The Good Shepherd

Scripture:  John 10:11-18

New International Version

11 “I amO)” data-cr=”#cen-NIV-26493O” style=””> The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away.13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd;S)” data-cr=”#cen-NIV-26496S” style=””> and my sheep know me– 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the FatherU)” data-cr=”#cen-NIV-26497U” style=””> 16 I have other sheepW)” data-cr=”#cen-NIV-26498W” style=””> and one shepherd.17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.

Sermon

What are you associations with the word “shepherd?” What comes to mind?

  • our Christmas pageant
  • one person in an expansive landscape
  • leading us to abundance to be fed
  • protector
  • guide

We have to reach a bit to a different context where more shepherds exist to learn about a shepherd. 

I want to show you a video of a pen of sheep in Harestua, Norway. It’s time for the sheep to be fed and there is a specific call the shepherd uses to draw them near. In the video, a tour group has come to see the sheep and they want to test the theory that sheep only obey their master (shepherd)’s voice. Let’s watch what happens:

As we see, the sheep won’t just come for anyone. They KNOW the voice and call of their shepherd and they respond only to him/her.

I learned this week that sheep will not go anywhere that their trusted shepherd does not first go to show them everything is ok. “Sheep seem to consider their shepherds part of the family and the relationship that grows up between the two is quite exclusive.” As we saw in the video, “they often develop a language of their own that outsiders are not privy to.”

They do so because it’s a dangerous world for sheep. There are all sorts of predators that go after them. Wolves, Bears, Lions. Thieves and bandits even that will try to separate and steal them. 

In the world of danger, they look to one trusted leader – the shepherd – to help them navigate the world. 

Shepherds are rich symbols in scripture. 

They are tasked with many things:

  • feeding their sheep 
  • strengthening the weak
  • healing the sick
  • binding up the injured
  • seeking out the lost
  • bringing back those who have strayed

In our passage today, Jesus identifies himself as a shepherd. — though not just any shepherd. He repeats that he is the GOOD Shepherd.

In greek, the word used here is “kalos.” Jesus is the kalos shepherd. 

This word, most often translated “good,” is frequently understood by Americans as the opposite of “bad.” While not inaccurate, kalos means “good” more in the sense of model. The very best. Jesus models what it is to be a good shepherd.

In verse 11 Jesus tells us what it means to be a kalos shepherd. He says that the kalos shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

And in verse 14 Jesus tells us that the kalos shepherd knows his sheep and they know him. Thus, kalos shepherding means a deep bond between shepherd and sheep. 

The shepherd will protect their sheep at any cost.

* * *

There’s a story in the Old Testament (1 Samuel 17: 34 -35) when King David is a young boy. The Israelites are under attack by a Philistine giant and David wants a chance to fight the giant and to protect his people. 

Saul is concerned for David’s well-being since he is “just a boy.” But David says, “Your servant [David] used to keep sheep for his father. Whenever a lion or bear came and took a lamb from the flock I went after it and struck it down rescuing the lamb from its mouth.”

What an image…. a young boy…. striking down a lion… a bear… in order to rescue one lamb from it’s mouth… 

This is the image Jesus creates for us in describing himself as the good shepherd. He is willing to go to any length, to sacrifice himself, to save us….. from the mouth of danger. 


* * *


Jesus compares the good shepherd to the hired hand. The core difference he points out is that the good shepherd OWNS the sheep and thus will do anything to protect them. Whereas the hired hand, sensing danger, will run away in order to save himself. 

There are hired hands out there who will leave the sheep. Let them be attacked, scattered and eaten… while they run away.

I wonder what it feels like to be a sheep in THAT sheep pen. Under the care of a hired hand. Unable to trust your leader because they just might abandon you… when facing danger. 

….How could you live? 

In that kind of fear….?

* * *

The news was hard to consume this week. 

Everywhere we looked – 

New York Times
USA Today

Facebook
Twitter

My eyes flashed over violent images of fire, destruction, police and rioters throwing rocks at each other.

I found myself thinking about how we are led by hired hands. 
Who often do not have vested interest in each other’s well-being. 

We ourselves are sometimes hired hands. People given voice and power who instead of jumping to action, look away so we ourselves won’t be harmed.

I found myself searching for the shepherd. The GOOD shepherd. To go after the sheep that are lost. The sheep being carried away in the mouth of the wolf. 

I found myself like a sheep, searching desperately for my shepherd. In fear, sadness, looking for my savior… to come… and to save them.

* * *

Then on top of images from Baltimore, there were more images  of rubble in Nepal. Thousands of people brutally wounded in immediate need of medical attention.

The flock that is scattered. Injured. Destroyed.

I found myself searching like a sheep for my shepherd… to go after the other sheep in danger. To save them from the predator’s mouth…

…and bring them back into the flock. 

…bind up the injured.

…strengthen the week.

…carry and comfort them.


I found myself wondering if our brothers and sisters who are experiencing such violence and pain BELIEVE there’s a good shepherd anymore. 

Can they believe that a good shepherd exists who knows them? 
who loves them?
who has the power to save them?

* * *

The prophets Zechariah, Ezekiel and Isaiah warn that some of us are sheep led by hired hands… who do not care about our well-being. Who will not lay down their lives for ours… 

And to these sheep, God speaks through the prophet:

“I became the shepherd of the flock doomed to slaughter.”

Throughout the Old Testament scriptures and in our text today through Jesus, God promises to seek out the sheep doomed to slaughter – and to be THEIR shepherd. 

Jesus came into this world – to know us – to feel our pain – and to lay down his own life in order to rescue us.

* * *

There is a video circulating online of a baby being rescued from the rubble after a bombing in Syria. 


The baby in this video was trapped for some 20 hours and is now alive and well. 

The footage of this community rescuing the baby trapped under rubble is a modern example of what Jesus does for us.

