Jesus teaches Nicodemus

Scripture: John 3:1-17

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

The word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

Sermon

Picture this:

You’re in a classroom. Students filling the chairs all around you. 

The teacher at the front of the room – talking on and on…. until it stops. 

Oh no! The teacher is looking right at you. 

Your eyes connect…

And your name is called.

Silence fills the room. 

Heads and bodies shift to face you.

All eyes…. on you.

Silence.

You blank. You do not know the answer. 

You flush red. Blood pounding through your body.

Your heart races. 

You know that normal amount of time has passed that you could wait. 

You have to say something.

You blurt out… a word, some word, not the right word. 

You can sense it. Disappointment all around. The bodies and eyes slowly move back up front. Just in time for everyone to see the teacher’s look of disappointment in you. 

* * *

This is a recurring dream for me — nightmare, I should say. 

Being in this particular moment. Heightened energy. My nerves and heart racing. 

Unable to come up with the right answer. The one the teacher expects. The one the whole room expects.

My heart goes out to Nicodemus in this story. In the moment when Jesus says to him:

“You are Israel’s teacher and do you not understand these things? 
“How can this surprise you?” Jesus says.

I imagine the look of pain in Nicodemus, acknowledging his failure, his wrong answer…. and Jesus’ disappointment in him. 

Nicodemus is a Jewish leader after all. People look to him for the answers. They follow him. He’s used to asking the right questions and giving the right answers.

It’s a good thing Jesus, the teacher, keeps talking after such a low blow. Going on to explain the right answer.

I imagine Nicodemus needed some time to recover. Time to pick his ego up off the floor. Dust it off a bit. 

* * *

What do we know about Nicodemus?

We know that Nicodemus is a wise and careful Jewish leader. 

He has heard about Jesus’ signs – healing people and performing miracles. Maybe he has even seen a few from the crowd himself…

And he decides to go meet Jesus. To see for himself if it’s possibly true… That this man is the Messiah.

I say Nicodemus is cautious and wise because he goes by night – when it’s dark – so that no one will follow him. Or worse, judge him. 

Nicodemus as a Pharisee, a Jewish leader, takes quite a risk to meet Jesus. Meanwhile the other Pharisee leaders are busy gossiping and conspiring against Jesus in the temple.

And when he meets Jesus… he barely gets a word out affirming Jesus’ connection to God when Jesus pushes him further than he expects to go.

Instead of confirming Nicodemus’ inquiry if he is the Messiah…

Jesus responds with bigger plans.

Jesus wants Nicodemus to see and understand the FULL picture of who God is and what God is doing for him. 

And Nicodemus fails to keep up.

Jesus says,

Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

Nicodemus questions him:

“How can someone be born again? … when they are old?”

It doesn’t fit our world experience. This idea that we are born more than once.


But Jesus is pointing to birth in the spirit. What is offered to Nicodemus and to each of us through the triune God. 

I wonder if Nicodemus was an older leader in the church… wanting to get it right, but scared at the change it might entail. Perhaps wondering and confused as to if even he could be birthed anew. 

Its a lot to think about when Jesus goes on…

“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.”

Flesh births flesh and spirit births spirit. 


Wind blows where it will.

Only those, only those, Jesus says, who are born again, birthed by the spirit can see the kingdom of God. 

It’s no wonder that Nicodemus stumbles in this theology. 

Nicodemus, a leader of the Jewish synagogue, knows about  God the father. “Abba.” Creator, God of Israel. 

And he knows his scriptures well enough to expect a Messiah. God born into the flesh. 

But he doesn’t know about the spirit. The Holy Spirit. He doesn’t quite understand how Jesus being here and about to be resurrected will have huge implications for his life. 

It will indeed make his life brand new. Different. Not the same as before.

* * *

The second to last verse – John 3:16 – is for most Christians the summary of the gospel.

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

We memorize it and say it as the truth. 

But I’ll tell you, it’s become watered down. Most Christians just glaze over it without holding onto its great meaning and depth.

We have to pay attention a little more  – like Nicodemus – to what Jesus is saying to understand how God is taking root in our lives and hearts and rebirthing us. Making us new. 

Theologian George Stroup says this:

“In John’s gospel… being born from above or believing in Jesus has less to do with our mind as it does with our life and our heart.”

