April 10, 2022 – Forgiveness Through the Cross

On Palm Sunday we hear two Gospel readings.

It is the only Sunday in the church year that we hear two Gospel readings.

These two readings though are dramatically different.

The first reading from the Gospel of Luke celebrates Jesus as the triumphant messiah who comes to live among us.

The crowd spreads their cloaks on the road.

In the Gospel of John, it says that they also took branches from palm trees and they spread them on the road as a way of honoring Jesus.

The second Gospel reading is entirely different.

That reading tells of Jesus’ passion and death on the cross.

Jesus’ suffering on the cross reflects back to us all the unjust suffering in the world and all the senseless violence in the world – that we see even today.

Jesus, an innocent man, suffering, dying by the hand of the crowd and by those in power.

But from the cross God does something that no one anticipates – especially those that opposed Jesus.

On the cross God does something new.

God does something that only God can do.

God transforms the violence and the evil of the cross.

God takes the suffering, the passion, and the death of his son and redeems it.

God transmutes the cross into a miracle for you and for me.

Now whenever we look upon the cross, we do not receive condemnation but we receive life-giving grace.

Real grace.

True grace.

On the cross Jesus even prays that God would forgive those who crucified him.

And God forgives.

The crowd that shouted for him to be crucified.

Forgiven.

God forgave them.

The disciples who abandoned Jesus.

Forgiven.

God forgave them.

Pilate and those in power who ordered the crucifixion.

Forgiven.

God forgave them.

Today we who regularly sin and who regularly abandon Jesus.

Forgiven.

God forgives us.

Jesus forgives.

God forgives.

The Holy Spirit forgives.

This is truly the Gospel in its purest form.

The radical message of God’s enduring, persistent grace.

The meaning of grace is to receive something that we do not deserve.

We often live our lives with a great sense of entitlement.

We believe that we have a right for the things that we want in our life and we often take without thinking about how our taking affects other people.

When it comes to our faith in God, we can even approach God with a feeling of entitlement.

We demand things from God.

We even demand God’s grace and forgiveness.

But the truth is that we do not deserve any of these gifts from God.

Scripture clearly points out that we fall time and time again from the ways of God.

But the miracle of Palm Sunday is shouting at us this day.

God chooses to give even though we do not deserve God’s love and forgiveness.

God loves us and forgives us because God is gracious.

It is not because we are so good.

It is because God is so good.

We don’t deserve any of God’s good blessings.

We are not entitled to anything from God.

We receive God’s blessings and forgiveness because God chooses to give to us these things.

This is the miracle of Palm Sunday.

The definition of miracle is an extraordinary and astonishing happening, that surpasses all known human or natural powers, and that great happening is attributed to the action of God.

A miracle points to the power of God at work in the world.

The great writer C.S. Lewis once said that a miracle is something so unique that is breaks a pattern so expected and established that we hardly even consider the possibility that it could be broken.

In other words, a miracle completely disrupts our typical way of looking at things.

A miracle has the power to create a shift in our thinking about the world.

A miracle has the power to create a shift in our understanding of who God is.

This is what happens on Palm Sunday.

For in the miracle of Palm Sunday we know by faith that…

God loves.

On this day we know that God forgives.

On the cross-God choses to reconcile the world back to God’s-self.

And then God does one more thing.

The cross and the forgiveness that we receive from God through the cross is not the end of the story.

There is still much more.

This is only the beginning for us.

After the cross, after the miracle of what God is doing here, God pushes us forward to join him in mission.

After the cross God invites us to join him in taking part in the healing of the world.

As we are forgiven, healed, and set free from that which would hold us captive

– God sends us out to be missionaries, healers, and workers in God’s new kingdom.

God’s new kingdom is marked with love and grace and this is all possible because of the miracle of the cross.

The cross is the bridge by which all people are forgiven, by which all people are invited to come to God, by which we join God in mission and in ministry.

God chooses the way of the cross so that we might be have new life.

On Palm Sunday we enter into this new life with all the restorative healing power that comes from God.

As followers of Jesus this new life only comes to us by this most holy and sacred way.

It is the way of the cross.

And the cross is the way to Easter.

This coming week is the holiest week of the entire church year.

This coming week we anticipate our Lord’s resurrection.

We wait for it and we hope for it, knowing by faith that it will indeed come.

You and I are witnesses.

Forgiveness, new life, grace it is all around us at this time of the church year.

Praise be to God!

Blessed is the coming kingdom!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!

These palm branches which we wave today in worship are a sign of our hope in God.

Keep this palm branch in a visible place this coming week.

-pray that Jesus would come in and walk with you this week.

May we find our voices this day in proclaiming the wonderful miracle of Palm Sunday that in Christ we are forgiven and loved by God.

I pray that this coming week you might experience moments of grace.

May you feel the blessing of being a part of the whole Body of Christ this Holy Week.

May you receive the Lord’s grace.

And may you be surprised by God’s rich love poured out for all of us in Jesus.

Let us pray:

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April 6, 2022 – Violence, Evil, and the Cross

Tonight, I have decided to do something a little different.