Jesus comes into the danger, digging away, Not giving up… to rescue us out of the rubble.



* * *


Jesus is the good shepherd. Our shepherd. 

He knows us and we know him. 

He has laid down his life for us – and continues to do so – saving our lives out of love. 

Friends, this bond Christ shares with us is deep. Like the sheep to their shepherd, it is built on intimate trust and knowledge. 

It’s a bond that cannot be broken. Jesus, Our Good Shepherd, will not break that bond. 


Thanks be to God. 

Amen. 


The Stranger

Scripture: Luke 24:13-35

New International Version (NIV)

On the Road to Emmaus
13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

19 “What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.


Sermon

At a meeting recently, I sat down beside an older couple.

I introduced myself, “Hi, I’m Dawn” and quickly the man interrupted me and saoi, “I know who you are.”

It was an awkward pause… ”Ok…” I said eventually.

Thinking to myself… I guess we’re not doing the polite thing where we reintroduce each other.

Finally he pulls out a piece of paper from his manila folder and it is an email from me. To him.

“Oh, I say, YOU’RE George.”

He nods and I realize how awkward the encounter really is. I had sent him an email a month ago complaining about the way a particular thing was handled and so he took the time to figure out who I was – the person behind the email. I, however, had not. I just fired off the email to the man with power and released it into cyber space without thinking twice.

Lucky for me, the encounter turned out quite lovely as we talked a bit more in person about the issue and took time to get to know each other better.

In this moment, I feel like I got a glimpse of what the two people in our story were experiencing as they encountered a stranger who knew exactly who they were.

* * *

Our scripture passage today is a pretty dramatic story, the outside looking in.

How could followers of Jesus, who were so close to him, worshiped, followed him… NOT RECOGNIZE who he is?

It seems bizarre to us, as we read the story already knowing the end, but for them, it was real. This person was a stranger. An odd stranger… perhaps the only person visiting Jerusalem who did not know the most important gossip of the weekend.

Jesus, in risen form is a stranger. Unfamiliar. Unknown.

We recognized Jesus when he was alive. People flocked to him for his teachings and healings.

We still get to know Jesus in living form as we read about his life and ministry in the gospels and we do our best to follow his teachings and ways.

We recognized Jesus in his death. In his suffering and wounds, we connect through the pain.

But now, the resurrected, risen Jesus?
He is impossible to recognize.

There are several accounts of Jesus appearing to his followers in risen form and EACH TIME he has to help them recognize him.

* * *

The risen Lord is a stranger to us because he does not fit into our understandings of time and space.

Through his resurrection, Jesus rose out of the confines of this world. The confines of time. He exists at the beginning of time, right now with us and in the future.

As he rose, he was set free from our projections and expectations as well. He became something new, something different.  Strange, to us.

This week I invited you to pay attention to where Jesus is in your daily life and, if you’d like, to share with me a vine (short video) with us.

I have two to share with you today. One created by Eden and one created by me.

#mbccFindJesus

#mbccFindJesus

On one hand, it’s easy. We believe that Jesus is everywhere. On the loose! So we can film just about anything and claim that it holds what is holy.

But, then, as we seek to capture it in film and explain to ourselves and others … It becomes more complicated.

HOW CAN WE recognize Jesus in risen form? If none of the followers could do it, how can we?

* * *

I’ve been compelled this week, in reflection of this text and in our task to look for Jesus, to slow down…

To pay attention…

and to wonder about the things around me.

The hipster on their phone… what are they doing? How is Jesus showing up in them for me?

The woman in the business suit. With her hurried pace and somewhere important to be. Jesus, (I think) is that you?

In the wind hitting my face as I cycle down Folsom St. I pause to wonder about time and space and how the risen Christ may be speaking to me in the strange form of the wind. The cold bite of air reminding me that I’m not alone. There are people and living things growing and moving all around me.

And as I slow, pause, wonder… I think of what Jesus shared with these two walking to Emmaus. He opened the scriptures to them… explaining to them that the gospel is real. Jesus has risen. He is not here in the same way.

He frees them from the confines of this world – from their grief –  to recognize him. The risen Savior… who has already fulfilled their hope and saved them.

And then they get it. They realize that their hearts were burning the whole time they were with him.

* * *

Last Monday was the Boston Marathon.

This annual running race has become one place I find Christ in a stranger.

Since the bombing two years ago, crowds gather at the race and more watch online to cheer on the courageous runners.

We recognize today in our news, that this race has become much more than a running event. It has become a tribute to those who were harmed by the violence. Who lost limbs or their very lives on the day of the bombing.

The runners and cheerers who gather claim new life and hope for a safer future. They do not let the violence stop them, but through it have drawn closer, more hopeful than ever.

It’s amazing to me that this event of strangers has become one of great meaning. We start out as strangers watching or running…. and then as we hear each other’s stories… and we draw closer to each other… our hearts burn within us…

We being to see, through each other, the truth of new life emerging out of death.

Our hearts burn within us as we see a victim of the bombing racing strong with the support of others.

Our hearts burn within us when we see the family who’s loved one was killed in the bombing finding new family in those who race today.

Our hearts burn within us when we see in each other, strangers, the same desire for hope….and new life emerging from tragedy.

The presence of a stranger can be a powerful way to recognize what we had not before.

The two walking to Emmaus FINALLY recognize Jesus in the breaking of bread. It is in the communal act of sharing food and in the remembrance of this same act he did right before his death, that it all FINALLY makes sense to them.

Jesus, you are risen!
You have redeemed Israel!
You have set us free!

* * *


Encountering Jesus in risen form is a strange task. We must look for him in unknown, unfamiliar places.

We must slow down enough to pay attention. To wonder at how Christ is present among us.

And as we do, I pray our eyes would be open to the saving grace of the risen Christ.