When we are truly born again of the spirit, we live completely new lives. Our personalities and lifestyles aren’t just tweaked by coming to church every once in a while or volunteering. 

What God has done and is doing for us in salvation is making us a completely new person.

Being born again is just that – a fresh start – a completely new life in which we are centered on Jesus Christ and enlivened by the Holy Spirit. We start over again and we intentionally live for God in our new life and not for ourselves. 

The gospel – our salvation – is not and cannot be a mental exercise. An attribution to a theological doctrine memorized in one verse. 

In order for the gospel to take root in us, to TRULY believe in Jesus – we have to live it out in our lives. In our actions. 

* * *

This week I heard a musician on the radio talk about his reason for writing a song. He shared that his teenage son was diagnosed with a rare kidney failure. In just 6 months his 16 year old lost half of his kidney function. 

The onset of the disease put his whole family in turmoil. The greatest questions of life came to the forefront. 

How will we spend our time?
What do we value?
What are we currently taking for granted?


Those questions helped his family see that they wanted to put all their time left toward being together, laughing, hugging, saying “I love you.” Those moments were what he was taking for granted…and they were the most important – of most value – to his life. 

The song he wrote is about taking time every day to show our love. To not take it for granted. To give a hug, or a smile. In each decision, in every day to ask whether it is worth your time and energy because there are so many things and people worth that precious time and energy.

This man’s story got me thinking about what life anew looks like.

What this rebirth Jesus talks of is really like….

It made me consider what the joy of new life in Christ looks like for me and why I wouldn’t do everything in my power to live into it today.

* * *

Living for Christ means worship. Not just once a week or once in a while, but worship every day. Giving thanks and praise to my creator. For my life. 

Living for Christ, life anew,  means caring for creation. For my neighbor. For my family. For myself. It means seeking to help those in need because Jesus says so.

Living for Christ, life anew, means seeing the kingdom of God. Looking for the ways the spirit is birthing new life. Expressions of joy and creativity. Within us. Around us.  

I see us reclaiming this new birth in baptism. 

In water and spirit, we are born from above and welcomed into the family of God. 

In baptism, we claim each other as God’s claims us and we open our eyes, our minds, our hearts, our ENTIRE LIVES to Christ.

We proclaim this biblical truth:

For God so loved the world, 
For God so loves US
that God gave us God’s very self. 
So that we would not be condemned, but saved through him.

Beloved, 
Let us truly believe in the gospel by living our new lives found in Christ. Let us be born of the spirit and see the mystery of God’s kingdom with us now and forever. 


Amen.


Pentecost

Scripture: Acts 2:1-21

New International Version (NIV)

The Holy Spirit Comes at Pentecost

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

[ break for chaotic reading. John 3:16-17 in various languages ]

John 3:16-17
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”


13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
Peter Addresses the Crowd

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 
“‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.

18 
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.

19 
I will show wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.

20 
The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.

21 
And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

The word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

Sermon

Today is Pentecost! Happy Birthday to the Christian Church!

It’s on this day that we retell this wild story of loud wind and images of fire which symbolize for us the coming of the Holy Spirit into the world. 

The Holy Spirit is certainly wild – more wild and on the loose than even the risen Jesus who randomly showed up and ate with people. The Spirit comes with full force, filling the entire house and the people in it. Causing them to do surprising and weird things. Like speak in other languages. Like drawing together and forming a community movement – the church – that seeks to share the gospel story with the world for years and generations to come. 

There are a lot of similarities between the birthdays we celebrate each year and the birthday of the church.

We gather together, 

we celebrate, 

sometimes there are surprising things that happen… maybe not tongues of fire and violent wind… but there usually is a cake with small candles and fire and we use our own wind – our breath to blow them out. 

Sometimes birthdays cause us to be amazed…

sometimes perplexed and confused. It usually depends on the year we’re celebrating… 

* * *

If you think about it….birthdays are kind of a funny thing to celebrate…

We didn’t DO anything to deserve a party.

Really, if anyone should be celebrated on our birthdays, it should be our parents and loved ones… those who waited, uncomfortable, excited, maybe fearful of the birth that is about to take place. 

I’ve always wondered why birthdays seem to be future-oriented. 