With this being our last Wednesday together before Holy Week I would like to give a short meditation upon Jesus’ passion and death on the cross.

On Sunday we will hear the long passion reading from the Gospel of Luke.

In preparation for that dramatic reading, I offer this evening some reflections on violence, evil, and the cross.

I chose tonight’s sermon topic before the beginning of Lent and before the war in Ukraine.

Since the start of the war in Ukraine every evening as we turn on the news, we come face to face with great evil and violence.

But even before the war in Ukraine we are all well-aware that violence and evil acts are committed all the time.

The pain and the suffering never ends.

The pain and suffering of innocent people never ends.

Trying to make sense of all of this is an exercise in futility.

But this is where our faith comes in.

It is through the cross of Christ where God meets us in our pain and in our suffering.

Through the great evil and violence that Jesus suffered on the cross God was willing to go to the darkest place and most painful place for us.

The theology of the cross does not explain why there is violence and why there is evil in this world.

But what the cross does do is that it communicates to us how Jesus was willing to suffer for and with us.

Jesus experienced violence, evil, suffering, pain, and despair from the cross.

On the cross he said, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!”

Jesus even felt the pain of being abandoned by God.

And in that moment in time on the cross Jesus hangs there in a space between faith and doubt.

In the hymn, What Wondrous Love is This, which we will sing to begin our Good Friday service, we will ponder such a love that would take Jesus to the cross.

Jesus is the suffering servant who lived in a brutal and violent world.

Pontus Pilate was a harsh and unjust ruler.

He was a violent man – who sent Jesus to the cross.

It would appear now, at this point, as Jesus suffered on the cross that Jesus’ life came to an end in a final violent, evil act.

But we all know that this is not the end of the story.

Our faith does not end with such a conclusion.

Our forty-day Lenten journey takes us to this point – and to this very edge.

We follow Jesus to the cross.

We take up our cross and follow him.

We take a hard look at the violence and the evil in the world.

And then we give witness to a greater truth.

It is a truth that is more powerful than the forces that oppose it.

It may seem, at times, that evil has the last word.

It may even be for a time that evil does have the last word.

For three days Jesus’ followers believed that violence and evil had won.

But then something happened.

From the cross a true miracle happened.

On the cross Jesus surprises us.

On the cross he not only meets us in our suffering and pain but Jesus makes the cross the defining act by which he will sacrifice himself for our salvation.

Jesus becomes the sacrifice of love.

The cross does not explain why there is suffering, violence, evil, pain, or sin in the world.

What the cross does do for us though is it communicates to us that God is on our side and that God loves us.

Today the cross is a great critique and rebuke of all the senseless and terrible violence in the world.

In the cross evil and violence ends in love.

“Amazing pity, grace unknown, and love beyond degree, when God, the mighty maker died.”

To see God in the crucified Christ means to understand that in the violence and evil of this world the hunger, the war, the injustice, the racism, the pain that God is alive and that God suffers by us, with us, and that suffering is in God.

In his suffering our suffering is changed and transformed by his love.

In the cross violence and evil have not won the final victory but rather on the cross Jesus puts an end to all crosses of death, to all the destructive webs of violence and evil in this world.

In the cross we come to see that God’s way of life is so much greater than our ways of death.

As Lent comes to an end and as we pray and fast during Holy Week and prepare our hearts to receive this great love and grace, we find our peace and our hope in the cross.

Let us pray:

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May 1, 2022 – Third Sunday of Easter

Jesus shows himself before his disciples.

His disciples are scared and afraid and Jesus appears before them.

He has risen from the dead.

He gives his disciples – his peace and he gives them the Holy Spirit – the very presence and breath of God.

And after he appears to his followers in Jerusalem – the disciples are ready to do great things in the name of Jesus.

So, what do the disciples decide to do?

After seeing their Lord and Savior risen from the dead.

You do just what you would do after seeing someone rise from the dead.

You go fishing.

Well, maybe not exactly what you would do but that is what the disciples do.

Simon Peter says to his friends, “I am going fishing.”

And his friends say back to him, “We will go with you.”

Can you see the humor in this text?

The disciples have just seen the risen Lord and what do they do…?  They decide to go fishing.

They return to what they know and what they are familiar with.

But while they are fishing that night, in the dark – they catch nothing.

Now it is morning – the light is out once again.

And there in the light -stands Jesus.

He is on the shore waiting for them – even though Jesus had just appeared to them, when they were in the locked house, the disciples not only are not willing to do what Jesus wants them to do… they do not even recognize him on the beach.

And Jesus goes along with his disciple’s fear and stubbornness and he calls out to them, “Children, you have no fish.”

Notice how Jesus uses the word, children.

The disciples answer, “No.”

In other words… you got that right.

So cast on the other side Jesus says.

A simple solution that might just work.

They cast their net on the other side and suddenly they catch so many fish that they cannot haul their net back into the boat.

And then the true miracle happens – not that they catch so many fish but that now a disciple knows who this man is.