I pray that we could see ourselves and this world with renewed hope for resurrection.

I pray that our hearts would burn within us as we witness our Savior, in the form of a stranger, right here in our midst.

Amen.

I am the Life

Scripture: John 11: 1, 3-4, 17-27, 32-44

New International Version (NIV)


The Death of Lazarus
11 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 
3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God

Sermon

A woman Candy Chang lost someone she loved. She experienced the stages of grief and stayed put in the sad/depressed stage for quite some time. 

Daily, she would take walks through her neighborhood and she would pass this old abandoned house. One day as the passed that house she got an idea! She went home, researched and found the owners of the property and pitched her idea to them. 

They said yes and so she collected some items and started on her project.

First, she stripped the old paint and sanded the wall down. Then, she painted the entire wall with blackboard paint. The paint made it so that you could write on it with chalk, wipe it away and write again. 

Next, she made two stencils. One large one and another small one that said…”Before I die I want to…” She covered the entire wall with this phrase “Before I die I want to…” and a blank space after. 

Lastly, she put buckets of chalk in front of the wall and walked away. 

In the following days to come, as she took her daily walk, she read what people had written.

“Before I die…..” I want to

– write a novel
– fall in love
– travel the world to find my place
– live!
– abandon my insecurities
– spend more time with my children
– laugh until I cry

Candy Chang learned about her neighbors through this public art installation. By inviting them to ponder and answer this question “Before I die…” she created a forum for people to share their innermost thoughts and dreams with the community. 

As you can imagine, this project was inspirational. Through it, people gained perspective, a sense of being known by others and belonging to the greater community. 

There now art installations with this same questions “Before I die” painted on large walls in cities all over the world — one in Asheville, NC that I saw last week. 


* * *


In our scripture passage today Jesus addresses these themes:  life and death.

He is out traveling with his disciples, doing ministry, nearing his death and resurrection when he receives this news:

“The one who you love is sick”

The one…

who you love…

is sick. 

Our story begins stressing the depth of love in the relationship between Lazarus and Jesus.

Lazarus isn’t just an acquaintance, someone Jesus has seen in passing or healed before….Lazarus is one Jesus loves. It’s here that we are reminded of Jesus’ humanity. His depth of understanding of our love for one another. He knows. 

Jesus, in his humanity, goes through some stages of grief when he hears that Lazarus is sick and then when he sees that Lazarus has died.

  • Shock – Jesus changes his mind on when to go see Lazarus…it takes him a day or two to adjust and make plans.
  • Denial – Jesus says pretty early, Lazarus is not dying…he’s just sleeping. This likely is the gospel writer John proving the point that Jesus is the Messiah..but regardless, it shows Jesus’ humanity, too. 
  • Anger – Jesus gets a little angry with his disciples and Lazarus’ sisters who don’t seem to know what he is capable of doing. I think the anger is a little bit misplaced as often happens when we are grieving. 
  • Bargaining – Jesus does bargain with God the father in the form of his prayer at the end to help raise Lazarus from the dead.
  • Depression and Sadness – this is the most prominent emotion I see in Jesus. He witnesses Mary and Martha’s grief and “he is deeply moved.” He actually weeps. The shortest verse in the bible is here – Jesus wept. And it shows Jesus’ capacity to experience deep human love. 
  • Acceptance. The final stage of grief is acceptance and I think Jesus did accept Lazarus’ death as he was weeping and in his conviction raise Lazarus. 

We, like Jesus, grieve when someone we love is really ill. 

We grieve when someone we love dies – meaning that their heartbeat has stopped. The breath of life no longer flows. 

And yet, in this same story of Jesus experiencing human grief over death…

Jesus challenges us on what it means to live…and to die. 

23 Jesus says to Martha: “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.

In this response, Jesus fundamentally changes our understanding of life. Life is not dependent on your heart beating, or your breath flowing, or even your memory working. 

Life is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is life.  

What, then, is death?

* * * 

I asked this question to my father late one night at the kitchen table. Here’s what he said:

“If Jesus is life, then death is the absence of Jesus.”

My dad served as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) for a while and he told me that when they arrived at a scene, they had a particular test to see if people were conscious or not. 

They would call out, “What is your name?” And if they responded with their name… they were conscious.
And if they couldn’t, they were unconscious. 

Another tactic they would use was to ask the person TO BLINK if they could hear them.

These tests determined if the affected person was aware the EMT was there. If they were able to respond. 

Now, let’s say, we are like the people at the scene and Jesus is the one testing us for consciousness. For life.

We either respond….or we don’t. We blink our eyes in acknowledgement of Christ’s presence giving us life. 
Or….

we don’t. 

Life is when we are with Christ. Acknowledging Christ. In relationship with Christ. 

Death is when we are without Christ. Not acknowledging Christ. Not aware of Christ. 

* * *

I want to be clear that death isn’t a bad thing. It is actually necessary in fact in order to fully experience life. 

Death to sin is what we must do in order to be resurrected with Christ….now, today, forever. 

Theologian Rowan Williams says this about death:

“Death is normally a drastic severing of relations, death isolates; [and that is what we fear in death, being isolated from those we love]… but for Jesus, it is through death that a new and potentially infinite network of relations is opened up. The effect of his death is the opposite of isolation. “Jesus’ death [is] the source of a new shared life.”

* * *

Remember the woman, Candy Chang, I shared about at the beginning of this sermon?

It was the death of a friend – the one who she loved – that brought about newness of life not only to her neighborhood, but to communities all over the world.

The art project “Before I die I want to” brought people together. Connected them deeply. It brought new insight and perspective into how to LIVE.

As we consider their responses and our own:

we see that life is so much more than our heart beats, our breath, our memory. 

Life is about friendships. Relationships. Community. It’s about the depths of love that we experience with each other. Like Lazarus and Jesus.