How old are you going to be? What’s coming in the year ahead? How’s that anxiety or fear about getting older? Being considered old?

Perhaps birthdays should be an opportunity to go back to the date of our birth and remember the story of our birth with our parents and loved ones.

This scripture text certainly takes us back. 

Back to the chaotic day God breathed life into the church. We remember the wild events, the confusion, the utter excitement of this birth.

What was it like for the disciples? 

We remember from last Sunday that Jesus has ascended into heaven. And right before he does, he tells the disciples to STAY PUT. Stay in Jerusalem… for soon they will be baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire! 

The disciples obey. The few verses in between the ascension text Acts 1 and todays text in Acts 2 tell us that the disciples used that time to replace Judas with Mathias as the twelfth disciple. They know what they are waiting for – some sort of miraculous event – some kind of baptism with fire. 

* * *

Pentecost, the birthday of the church, is a crazy day! Ask anyone outside the church – or even in the church – and they will say that this is crazy talk. There’s no way it could have happened. 

And yet, it did. This big, beautiful, magic-like moment is how God chose to send the Holy Spirit to the world, to shake us up and draw us together as one…. to BIRTH the church of Jesus Christ. 

My favorite question in this text is voiced by so many:

“What does this mean?”

What does it mean that we are brought together as one – as a church for Jesus Christ? 

What does it mean that we can hear and understand each other despite our differences?

What does it mean that this obscure presence – the Holy Spirit – is now among us?

Peter gives us some interpretation of these events. He looks back to the prophet Joel proclaiming that God has promised to pour out the Holy spirit on all people and ALL will prophesy.

God will show wonders in heaven and on earth, fire…. “and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Peter is telling us through Joel, that the Holy Spirit is coming so that the gospel can move. Through the church. 

The Holy Spirit fills each one of us – the church of now – the living church – and enables us to prophesy, to speak the gospel, to communicate in a diversity of ways.

So that others can hear the saving power and grace of Jesus Christ. So others – nay ALL – will hear and believe. 


[enter Sam]

Today we celebrate a birthday. And we celebrate the church’s unity in diversity and chaos.  

At Pentecost, that diversity came through language. There were all sorts of folks from all across the region that for the first time in forever, finally understood God’s message together. 

That hadn’t happened before. 

Language is how we express ourselves. It’s how we understand the world around us. It’s how we make sense of pretty much everything. Language is a foundation for how we think, feel, and act. 

But today I want us to go a bit further than that. If language is how we express and interpret the world, then it goes far beyond just the words we use. 

Think about those moments you’ve had when you’ve said, “Man, that person just finally gets me.” That’s because someone is just speaking your language. You’re connecting. 

So start thinking about those moments. About those languages. There’s lot of them.

What do I mean by this?

I come from a pretty traditional, Midwest household. That’s a language I speak. I’m someone who’s fascinated by and makes a living exploring arts and culture. Another language. I design things so I often think about how people will interact with things. Another language. 

Everyone is multilingual. You might be able to speak from how it feels to be a woman in the 21st century. Or what it’s like to be Latino in California. Maybe you are a businessperson or a lawyer. Those are languages. For others, they might speak different spiritual languages because of their own tradition. Or maybe they have a specific life experience – they’ve moved a lot, they’ve been through a certain crisis, they’ve dealt with an illness. Those are all languages.

And there are countless others. 

All of these languages are valuable. And we can speak and hear God through all of them. 

Today we celebrate the church’s birthday. And today we are going to celebrate and decorate with balloons. Red balloons which symbolizes the fire and power of the Holy Spirit that birthed the church that day. 

As we pass out balloons, think of the languages you speak. Whatever they might be. Write them down with these markers on the balloon, symbolize that those languages have God’s power in them. 

Then I invite you to share your balloon with a neighbor and read their languages. If you’re so inclined, talk to each other about what that means. How have you connected with others with that language? 

[ *PASS OUT BALLOONS* ]

As Dawn said… And as the prophet Joel said… And as Peter said… “All will prophesy.” That means everyone — EVERYONE — has the power to speak the gospel in whatever language is theirs. In business. In speaking to others through your own experience. In music.

You CAN and SHOULD speak to people. 

The language doesn’t matter. The message does. And that message is love.