The disciple who Jesus loves says to Peter, “It is the Lord!”

When Peter hears him say that he is the Lord, he too recognizes that it is Jesus.

And what does Peter do… he jumps into the water to escape from Jesus.

He is ashamed and does not want Jesus to see him.

But Jesus says in the Bible reading, “Bring some of the fish that you just caught.”
And Peter climbs back into the boat and drags the net filled with fish to Jesus.

153 fish in total.

153 fish what do you think that number means?

I don’t know either but wouldn’t it be interesting if we did know what that number meant.

Some scholars think it could refer to the total number of fish in the Sea of Galilee.

Therefore, this number could represent the disciples’ mission work to all the nations.

This number could also point to the abundant nature of God.

Regardless, of the symbolic meaning of the number – it is a lot of fish when they did not catch anything during the night.

But in the day – in the light – with Jesus they catch more than they need.

This points to the abundant nature of God!

Now comes the wonderful part of the Bible story.

At this point in the text, Jesus invites them to have breakfast.

They share in a meal of bread and fish.

We all know how life-giving it can be to eat with others.

Just two weeks ago we brought back our tradition of sharing in an Easter breakfast together between our two Easter services.

I really enjoyed that breakfast and how we shared together in a very special meal on Easter morning.

Did you know that sharing together in an Easter breakfast has its origin in this first Easter breakfast – as the risen Lord appears before his disciples and they share together in having breakfast?

After they finish their meal Jesus questions Peter three times about his love for him.

This is very hard for Peter.

Peter feels hurt that Jesus questions him three times.

Now remember Peter already feels bad here.

When he first sees, Jesus while he is in the boat, he jumps into the sea.

Later he gets up enough courage to still have breakfast with Jesus and then this happens.

Can you identify with Peter here?

Peter denied Jesus three times before Jesus was crucified.

He jumped into the sea when he first saw Jesus.

And now he feels hurt because Jesus questioned him three times about his love for Jesus.

Peter knows that he has messed up.

He has fallen short of his call to be a disciple.

Have you been there?

I know that I can be very hard on myself and feel badly when I fall short in some area.

Peter feels awful here.

He is ashamed of his behavior and he feels that he has let Jesus down.

All of us can identify with Peter here.

But Jesus still loves Peter just as Jesus still loves us – always.

Far more important than seeing Peter as one who denies Jesus and falls short is to understand and to recognize the love and grace of Christ.

And he says to him and to the other disciples, “Follow me.”

Follow me!

Jesus doesn’t give up on his followers.

Today this Bible reading is good news for us as well – just as it was for Peter and for those first disciples.

Jesus calls us to follow him and to give witness to Jesus in the world that God loves.

The future is open for the Holy Spirit to work and to move among us.

Our congregation is not defined by the last two years of the pandemic.

God is doing a new thing.

We are Easter people who celebrate the resurrection.

Christ was crucified but now is alive.

As the Psalmist says in Psalm 30 – Weeping lasts for the night but joy comes in the morning.

In the light of Christ, we follow Jesus in wonder, love, and praise.

Amen.

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Let us pray:

“Lord, may these words from my mouth and this meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, Lord, my Strength and my Redeemer.”

Amen

Two weeks ago, I shared a very personal story in my Sunday sermon.

I spoke how the Lord greatly renewed my faith, some sixteen years ago now, through the holy meal of the Eucharist.

The word Eucharist is taken from the Greek and the word means:  “thanksgiving.”

In the Eucharist meal we receive Jesus Christ to which we are deeply thankful.

I was and I am grateful.

Sixteen years ago, I was just starting seminary and I was really wrestling with God and with my faith but at the same time I felt a persistent call from the Lord to a life of faith and service.

At Wartburg Seminary every Wednesday during morning chapel we received Holy Communion.

It was there at the table of the Lord that I received a very real spiritual healing.

The weekly meal brought healing and resurrection to my spirit at a very difficult time in my life.

The healing came for me at a time when I needed God to come to me and to ignite my faith.

The risen Christ appeared to me in the bread and the wine of the Eucharist and I felt a peace and a joy that I desperately needed at that time of my life.

I was experiencing a lot of pain at that time of my life and Jesus healed me.

Holy Communion is more than simply bread and wine.

Holy Communion is a miracle.

It is a miracle of God’s grace and mercy shown to us through Jesus’ body and blood.

It is the way that God uses through his Son to call his children home.

The Eucharist meal is a means of grace which means it is the way that Jesus calls us by name.

And please know that Jesus goes with you from the table.

So, it is not as if you receive Jesus in the Eucharist and then he is gone.

Jesus goes with you out from the worship service to a life of faith and service.

In my preaching you have noticed that I often turn my sermons back to meal – it is because not only do I believe in the words that Jesus said on the night in which he was betrayed but I have personally experienced its salvific power.

Jesus says in today’s Gospel reading, “My sheep hear my voice.  I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.”

The sheep – that’s us – we hear Jesus’ voice.

We hear his voice and we welcome and receive his presence.