It’s fully lived when we open ourselves to the depth of Christ’s love for us. 

When we blink our eyes in response “YES” we see you, Jesus, 

we can say our name “Dawn, child of God,” 

we can feel Christ’s life giving touch and warmth. 

* * *

Death has no hold on us except to draw us closer to Christ. 

It’s in admitting our own mortality, like those who responded to the art installation, we truly find what matters to live. 

Jesus says… “I am the resurrection AND THE LIFE.”

Let us live life in Christ Jesus.

Amen. 

Jesus Has Risen!

Scripture: Mark 16:1-20

Dawn (while Leslie and Lacey move to the back of the sanctuary):
“Our scripture reading comes from the gospel of Mark, chapter 16, verses 1-20. Listen now for God’s word for you.”

Lacey and Leslie: Theatrical entrance. Speaking quickly.

Leslie: “Jesus has risen! I went to the tomb early this morning. We rose early and took the spices we prepared to anoint Jesus.”

(almost interrupting, so full of excitement) 
Lacey: “On the way, we were concerned about how we would get the stone to move to open the tomb.  It’s very heavy…. But when we got there the stone was gone! The entrance to the tomb was open!!”

Leslie: “We started running because we feared someone had taken him. And this man….this garden man dressed in all white..told us that Jesus was not there. Jesus left!”

Lacey: “Don’t you see? He’s left!”

Both (Leslie and Lacey): “Jesus has risen!!”

(brief pause)

Chris: “Silly women, do be quiet. There is NO WAY what you’re telling us is true.”

(combative) 
Leslie: “Go see for yourself then, the tomb is empty. Jesus, our dear Jesus, is risen!!!”

Dawn: The word of the Lord.

All: Thanks be to God.

Thank you, Leslie, Lacey and Chris for helping us relive this scripture. 
Hear now the words from the gospel:


Jesus Has Risen
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

Usually the Easter reading ends there, but there are more verses recorded (9-20), in which we learn that the women actually did tell others about Jesus’ rising. Just, the disciples, much like Chris in our act today, did not believe them.

Listen further for God’s word:

When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. 11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.

12 Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. 13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.

14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.


The word of the Lord. 
Thanks be to God.

Sermon

The disciples needed quite a bit of proof that Jesus had risen. 

Why is it that we NEED PROOF before we believe something to be true?

  • we fear being tricked
  • how we test things, discover new realities, scientific method
  • there’s a lot at stake…salvation (depending on God instead of ourselves) isn’t something to take lightly. A sign/proof helps.

Throughout Jesus’ ministry and in his reappearances to his followers, Jesus rebukes them for not believing. Jesus is frustrated with our lack of faith and our stubbornness –  refusing to believe a story someone else tells us to be true. 

When I think about how history is recorded, it is always the voice of power who speak. Who gets to write it down…their way. 

And yet, somehow we have all these accounts of people who witnessed the risen Christ. 

The voices speaking are not the voices of power, which would have been voices from the Roman Empire. The voices recording history are women. Three women close to Jesus who go to the tomb expecting to find healing for their grief. And instead they are upset that he’s not there. They are surprised that he has actually risen! What was recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures has been fulfilled. Jesus has risen, indeed! 

Today’s story to many is unbelievable. Like Chris, we may be the voice of doubt – saying, no really, silly historian…there’s no way this can be true. And yet, it is here. Recorded in several places – proclaimed by Christians throughout the world, throughout time….to be THE true story of our faith.


* * *

Mission Bay Community Church has never been a community where we demand you say and believe certain things before you claim them to be true for yourself. We firmly believe in the power of God to bring people to faith when they’re ready…not when we want them to be. 

And yet, we do have a role. 

Our role, like these women, is to tell the story. 

With excitement.

With anticipation.

With hope.

….so others hear the story and have the chance to receive this incredible, unbelievable news that is for them just as much as it is for us. 


* * *

First, I think we explore Resurrection.

In it’s most basic form…resurrection means that Jesus’ body ascended out of this world…out of the tomb…into a higher realm. A different state of being… that is eternal – encompassing past, present and future.

Theologian Daniel Migliore says,

“Resurrection in the biblical sense of the word belongs to the Jewish and early Christian apocalyptic hope. It points to the event in which, despite the suffering and persecution of God’s people, the final fulfills of God’s covenant promises has begun. God’s raising of the Crucified Jesus to new life is God’s concrete confirmation of the promise that evil will finally be defeated and justice will reign throughout God’s creation.”

Resurrection is about hope. 

Rising new life from death. 

Rising love from hate.

Rising trust in God over trust in ourselves.

Christ is risen! Resurrected.
He is set free. And with him, we rise with hope, too. 

* * *

Jesus wants us to believe in resurrection without seeing. 

But he loves us so much that he helps us see resurrection. Not only in these scriptural accounts, but in our own lives….

[1 – Story of Resurrection]
Last year, our food pantry needed to find a new space. 

We were given some time to look for a new space – 3 months – and our leadership looked diligently, fervently, persistently to find a new space. 

The move-out date came and went…and we had to close the pantry for part of the summer. And I’ll tell you, it felt like death. The last Saturday pantry in this space, there was a lunch celebration for the volunteers and the mood was somber. Though the clients and volunteers were hopeful….we, as leadership, felt like some life had died.

And then over time, resurrection happened. A new connection was made, a new space found, an incredible partnership formed with the Jewish Home…and the pantry came to life again.

We as a church body felt the moods of this Easter weekend. Looming pain and anxiety about the end of an era, death…real lack of life and knowing when there would be life again, and then beautiful resurrection to new life. 

As a community, we felt life resurrected out of death and we found deeper hope in Christ. 

A theologian, Rowan Williams, says that through the Holy Spirit “we are not only the recipients, but also transmitters of hope.”

