the other gospels – that Jesus was raised from the dead, that he appeared to his disciples for 40 days, and sent the Holy Spirit 10 days after that – because we know the ending, we are stunned that Mark’s text ends here.
The monks and others who copied the manuscripts didn’t like the ending, so they added other endings, more like Matthew and Luke’s gospel, with resurrection appearances and a commissioning to go out and share the good news.
But, Mark ended the story here. For a couple of reasons, at least.
First, to cause readers to go back and read the story again, looking for clues that foretell the ending. And to read it again and again, until they really understand that the beginning of the Gospel says it all: “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Everything in Mark’s gospel points to this opening statement.
And, second, so that we can do a better job of understanding and responding to the good news than the disciples and even the women at the tomb did. We will not refuse to believe that God is more powerful than death. We will not run away in fear. We will not be silent.
We will rejoice this day and all the days to come, because Jesus has been raised from the dead and that means there is something beyond the grave for all of us.
We will believe and confess that the tomb is empty, and because of that, anything is possible with God’s help.
We will share the good news of the resurrection of Jesus with all whom God puts in our path so that others can come to believe, also.
Please pray with me. Mighty God, we praise you for the joy of this day, the hope in our hearts that there is a purpose for us to live and love and serve you. Send us out so filled with your power that we can’t help but praise and glorify you to all the world. Amen

Jesus calls our name
John 20:1-18

Today’s the day. Today, after six weeks of Lent, after the shadows of Maundy Thursday and the grief of Good Friday and Holy Saturday, today we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. Today we sing alleluia and praise the Lord. Today, we rejoice!
Today, we remember the first Easter, when the disciples didn’t yet know for sure that Jesus had been raised. Today, we join Mary and Peter and the Beloved Disciple at the tomb and look in in wonder and amazement.
Since Friday afternoon, the disciples have been huddled in a locked room, praying for two things. First, that the Romans would not come and arrest them as companions of Jesus the rebel. And second, that the promise Jesus had made to them, that he would be raised from the dead, would actually happen.
On the morning after the Sabbath ended, before it was even light, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb. She expects to find it as it had been, with the stone still in place, and therefore with Jesus’ body still inside, still dead. But she finds the stone rolled away, and the tomb empty.
She hurries to tell the others, and Peter and the Beloved Disciple have a foot race to see for themselves if what Mary has said is true. They look into the tomb, see that Mary is right, and then run back to the rest of the disciples to tell them what they saw.
Mary stays there in the garden, crying, puzzled, afraid, wondering. She notices a gardener, and asks him where Jesus’ body has been taken. And then the gardener speaks her name, “Mary.” The voice is filled with compassion and joy, as if he says, “Surprise!”
Suddenly she realizes the gardener speaks with Jesus’ voice. And looking at him, she sees that the gardener is really Jesus. She falls at his feet and weeps with joy, hugging him, and perhaps kissing the wounds in his feet. But he says, “Don’t hold onto me. I can’t stay here with you.” I imagine he adds, “I wanted to show you that I have been raised from death, just as I promised.”
Jesus tells her to go and tell the disciples that she has seen Jesus, which she does. Next week, we’ll hear the story of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples later that day.
I have spent some time talking about the conversation between Mary and Jesus because it’s the part of the story that grabs my attention this year. I notice what happens when Jesus calls Mary by name. When he uses her name, she recognizes he is there with her, and she responds to him.
… We all notice it when someone calls our name. We respond with love when we are named with love by our spouses. How many of us turn to respond to the child in the grocery store who calls out “Mommy!” or “Daddy!” even though most of us are grandparents? When we are baptized, we are named before God, so Jesus can easily call us by name. “Suzy, Billy, you are my beloved child, now and forever.”
… Just about a week before the crucifixion Jesus had called out to Lazarus by name: “Lazarus, come out!” and he awoke from death and came walking out of his tomb.
In a later appearance of Jesus to the disciples, in John chapter 21, Jesus speaks directly to Peter. “Simon son of Jonah, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” “Feed my sheep.” We see in this passage two things: Jesus forgives Peter for denying him, and a commissioning to tell others about the resurrection. Peter responds by passionately following Jesus to his own death.
Much earlier, in John Chapter 4, Jesus speaks with the Samaritan woman at the well. While we do not know her name, we know that Jesus called to her heart, and she heard him, responding with her own heart.
In the same way, Jesus called out to Nicodemus, and to the man born blind.
Like the shepherd knows the names of all the sheep in a flock, Jesus knows all of our names. And he calls out to us, in little and in powerful ways. I hope you have all had at least once the sense that Jesus has called your name.
For example, last summer Deacon Diane and I were at a conference in Traverse City, Michigan. The conference addressed ways to do ministry in today’s world, and how the younger generations are like and unlike older generations.
Much of that material was familiar to me, but I gained a better understanding of the need to change the way we do ministry. That was good and I was glad I went to the conference.
BUT: The thing I remember the most was a single comment by Pastor Rick Barger, the president of Trinity Lutheran Seminary. You’ve heard me use it a lot since that conference. He said simply, “The tomb is empty.”
Well, I’ve known that for a long time. I have believed it since I could understand the words. But, the way Rick said it was as if Jesus had called my name in the room that day. “The tomb is empty!” … So, there is nothing that Jesus and I can’t do together.  Paul says in Philippians, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
When Jesus calls our name and we respond, wonderful things happen. We discover and rediscover that the tomb is empty. We finally get it that we can do whatever it is that God is calling us to do. When has Jesus called your name? What has he invited you to do?
·         Visit the sick?
·         Make quilts?
·         Mow the lawn?
·         Cook a pot of soup or a whole meal for the congregation?
·         Clean the carpets?
·         Advocate for justice for the poor, the abused, the homeless?
·         Teach children about Jesus? Teach adults about Jesus? Learn more about Jesus?
·         Invite someone you know to learn more about Jesus’ love and forgiveness?
·         Tell someone that the tomb is empty?
Listen for Jesus to call your name and let his love for you fill your heart. Let his courage give you courage.  Let his power give you power. Let the empty tomb be your guiding light.
Please pray with me. Risen Lord Jesus, we hear you calling our names. Remind us often that the tomb is empty. Lead us and we will follow. Amen