The Psalmist says in Psalm 23, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

With Jesus comes blessings and abundance and grace.

Now this does not refer to material abundance or success or fame.

The Psalmist is referring to those things that truly matter in life – peace, joy, happiness, love.

And in Revelation chapter seven we hear that the Lamb at the center of the throne will be our shepherd, and he will guide us to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe every tear from our eyes.

Jesus will comfort us in our suffering and pain in this life and he will be with us to the very end.

These verses from Scripture give us hope for the future and these verses give us hope today.

In the light of God’s Word, in the real-presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, in the shared hope that we carry within – we move forward as the people of God at this time and in this place.

In this Easter season be open to miracles, trust in the movement and the power of the Holy Spirit at work within us, know that resurrection and new life is possible through Jesus Christ.

May Jesus’ healing presence be with us.

In Acts chapter nine a woman disciple named Tabitha became ill and died.

She was a deeply spiritual woman who devoted her life to helping others and to acts of love and charity.

Tabitha lived a life of faith and service.

When I think of Tabitha, I think of women saints who have greatly blessed the church of Christ over the years.

Tabitha, was such a disciple of Jesus.

When the disciple Peter finds out that Tabitha is dead, he immediately comes to the room were Tabitha laid.

Now this is where this Bible story gets very interesting.

Peter knees down on the ground.

Then he begins to pray.

And then he says, “Tabitha, get up.”

Tabitha opens her eyes and she rises.

Tabitha who once was dead is now alive!

Peter preforms this miracle through the power of God.

The same Peter who was scared and afraid.

The same Peter who denied Jesus.

The same Peter who turned away from Jesus – is now in Jesus’ name healing and raising the dead.

Now Peter trusts in Jesus, he follows Jesus, and he is living in the light of Christ.

We too are given power and boldness and new life to do great things in the name of Jesus.

Like Peter after seeing the risen Lord we may be tempted to return to the familiar – to return to what we know, to dismiss the resurrection as an idle tale.

Peter returned to fishing.

It is not as if Peter should never go fishing again but now in the light of the risen Christ he is called to much greater things.

As we go about our day to day lives, we are called to greater things in the name of Jesus.

Often like Peter we resist.

We hold on to our pain because we do not want to let it go and to give to Jesus, we do not trust in the full power of the Holy Spirit, we may not really believe in the resurrection and the gift of new life that come to us even now.

But Jesus continues reaching out to us – never letting us go.

That is what Jesus did for me in the Eucharist sixteen years ago now during the season of Easter and that is what he does for me still.

It is what he does for all of us.

He reaches out to us with his real presence – to that we ever eternally grateful.

And so may the Lord bless you with his real presence in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.

May you hear his voice and may you follow him now in this life and may you follow to eternal life in heaven.

And may the peace and grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ be with you now and always.

Amen.

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May 15, 2022 – Fifth Sunday of Easter

A reading from Philippians chapter four:

“The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The Apostle Paul teaches us in his letter to the Philippians to not be anxious about anything.

In life there are so many reasons for why we might be anxious.

So many cares at hand to worry about.

Anxiousness often leads to long-term anxiety where the worry is continuous – it just keeps going.

The word anxiety comes from the Greek word:  ankho.

That Greek word refers to a tightening or a compressing feeling – it is a choking feeling.

Just talking about this is giving me anxiety!

With anxiety we do not fear what we have already lost.

With anxiety we fear what is still to be lost.

The Apostle Paul wants to calm our anxiety here.

He wants to encourage us and to bring us back to the truth that in the midst of our anxiety that God is near.

And more than that… that God gives us a peace that is beyond our understanding.

It is a peace that calms our anxiety and the storms in our lives.

Last year I led a Bible study on the book of Revelation.

It was the second time that I led a Bible study on that book.

This time though as I read through it during the anxious time of a pandemic a key insight that kept coming to me was how much the writer, John wanted to give the people hope and peace in the midst of trials.

In Revelation chapter twenty-one John paints a beautiful vision of God’s kingdom.

He is giving hope to a people that are being greatly persecuted.

He writes:

“I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.”

John continues:

“I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.”

This new city has none of the things in it that cause people mourning and crying and pain.

The world that the first Christians knew and that we know today with its violence and suffering – is gone.

The world that the first Christians knew and that we know with its pain and grief will be wiped away.

Now in this text John does not explain why there is suffering.

He does not teach us how we should interpret the suffering in life only that it will be wiped away by the very presence of God.

John has a different agenda here.

He wants people to know this:

God has made all things new!

This text gives us one of the greatest pictures of heaven from the Bible.

I often will read this Revelation reading at a funeral service especially at a graveside service in the cemetery.

These words speak to the hope that we carry inside as people of faith.

The book of Revelation and in particular this text from Revelation speaks to our deep human longing and need for peace and for rest in the Lord.

We long even now for the new Jerusalem – the place where God dwells with God’s people.

We long for the place where we are free from the old order of things.

We want God to make all things new and we want to speed towards its coming.