In Christ’s resurrection we receive hope for new life. But as we believe, we also begin to live differently. We begin to bear hope for others.


[2 – Story of Resurrection]
There’s a man name Oscar Romero who helped a large community be resurrected by believing and bearing Christ’s hope. 

Oscar Romero is a beloved martyr of Latin America.

“He was a prominent Roman Catholic priest in El Salvador during the 1960s and 1970s and became Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977. After witnessing numerous violations of human rights, he began to speak out on behalf of the poor and victims of repression. This led to numerous conflicts, both with the government in El Salvador and within the Catholic Church. After speaking out against U.S. military support for the government of El Salvador, and calling for soldiers to disobey orders to fire on innocent civilians, Archbishop Romero was shot dead while celebrating Mass at the small chapel of the cancer hospital where he lived.”

This story, as reported by the United Nations, appears to be a tragic story. The violent end to an impressive life.

And yet, Oscar Romero’s death fueled a movement of liberation theology in which we claim that Christ died not just for freedom from our sin, but also freedom from all oppression. 

Romero witnessed first-hand the suffering of El Salvador’s landless poor and he used his power in the church to become a “voice for the voiceless.” 

He knew “the [real] danger of assassination and had spoken of it often, declaring his willingness to accept martyrdom if his blood might contribute to the solution of the nation’s problems.”

“As a Christian,” he said, “I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I shall rise again in the Salvadoran people.”

I learned of Oscar Romero and several nuns who were tortured and killed for standing up for the landless poor in Latin America while in college. 

And these new stories came to life for me during my study in Guatemala where my host family couldn’t tell me where some of the men in their family had gone.

“Desaparecidos” they would say. “Disappeared.” 

Oscar Romero and the ongoing liberation theology movement made it so that these stories do not just go away. My host family’s lives don’t disappear. They live on as Romero anticipated, in the people of his country, in the hearts of Christians all around the world who believe the Christ’s resurrection matters for us today. It has power to lift up the oppressed, the sinners, the flawed human beings that we all are and bring us together proclaiming hope. 

* * *

Christ calls us to be bearers of hope. To preach his resurrection and to watch as God fulfills promises of bringing new life out of death.

And now for a lighter story of hope…

[3 – Story of Resurrection] 
The story of an underdog team. North Carolina State University. My alma mater…. busting open March Madness Brackets all over the U.S. By upsetting a higher ranked team.

I’m serious, I find this to be a real life sign of hope. Of a spirit of resurrection in which the structures and systems and expected order are disrupted and new life breaks in. 

There’s a reason we are so drawn to the underdog. In storylines, entertainment, sports. 

We want the underdog to win. To rise to the top because we feel the need in our hearts for a miracle. For the unexpected. For resurrection.

As hard as it is to believe, we know…deep down that this story of new life emerging from death is true. 

We’ve seen the underdog win.  We’ve seen hope triumph! The powerless rise to power. We’ve seen how forgiveness and reconciliation take shape and transform lives and entire communities. 

So, beloved community, let us not keep our stories of resurrection and hope to ourselves. Wherever we find them. 

Let us, like the women, TELL this story, even when others won’t believe it. 

Because when we share the story and when we believe it…we are able to see resurrection, hope rising, all around us. 

Let us share the story of Christ’s resurrection. 

Let us be bearers of hope.


Amen

Maundy Thursday

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 11:17-34

It is in this scripture passage that we receive the words of institution that we say at the table, but it’s in a larger context of Paul addressing the Early Christian Church in Corinth on their observance of the Lord’s Supper.

I warn you – it begins with a harsh tone as Paul writes to rebuke them for their bad behavior. Paul’s intention is to focus them on the importance and meaning of this sacrament. Listen now for God’s word for you…

Correcting an Abuse of the Lord’s Supper
17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 

20 So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup.

29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 

31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. 32 Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.

33 So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. 34 Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.
And when I come I will give further directions.

The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Sermon

One Sunday during worship, I was preparing the table for communion. I was giving the invitation to the table, when a small child from the back pew said, “When do we get to eat the bread?!”

Her impatience warranted a few chuckles from the congregation…but I thought:  Quite right, little one…when do we get to eat the bread? 

This child’s words point to our greatest need. Our greatest hunger. For we all long for this feast. This nourishment. The bread of life that only Christ can provide. 

Sure, it’s possible that this child may just have wanted to eat the sweet Hawaiian bread… but I believe through her… God was working… to open our eyes to our own need. Despite our limitations of understanding, God encourages us to approach the table with excitement and eagerness.

* * *

We don’t fully understand what happens at this table. Christ’s sacrament of feeding us is a mystery.

But we know something happens. Through eating this bread and drinking this cup we are changed.

As instructed, when we gather at this table, remembering together Jesus’ life death and resurrection…. we bear a new story, new life.

Paul is clear in this scripture passage that communion is not something to take lightly. We are to prepare ourselves. Examine our minds and our hearts to receive Christ Jesus. 

This means specifically we have to consider how we have treated each other. 

Paul is unhappy with the things he hears about “the church.”
They are fighting. 
They are both claiming God “on their side.”
They are neglecting their brothers and sisters in need. 

It’s amazing how thousands of years later, this message still applies to us – the Church of Jesus Christ today…

As a church, we are fighting. 
Claiming God to be on our side for particular issues or use of resources. 
We are neglecting each other… as well as God’s other children in need. 

* * *

In John’s gospel, we learn that Jesus does something interesting at the last supper with his disciples. He bends down and washes their feet.

He does this to teach his disciples that a relationship with Christ is really about service. We are to serve and love one another as Christ has served and loved us.

Jesus washes their feet because they need to be cleaned. Their bodies are representative of their souls. They are in need of being washed clean and forgiven. Christ offers this to them as they are at table them him.

In a few moments, I will invite you forward to be washed.  
As we examine ourselves,  how we have treated one another….
we will come forward and take turns washing one another’s hands. 