For the early Christians to have faith in Jesus and to do ministry in his name meant that they were speeding forward to the new day of God’s coming.

It’s like this:

You know when you are watching a video and you push the fast forward button.

That’s how the early Christians saw their ministry.

Living in holy ways and having faith in Jesus pushed forward the day when God would restore and renew all things.

Having faith in Jesus would quicken the day where we would be with God and all of God’s people in the New Jerusalem.

This is why when you read the New Testament there is always this great sense of urgency.

For the first Christians they believed that the coming kingdom of God was just around the corner.

They even believed that the day of Christ’s coming again would happen in their lifetime because they believed that with faith and in living a life in Christ, they hastened the day when Christ would make all things new.

In 2 Peter chapter three we hear of both warning and promise.

The writer of 2 Peter writes:

“The day of the Lord will come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.  Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.  The day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.  But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.”

These past two years, I think has created a sense of urgency among us.

Our collective anxiety and worry and fear at times has been intense but this time has also caused us to lean more deeply into our faith – in order to speed and to hasten the day of Christ’s coming.

This time has caused us to reevaluate things, to get our own house in order meaning to resolve and to face our fears and our anxiety, to make amends and to seek reconciliation where it is needed, and to return in faithful living to God.

The pandemic has taught us that life is short and that we don’t have a lot of time here on earth.

Even if we live to be ninety – time always goes so much faster than what we ever imagined.

We don’t have a lot of time to live in the ways of God’s love and so the present moment is always the best time to seek the Lord and to come to him laying aside our anxiety and trusting in his peace.

And so, I leave you all with a promise from Scripture from 2 Corinthians chapter five:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new.”

In Christ we are freed from that which holds us captive and we are free to live into the peace that passes all understanding.

And so, when we feel that choking feeling of anxiety may the peace of God be even greater.

May we all come to rest more deeply in the presence of God for God is making all things new.

And may the grace and peace of God our father and from our risen Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ be with us now and always.  Amen.

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May 22, 2022 – Spiritual Vision

Caryll Houselander, a writer and spiritual teacher, tells of a powerful, vision that she had of the risen Christ.

In her own words I would like to share part of her story to begin my sermon:

It all happened, she writes, on a very ordinary day:

“I was in an underground train, a crowed train in which all sorts of people came together, workers of every kind going home at the end of the day.  Then quite suddenly I saw with my mind, but as vividly as a wonderful picture, Christ in them all.

But I saw even more than that; not only was Christ in everyone of them, living in them, rejoicing with them, sorrowing in them – but because he was in them and because they were here the whole world as it were was here too, here in this underground train – at that very moment.

The train ride ended.  I came out into the street and walked for a long time in the crowds.  It was the same here, on every side, in every passer-by -Christ.  I saw the risen Christ everywhere.

After a few days the vision faded.  People looked the same again, there was no longer the same shock of insight.  Now each time I was face to face with another human being, I simply saw another human being.  Christ seemed hidden once again, indeed through the years to come I would have to seek for him and usually I would find him in others and still more in myself only through a very deliberate and blind act of faith.”

Houselander’s spiritual vision speaks to the presence of Jesus among us.

The presence of the risen Christ with us!

He is here, he is there, he is everywhere.

In one Gospel Jesus said:

“I am the light above everything.  I am everything.  Everything came forth from me, and everything reached me.  Split wood, I am there.  Lift up a rock, you will find me.”

Gospel of Thomas

And in another Gospel Jesus said:

“I am the light of the world.”  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Gospel of John

Granted sometimes in life it may seem like Jesus is more hidden than visible.

We know that he is the light of the whole world but do we live as though he is the light of the whole world.

Even as we gather together on Sunday mornings, the time in which we set aside for worship and for our spiritual growth, do we anticipate encountering the risen Christ in worship?

In our day to day lives do we anticipate the risen Christ walking with us?

Now this is where a leap of faith is required in order for us to experience Christ with us.

Without this leap of faith, we may get stuck in our faith.

To recognize the presence of the divine Christ in every thing and every one is to take one big step forward in our spiritual maturity.

This step forward though does not happen through our own power or effort.

In fact, it cannot.

I love this quote by Martin Luther!

Luther writes in the Small Catechism:

“I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel.”

Faith happens through the work of the Holy Spirit in us.

The vision that Paul received in Acts chapter 16 and that John received in Revelation 21 came about through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said in the Gospel of John chapter fourteen:

“The advocate, meaning the helper, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”

Now what does the Holy Spirit teach us?

The Spirit teaches us what Houselander saw in her vision – that Christ is with us, in us, and around us.

The risen Christ is with us even now.

It is like this…

In life sometimes things pass us by without us truly noticing or seeing it.

Maybe we are even trying to see what we are looking at but cannot.

Let me give you an example here:

For years I was trying to connect with the ideas of the theologian and teacher, Richard Rohr.

I have been buying his books, reading his books, and then telling Kalen after each attempt… I don’t connect with this author!

But this past week… all of a sudden, for some reason, I picked up one of his books, from my shelf, and started reading.

And his ideas started connecting for me for the first time.