We will serve and love each other in this act as we prepare our minds and hearts to receive Christ at the table. 

There’s a movie from 1984 called Places of the Heart, which tells the story of woman named Edna Spalding.  A recently widowed white mother of two in a small Texan town during the Depression. 

Against all odds, with the help of a transient black man and a disagreeable blind boarder, Edna manages to plant and harvest her forty acres of cotton in order to keep her home. 

Around the edges of this central story, characters in the movie engage in murder, adultery, theft, assault, and plain old mean-spiritedness. 

The final scene shows a congregation in a local country church gathered to celebrate communion. As the cubes of bread and the tiny glasses of grape juice are passed down the pews, the camera focuses on one face after another:

first, anonymous members of the community;
then Edna’s sister, 
who passes the tray to her cheating husband;

then members of the Ku Klux Klan, who share the elements with the black man they had beaten up;

then the Spalding children;
then Edna herself;
and finally Edna’s husband, the town sheriff who had been shot and killed at the beginning of the film. 
Sheriff Spalding then quietly passes the bread and the cup to the young man who shot him with the words, “The peace of Christ.” 

Credit for story: [Van Dyk, Leanne. Ed. A More Profound Alleluia. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.  Moore-Keish, Martha L. Eucharist = Eschatology, 109. ]


This table represents the forgiveness and reconciliation offered to each of us in Christ. It is a table that brings us together. One body in Christ. For the purpose of serving Christ through serving each other. 

Let us prepare ourselves for this feast….

Untied

Scripture: Mark 11: 1-11

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and BethanyD)” data-cr=”#cen-NIV-24642D” style=””> Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden.3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”

4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway.5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

“Hosanna!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

Scripture: Mark 11: 15-19

15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’?B)” data-cr=”#cen-NIV-24658B” style=””>

18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him,D)” data-cr=”#cen-NIV-24659D” style=””>

19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

Sermon by Lacey Hunter

Unlike the runway likely being made for Pilate as he entered, Jesus’ runway was made from the everyday clothing and cloaks of the people gathered around him. Unlike the powerful horses that Pilate and his soldiers were riding in on, Jesus was riding in on a humble colt.

For those who were unable to attend worship on Palm Sunday, March 29, Lacey has provided the text of her sermon below. (Mobile users, scroll down and switch to Web. Alternatively, view this sermon on your laptop or desktop.)

Attachment

Scripture: Genesis 12:1-10

The Call of Abram
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.


“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.


I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.

Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.

Abram in Egypt
10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe.


The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Sermon: Attachment

Question for community:
Since the beginning of time, we have been attached to land. Why? Why are we attached to land?
  • we depend on it to live. It gives us sustenance (food, minerals, water, etc).
  • it’s a basic need. A place to lay our head. Feel safe. 
  • borders on land make us feel more safe/protected.
  • gives us our identity. Citizens of the United States of America. It gives us our “people” – where we are from.
  • we learn from scripture that land is a blessing – promised to us by God.
  • gravity.
  • we take power in owning land and being attached to it.
  • our loved ones are buried in the ground. It is holy to us. 
Attachment is a powerful thing.

I spent the last two weeks in my childhood home going through closets and storage spaces – helping to clear out and reorganize spaces for my parents.

It was a delicate task, I’ll tell you. Going through old linens and books helped me learn a lot about my parents. It made me learn that they didn’t really want to throw much away. I would move as much as I could into the give away pile…but I knew I needed to let them look over it before I took it away….because without fail there would be some worn, well loved object that meant nothing to me, but meant a whole lot to them.

For my parents, a worn quilt reminded them of the sweet woman who made it for them. They can see her face. They can tell her story. They remember wrapping us kids in it as they tucked us into bed. They can feel our small bodies within it. 

These possessions help them stop time. Rewind it. Relive it. 

Attachment to items like a worn blanket and to land are important because they holds our memories. They hold life’s meaning. 

I realized as I was in running in my hometown that I am also attached to land.

As I passed particular trees, I remembered waiting there each day to be picked up from school. The high school yard reminds me of the millions of times I must have run laps around it in soccer practice.  

* * *

In our scripture passage today, God calls Abram and Sarai to LEAVE their country, to leave their land. Their people. And to follow God to another land. 

The story starts with a great upset.

Abram is seventy-five when he hears this call. I imagine that like my parents, he has accumulated some stuff….and that stuff and land hold precious memories for him. 

And yet, Abram hears God’s call and he follows. 

I want to point out that he disobeys a little …. 

I like when biblical characters disobey…it makes them feel more human. 

God calls him to leave his land, his father’s household…and yet, Abram sure takes a lot with him! He packs up a lot of his possessions and takes a whole lot of people with him…but, hey…attachment is important. 

Scripture says, “He went.” He travels with this entourage to Canaan and through Canaan until he came to a particular tree – the great tree of Moreh at Shechem.

When he gets to Canaan, God speaks:

“To your offspring I will give this land.” 

The Hebrew word “offspring” means both his descendants and also seed. This land will receive his seed and bear great fruit.

What a great promise! What a blessing! Having traveled so far, through the unknown…it must be a great relief to know that your children will have a place to call home.

And yet, the land God promised wasn’t empty. Canaanites lived there. 

I wonder…why would God promise something that belongs to someone else?

(long pause) 

Well, perhaps that is the whole point. 

The land doesn’t belong to the Canaanites…

Nor will it every really belong to Abram’s descendants.

The land belongs to God.

* * *

We forget sometimes…but we belong first to God.

We belong FIRST to God.

Then to God’s creation – to God’s land and God’s people.

This gets tricky fast.  Because someone has to make decisions. Someone has to hold power. 

And so we humans take on the power to decide how to care for the land – or not care for the land. 

We, humans, decide how to care for God’s traveling people – or not care for God’s people. 