Not only was it affecting me here in my mind, where I could process what he was saying, but maybe more importantly I started to feel it here and that is when the book really started to impact me.

What changed?

It’s hard to say… but something did change in me and now I see what the author was trying to say and now I know why so many people love reading books by him – including many of my friends.

The Advocate, which could also be translated as helper or as one called to one’s side is the One who helps us to see Jesus.

I especially like that image of the Spirit as One who is called to walk alongside of us – teaching us and reminding us that Jesus and his peace is upon us.

This Spirit, who is called to walk with us, opens our eyes to see the risen Christ among us – to feel his joy, to feel his pain, to experience him in the here and now.

May the Holy Spirit call, gather, and enlighten us and on the last day bring us and all believers in Christ eternal life.

Amen.

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May 29, 2022 – Belonging through Christ

As I reflected deeply this past week, one word that kept coming back to me was the word, belonging.

To belong is to be a part of something bigger than one’s-self while at the same time maintaining one’s own unique self.

In other words, you are connected to a wider group of people while being yourself in the group.

Belonging is not dependent on what one does.

Belonging is not dependent on the approval of others.

Belonging just is.

I have often said that the starting place for faith is that of belonging.

We belong to God and in Christ we belong.

Faith is that basic and that profound.

Last Sunday in my sermon, I spoke about a person who had a spiritual vision.

In this vision she suddenly saw Christ.

Jesus came to her and in her vision, she could see Christ in others.

There was this feeling of connection and oneness.

The vision was so moving for her that it changed her life.

She came to a new understanding of what it means to belong to Christ.

In our Gospel reading for today Jesus prays a prayer for us.

It is a prayer for something that we desperately need in our world today.

Jesus prays:

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.  As you, Father are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me.”

From this prayer, what did you hear?

When I hear this pray from Jesus.

These truths come out of the prayer:  a prayer for oneness, a prayer for belonging, a prayer that Christ would be in us through the glory of the Father.

And lastly, I hear that Jesus is praying for unity.

There are so many forces at work in the world that undermine unity.

The kind of oneness and unity that Jesus has with God is the same kind of oneness and unity that Jesus wants for us.

Can this be true for us?

I can remember as a child walking through a small-town neighborhood with my father.

We were visiting his hometown of Akron, Iowa.

Akron is a tiny community in western Iowa.

As we walked together, I can recall seeing church after church on every street corner.

And I asked my dad, “Why are there so many different churches when we all believe in Jesus?”

Maybe you too have had that same question.

My father’s response has held up for me now for over three decades of my life.

He said to me, “Tom, the Lord speaks to us all but he speaks to us all in different ways.”

I believe that this is true.

The Holy Spirit speaks to each one of us but the Holy Spirit speaks to us in different ways.

Our unity is not found in having the exact same experiences of faith or in having the exact same theological beliefs – our unity is found in Christ – in Christ we belong.

In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ we belong to God and we belong to the community of saints.

The advocate, the Holy Spirit, helps us to understand and to come to the knowledge of this truth.

Because of the Holy Spirit we can together pray this prayer of unity:  “Come, Lord Jesus, come.”

“Come, Lord Jesus, come!”

In that prayer, we may we receive this blessing that John writes in Revelation:

“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints.”

John does not say in the book of Revelation that some of the saints would receive this bless or every other saint or the ones that believe in having churches that like red carpet vs. green carpet.

No, John’s blessing is for all the saints of God.

All the saints of God belong.

And so, people of God, remember that we belong.

We belong as the saints of God.

We pray for those in need and we especially pray for those who have forgotten that they belong.

We pray for oneness and unity in Christ.

We are called to be bridge builders who work together to build up the body of Christ.

And may God bless us in this holy work.  Amen.

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June 5, 2022 – Pentecost Sunday

This is a good day!

Today is Pentecost Sunday!

We are gathered together as God’s people.

We have come together from different places.

We come with faith that God is here.

By faith we believe that God is present with us through God’s Holy Spirit.

On Pentecost Sunday, we remind each other of the presence of the Spirit among us.

The Spirit connects us and joins us together as the Body of Christ.

The word Pentecost comes from the Greek and the word means fifty.

Pentecost Sunday is celebrated in the church fifty days after Easter.

You might look at this day as an opportunity for a fresh start in your spiritual life.

Or like a reset in your faith and your walk with Jesus.

The Spirit renews life.

The Spirit brings new energy and new power into our lives.

The Spirit helps us and guides us to live lives of faith.

We celebrate this gift today.

And we celebrate this day knowing that we all come to this day with different backgrounds.

And we also come to this day from different places in our faith.

We are all at a different point in our spiritual journeys.

But the Spirit brings us all together just like the Spirit brought those first Christians all together on the Day of Pentecost.

In the book of Acts the people came together from all different places and yet they understood each other through the power of the Spirit.

The text demonstrates to us how the Holy Spirit can make us one and can bring unity.

This same Spirit of God is at work in us now.

Again, no matter what place we are at in our faith lives or in our personal lives the Spirit is working through each one of us.

Let me tell you a story…

When Kalen was serving in her first congregation in Iowa an older and very respected member of the church came to speak to Kalen.

This was not her name but I will call her Martha.

Martha said, “Pastor Kalen, I wanted to tell you that you may ask me to help with worship in any way except please don’t ever ask me to read in worship.”

“OK, I will not,” Kalen said back to her.

“You see,” Martha continued, “I don’t know how to read.”

“Also, if you see me not singing or participating in the worship service it is not because I don’t care it’s because I can’t read and I can only participate in the parts of the service that I already know by heart.”

“But even though I cannot read and participate as fully as others I still find the service so meaningful to me.”

This member found a place for herself at that small, country parish in rural Iowa and the Spirit helped her to feel that she too belonged.

The Spirit was at work in her life helping her to know that she too was connected with others in Christ.

One more story here…

One of my colleagues that I serve with in this Synod is blind.

I once asked him to share with me what it is like for him to lead a worship service.

He shared with me that because he cannot see his parishioners, he has needed to find other ways to know that he is connecting with them.

For example, he told me that when he is preaching there often comes a point where he can tell if the people are engaged with his sermon by listening very carefully to how they are breathing.

Yes, you heard me right.

He shared that when the people are truly receiving the message, they breath together more closely as a group and after years and years of preaching he shared with me that he can feel that slight shift in energy in the sanctuary.

He can do this by simply paying attention to the way in which his congregation is breathing.

In the Bible the breath is often connected with the Spirit.

The Spirit is seen as the breath of life and the Spirit sustains life.

The Spirit joins us together from many different places and gives us the ability to be connected as followers of Jesus.

No matter who we are or in what place we are at in our faith the Spirit speaks to us and joins us together as the people of God.

Now granted sometimes we miss the mark and sin enters in and we think that we are more separate than unified.

We think that we have to choose a side and be separate from one another.

But the Spirit is always working to bring us together.

Last Sunday during worship we heard Jesus’ prayer from the Gospel of John about unity.

Jesus prays that we might be one and the Holy Spirit makes it so.

On this Pentecost Sunday may the Holy Spirit speak to us anew.

May the Spirit give our congregation a fresh start as we move into a new season in the church year.

May the Spirit give us that reset that we need in faith and in life so that we might continue joining God in mission.

This coming week look for ways to build community.

Look for ways to find similarities instead of differences in others.

It is easy to see how we are different but can we find ways that we are the same – one people in Christ.

No matter how different you might feel you are from your neighbor remember always what we hear on Ash Wednesday – we are dust and to dust we shall return.

In the end we are return to God from whom we came from.

We have a lot in common after all.

And lastly, remember the two people that I spoke about this morning and may their stories give witness to the unifying power of the Holy Spirit.

From the outside we may, at times, seem very different but through the power of the Holy Spirit we are all a part of the Body of Christ.

Amen.

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June 19, 2022 – Serve One Another

One night a man has a very powerful dream.

In his dream he goes to heaven.

There in heaven he meets Jesus.

Jesus welcomes him at the Pearly Gates.

But before the man can through the gates and receive eternal rest, he must first visit the other place.

So, the man then descends with Jesus into hell.

There the man sees millions of unhappy, hungry people seated at a very large table.

The table is filled with very fine food.

But no one is eating.

The man wonders why these people are hungry.

He asks Jesus, “Why are these people not eating?”

Jesus replies, “To eat here you must use 11-foot-long spoons.”

“That’s terribly harsh,” the man says back to Jesus, “There is no way you can eat with a spoon like that.

Jesus looks at him with love and says back to him, “You are correct.”

Then in an instant the man is taken right back to heaven.

This time the man is allowed to enter into the gates of heaven.

Upon entering heaven, the man again sees millions of people seated at a very large table.

The same food is set on the table – an identical scene.

People are laughing, full with good food, and they are very happy.

The man asks Jesus, “Do these people have different spoons to eat with?”

“No, the same 11-foot spoons.”

The man is very confused at this point.

“I don’t understand.  How is this possible.”

Jesus again looks lovingly at the man, “My child, in heaven people have learned how to feed each other.”

“You cannot eat from an 11-foot spoon but you could feed someone else with one.”

“Heaven is where we have learned to give and to receive.”

“Welcome into this place.”

On this Father’s Day I remember how my father would tell me this story when I was a child.

He would tell me this story to teach me a great truth about how we should live life in the here and now.

Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “on earth as it is in heaven.”

When we care for one another and when we serve one another then no one goes hungry and we share the love of Jesus with others.

Today this story still impacts me and reminds me how we are to live on this side of heaven.

In the Galatians reading for today we hear that in Christ Jesus we are all children of God, that we belong to Christ, and that through faith we are heirs of the promise.

The promise is the gift of God’s grace for you and for me.

We are saved both in this life and in the life to come through God’s grace.

When it comes to faith in Jesus – faith in Jesus is grace responding to grace – gracefully.

In order to end with God’s grace in heaven and be heirs of the promise we must first start with God’s grace right now in this moment.