Attachment is powerful. And it is important.

But, we have to pause and check what we are attached to —

Is it God? Or is it something else? Is it someone else?

As many of you know my mom is sick. That’s why I was back in NC. And I am very attached to her.

And yet, I am convicted by this passage that she exists to point me to God. Her love points me to God’s love. Her struggle points me to trust deeper in God’s strength.

My mom preached this particular text at my ordination service at her church in Burlington, NC. It held great significance for us because Tim and I, like Abram and Sarai, were being called by God to leave our land, our people, to leave quite a few of our possessions and go to a distant land. 

God promised us a blessing – that we would find a safe home here….and we have.

God promised us that we would find a family here…and we have. 

God promised us that regardless of who or what we cling to…. God will be with us. We are not alone.

* * *

The truth is… God is calling lots of people to this land. To the Bay Area. To the United States of America.

God is calling people to seek refuge in a safe place. 

To a place where there is food and shelter for them.

And God is calling us to welcome them.

To pull our chairs to the side and make room at the table.

To show our attachment to God FIRST, by creating room for our blessing to become a blessing for others. 

As Leslie said last week in her sermon, God is calling us to be hospitable. And hospitality is a core spiritual gift of this community.

I’m going to share a story with you of a young man named Jose. (name changed for confidentiality) 

Continue to listen for God’s word for you….

– Jose is 15 years old 

– His father left Honduras to work in the US when Jose was 6 mos old

– Jose’s mother left Honduras to join his father when Jose was about 3 yrs old

– Jose was sent around to live with various family members over the years 

– When he turned older, Jose started receiving threats by the gangs 

– He was beaten up many times 

– His family was threatened and forced to pay a war tax 

– His father sent for him after he received very serious threats 

– Jose took a very long journey through El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico to reach the United States

– Jose was caught at the border and processed through the Office of Refugee Resettlement 

– Jose was reunited with his mom and dad after more than 10 years of not seeing them, only speaking by phone

– Now Jose feels safer, but he misses his friends in Honduras 

– Jose cannot go back to Honduras because he would be harmed

– 4 of his friends have been killed by gangs since Jose came to the United States 

As God’s children travel to be near us, we are called to respond. We are called to be hospitable. 
To make room at our tables,
 in our land,
 and in our hearts.

We are called to be a blessing for God’s people coming to us. 

Amen. 

Welcoming the Stranger

Scripture: Matthew 25:34-36

NIV

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Sermon

This week, our Parish Associate, Leslie Veen, uses the reading from Matthew to talk about how basic acts of hospitality are ways of serving God.

For those who could not attend worship, Leslie has provided an outline of her sermon below. (Mobile users, scroll down and switch to Web. Alternatively, view this sermon on your laptop or desktop.)

Feed my sheep

Scripture: John 21:15-19

Jesus Reinstates Peter
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Sermon

Here’s an excerpt of my journal Monday… day 1 of my Food Stamp Challenge. 4:41 PM.

“I am hungry. I can’t focus on my work.  I’m trying to remember the last time I actually felt my tummy grumble out of hunger. It’s not in my memory. Wow, what a gift, that I don’t remember the last time I was hungry.

Any other day I would take a break from my work, walk to the corner store and buy something – anything – to satisfy my need.

But not this week. This week, I try my best to eat off of $1.25/meal. Breakfast and lunch weren’t too hard. But now, I’m drinking water hoping it will fill me and counting down them minutes until I go home and can eat the pre-rationed dinner.”

For me, this week was an eye-opening experience to the challenges 1 in 4 San Franciscans face. Food insecurity. Not knowing how I’ll get all the healthy calories I need on my very limited income.

For those of you who participated this week or have had the experience of living off of food stamps in the past: How did it go? What was it like?

* * *

Food is such a basic human need. As Terri, our speaker from the SF/Marin Food Bank, reminded us last week, hunger  affects more than just the individual. It affects the whole community.

When someone is hungry, they can’t focus on school or work, they are less productive. Malnutrition leads to all sorts of health risks that drain our healthcare system.

Teri convicted us last week that we all have a shared responsibility to provide for those who are hungry. If, for no other reason, than our own self interest. When some of our community is hungry, that will ultimately affect us.

* * *

Today, I want to push us a little further into our holy text. Our scripture reading today comes after the resurrection. Jesus has died, he has been resurrected and he now appears to the disciples for a second time to remind them of who he is and who he calls them to be.

The disciples are out fishing and they come back with nothing. They see Jesus on the beach with a campfire and he is cooking fish to share. 

Food to feed them.

And as Jesus feeds them, meets their human need, he asks them this question:

“Do you love me?”

“Edie, do you love me?
“Chris, do you love me?”
“Darlene, do you love me?” Jesus says…

Feed my sheep.

* * *

Now, I don’t want to take for granted that we all love Jesus. Some of us hear this question. Our name, and Jesus asking…and our heart melts. 

Yes, Jesus, I love you.

But for some of us, we may not be sure. It may not feel as convicting. We are grappling with who Jesus is. And how or why this divine being loves us.

And yet —

— regardless of whether or not we hear and  receive Jesus’ love for us in the question

— Jesus still calls your name. Once, Twice, Three times.

Newton, do you love me?
Keith, do you love me?
Eden, do you love me?

And it’s personal. Even if we don’t understand it. Even when we don’t want to hear it. Jesus is asking you and me:

“Do you love me?”

Feed my sheep.

* * *

Love requires something of us. It is an emotion of our heart. One we cannot control.

Love can also be cultivated. As we see each other, learn about each other, find compassion for each other, love grows. In places we wouldn’t always expect.

Just over six years ago, a group from this congregation called the “Not So Serious Bible Study” decided to study hunger in scripture.

They read what our scriptures say about hunger and realized it is pretty straight forward. Jesus says, “Feed the hungry.”