Our lives are to be about the activity of sharing God’s grace.

How we serve one another, how we care for one another, how we treat one another – these are the things we ought to be thinking about.

When we respond to God’s grace we live in grace-filled ways.

As imperfect as we are, at times, God’s grace is bigger.

God’s love invites us into living more deeply in Christ.

We are invited as heirs of the promise to the table of the Lord.

But in order for us to fully enjoy God’s bountiful provisions and blessings we must first learn how to share, to serve, and to give.

We cannot hoard and keep God’s blessings to ourselves – they must be shared.

The Holy Spirit will empower us and guide us always.

The Church of Christ is called to show a glimpse of God’s welcoming table right now.

In Christ the Spirit transforms us into a people that live by the ways of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – the very fruits of the Spirit.

God compels us to love and to serve one another with humility and grace.

This coming week look for ways to serve and to proclaim the good news of God in Christ Jesus through word and deed.

This means that you might teach a child the song, “Jesus Loves Me,” you might extend a welcoming hand to a new neighbor, you might call someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one, you might seek reconciliation with a co-worker or speak words of grace and forgiveness, you might even serve a meal to someone in need.

By serving others we move our hope in God’s future kingdom into action in this life for the sake of God’s world and for the sake of God’s people.

At the end of our lives, we may have some regrets.

But we will not regret the ways that we have served others, the ways that we have given grace to others, and the ways that we have shared Christ’s peace.

Thanks be to God for God’s gift of life and grace in Christ!

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Jesus is slowly making his way to Jerusalem.

On the journey he is teaching his disciples.

When he gets to Jerusalem he will be rejected, he will suffer, and he will die.

The day is drawing near but it is not yet.

In the meantime, Jesus is sending messengers ahead of him and he is going from village to village.

On the way some do not receive him.

At one point, James and John are greatly angered by this.

They say to Jesus, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”

Do you ever have prayers like this?

“Lord, I forgive this person but please send down fire from heaven to consume him.”

Amen.

Here Jesus is not amused.

In fact, he rebukes his disciples and dismisses their question.

In life violence for violence often makes matters worse.

Jesus said in another Gospel those who take the sword will perish by the sword.

In other words, violence becomes a mirror.

Anger, revenge, violence reflects back towards the person.

So, Jesus will have none of it.

He simply teaches his disciples to walk away.

In verse 56 it says:  Then they went on to another village.

Sometimes we need to confront a situation head on.

But sometimes it is better to simply move on.

When I was a freshman in high school my family moved from Iowa to Illinois.

When you are a freshman in high school and you are a new kid, you quickly become an easy target for bullying.

And I discovered that year that if I simply walked away and ignored the bullies, they would lose interest in bullying me.

Walking away and choosing not to start a fight made all the difference.

Here Jesus teaches his disciples to move on to another village and that is what Jesus and his disciples do when they are not welcomed by the Samaritans.

They travel on.

And as they continue on their way someone approaches Jesus and says to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Here Jesus gives his famous line about his home:

“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Jesus is an itinerant preacher.

He is a traveling teacher.

He does not have a permeant place to live.

He goes from village to village seeking those who will listen to him.

And then another person approaches Jesus, Jesus says to him, “Follow me,” and he says back to Jesus, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

Jesus wants him to go immediately to another village to proclaim the kingdom of God.

And then one more person approaches Jesus.

He says to Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”

Jesus says back to him, “No one puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Now what happens if we look back?

If we are moving forward and we stop to look back sometimes we turn back – don’t we?

Sometimes we turn around and then we never return to that which we are called to turn to.

Jesus knows the human condition.

He knows that if people turn away from him to take care of some business, they may never come back to him again.

So, when Jesus catches someone he wants that person to come to him right now.

Have you ever wanted to do something in life but never got around to doing it because too many other things came your way?

When I was a child, I really wanted to learn how to play the piano.

But when opportunities came my way to learn how to play, I would pass them by… thinking I would do learn how to play at some future time.

And suddenly before I knew it, I was an adult and my opportunity to learn how to play the piano was gone.

Yes, I can still pick it up even today but it is not the same.

Learning to play the piano is like learning a language it is much easier done when you are a child.

I may learn how to play it somewhat but I will never learn how to play the piano like I could if I would have picked it up when I had the chance as a child.

To follow Jesus means to follow him now… today.

If we put off following him today, we may put off following him tomorrow which may mean we put off following him next week… next month… next year.

So, this teaching from our Lord may seem harsh but it is actually a very gracious teaching.

It is like the song, The River, by Garth Brooks where he sings, “Too many times we stand aside and let the waters slip away til what we put off til tomorrow has now become today.”

For Jesus following him is always about following him today.

It is in listening to him, praying to him, and in responding to him today without delay.

By God’s grace, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we follow Jesus and find life in him.

Through Christ we move forward in positive and in life-giving ways as we journey with Jesus to the cross and to the life that he gives us beyond the grave.

Choose him, choose life in Christ – follow Jesus.

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