They studied the food scarcity in this neighborhood, the Excelsior, and recognizing the deep need for food, they decided to start the Excelsior Community Food Pantry.

Six years ago, God spoke to a small community and invited them into faith of action.

Jesus asked, “Do you love me?” And they responded, “YES! Lord, we will feed your sheep.”

* * *

As Christian communities we have a tendency to complicate our faith with beliefs and doctrine. You have to believe this or that in order to belong…in order to be a “real Christian.”

When in actuality, Jesus’ call is simple:

Do you love me?

Feed my sheep.

* * *

What I’ve learned in ministry about faith is that is that most of the work is to show up —

— show up to a small group and hear how God is real and at work in someone’s life.
— show up at worship and open our ears and hearts to God’s word for us.
— show up at the food pantry. See the faces of those receiving food, see their smile as their need is met, and  build a new friendship.

I’m not saying that the experience will bring you to your knees before Christ…though it might…

I’m saying that God works in mysterious ways and sometimes by taking the first step to feed each other…we may learn a bit about what it means to be loved by Jesus…and to step out in his love to care for others.

I’m going to share a video with you of a member of this community, Joe, and his experience living on food stamps.

The food pantry was JUST what Joe needed. Not only the food,  but also his friendship with Kristin, his connection to our community and to Christ was… just what he needed,

Our faith can be complex. Who is Jesus? And why does he love me?

But the response to his love is always simple.

Do you love me? Jesus says.

Feed my sheep.

Amen.

Disappointment

Scripture: Mark 9:14-29

14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. 

16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked. 

17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” 

19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” 

20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.

Sermon

Guest Preacher: Newton

We’ve been having a series on healing, and as this series comes to a close, I’ve been reflecting deeply on this passage. There is something which really drew me to the interaction which is at the core of any of Jesus’s miracles: The encounter of Jesus himself.  

If we take a step back, and we look at the encounters that Jesus has with the people he heals, you will find that in many of the stories, there is an emotional theme which we encounter again and again: Disappointment.  

The Bible gives us a lot of absolute statements: God will always be with us, God always loves us, God will provide for us, save us, forgive us…. 

How many of us live this way, with absolute certainty? Does our life experience validate these absolute promises? Or do we often need to give God a “way out” because we want to believe those promises but we often feel disappointed in God? 

[ Community discussion: When have you been disappointed in God? ] 

If you think about it, there are many people who were disappointed in Jesus: The Syrophoenician woman with a demon possessed daughter; Jairus, who’s daughter dies because Jesus stops to meet the bleeding woman; Mary and Martha, whose brothers die because Jesus lingers in a neighboring town.  

“My brother would not have died if you had been here”.

“I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” 

Jesus’ response seems even more disappointing: he says to the Syropheonician woman: “it is not good to take bread out of the children’s mouths and throw it to the dogs!”

Or here: “Oh unbelieving generation! How long will I be with you!” 

How can Jesus say such things? How can he not want to comfort these people? They have suffered such incredibly loss.

I relate to the frustration of this father. I also know that my parents must have struggled heavily with this disappointment over the years as I’ve struggled with my own demons.

 [ Newton has chosen to omit in publishing a personal story he shared with the Community ] 

And here we have this story about this father. Who comes. And he sees Jesus and he says, 

“But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” 

And Jesus’ response is “If you can? Everything is possible for one who believes.” 

That statement must have hurt. I think Jesus means it to hurt. He puts it out there in a way that almost is designed to hurt the father. Because no matter what you think about his faith, the fact is that the man is here. Right here with Jesus. That takes an act of faith. And it takes an act of faith and desperation to ask again, when Jesus’ disciples can’t do anything. 

But instead of being angry, the father says one of the most beautiful lines in the Bible: 

“I believe, help me overcome my unbelief!” 

When you feel so much disappointment in God because you keep asking and you never receive. You keep hoping for some sense of wholeness which continues to elude you…I think the only honest thing to admit is that a little bit of us dies to the idea that God really does bring wholeness. So we rationalize it in a million ways: We’ll be whole…in HEAVEN… Wholeness is a never ending process and we’ll never get there… When I am hurting and I ask for God to heal me, that’s me being selfish because I should just ask for God’s will be done, and not ask for anything besides that… Maybe it’s not God’s will for me to be whole. God doesn’t really heal people.  

“I believe, help me overcome my unbelief!” 

And then Jesus heals the boy. And leaves, and goes into a room. And his disciples ask him, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

 And Jesus’ response is “This kind can come out only by prayer.” 

It was by reading this line that I felt convicted of how fervently this father was praying. That each act of prayer cost him. Because to pray again, to ask again, meant to carry with it all the disappointments of the “no’s” and “not yet’s”. And when he was able to say it, to say, “I’m asking but I don’t even really believe you can give me what I’m asking for”, and “I’m asking, but I don’t even know what I am really asking for”: owning that despair, and bringing it before God, that Jesus heals his son.  

The greatest mystery of all is that God works in our unbelief. 

Some of you know that recently I’ve had to move through a huge emotional change in my life. And I was very grateful that while I was walking through it, I was surrounded by people in this church who supported me. I had people in my recovery who held me up. But at the very end, they were limited in what they could do. My healing had to come from Jesus himself.  

As I was struggling, this passage came to me, and I shared it with Lacey. I want to share it with you today: 

Paul writes:

2 Timothy 1:11-13.

11 Here is a trustworthy saying:

If we died with him,
    we will also live with him;
12 if we endure,
    we will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
    he will also disown us;
13 if we are faithless,
    he remains faithful,
    for he cannot disown himself.



Jesus says to us, “Oh Faithless Generation, how long will I be with you?” 

This reproach is actually an absolute promise: Jesus remains with us, because that’s who he is. 

 
Amen.

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