Amen.

We Have a Plan

Scripture: Acts 1:1-11

New International Version (NIV)


In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”


The word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

Sermon

Today is the day we observe Jesus’ ascension. The day he ascended back into heaven. We confess in the Apostles Creed:

“Jesus rose from the dead ….AND he ASCENDED into heaven.” 

This particular text – Acts 1 – tells us where we are in the story. In God’s story.

The author of Acts is the same author of the gospel of Luke. Thus, he begins by addressing Theophilus and reminding him of what he wrote about in the gospel of Thomas:

Gospel Story

Birth: God breaks into the world in the form of a baby. 

Ministry: Jesus teaches, works miracles, draws people to himself, heals, loves.

Death: Jesus is accused, betrayed, and killed as a criminal. 

Resurrection Jesus’ is raised from the dead and into new life. 

Appearances: In his risen form he appears and eats with his followers, revealing the truth of his resurrection to them.

Ascension: And now, on this day at the ascension, Jesus, in risen form, “is taken up” into heaven. This concludes the visits of the risen Christ. He is now in Heaven…not wandering around, showing up, convincing us that he is indeed alive. He is going back to heaven.

God’s verb in this passage is “to be taken up.” Jesus is taken up to heaven. It’s a passive verb “To be taken up” and we know that it is Abba, God in heaven in action, doing the taking. The Greek verb “to be taken up” can also be translated “to receive up.” Jesus is taken up to be received by God.

Jesus knows that when people leave, we get anxious. So, he gives us the plan. 

“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Of course he doesn’t give us a detailed timeline… but he does tell them what to look for. What to expect as we wait. 

That’s our verb – to wait. While Jesus is taken up… we are to wait. 

Waiting is not my favorite thing to do. And by spending time in airports or traffic or in a line for a cup of coffee… I realize it’s not anyone’s favorite thing to do. 

Waiting feels like wasted time. 

Time we could spend doing something productive.

Making change.

Or at least having a few extra minutes of time at home to relax. 

So why then does Jesus tell us to WAIT? In Jerusalem, away from our homes, our families, our work. 

Why would we wait? 

Why does Jesus want us to wait?

Jesus tells us to wait for the Holy Spirit. To wait for something that is about to happen in Jerusalem where we will be baptized. Some sort of baptism, not with water, but with the power of the Holy Spirit. And the entertainment factor alone of that promise is enough to peak our interest. To wait around with these strangers we’ve traveled with for a little longer and see what Jesus is talking about. 

I wonder if people went to sleep after the ascension…

Or if they just waited up… looking for something to happen… like some of us do on New Year’s Eve. Or the night an election is announced. 

We wait with great anticipation. Ready for things to get started. Maybe some of us fearful of what it will be… or what it will mean..

We’re given a few more verbs while we wait:

– stay 

– watch

– gather together

– witness

I like that Jesus tells us to gather together. It makes waiting a little more doable when we know we’re not alone. 

This last week I was at a conference with a few friends of mine who are fellow pastors. I was the one with the rental car and so I shuttled people around from one event to the next. 

My colleagues learned pretty quickly that I don’t like to wait. 

At one point we had finished one seminar and had planned to meet at the car at 2:30 to travel to the next place together. One of my friend’s sessions ran late and by 2:38 I was getting antsy, starting the car and ready to start circling the block. 

My buddy was in the passenger seat and he just starting laughing. “You really are impatient! It’s 2:38. Chill!”

He said, “If you start circling in this traffic, what good will it do? She’ll come here looking for you and you won’t be here. You’ll be putting yourself in more traffic for no reason.” 

“Be patient. Wait a little longer. It’s better this way.”

Of course he was right. A few minutes later, she hopped in the car apologetically and we were on our way. 

It can really help to have a friend beside you reminding you of the plan. Reminding you that your job right now is to wait. That’s your verb. That’s all you need to do, Jesus says. Wait and watch for what is next. 

* * *

Though the early followers got a plan… they were definitely confused by it. 

They couldn’t understanding WHY they couldn’t go with him. Why is Jesus being “taken up” alone? Shouldn’t we, adopted as God’s children through him, get to go, too?

They also couldn’t understand WHY he was leaving when the kingdom of Israel STILL has not been restored?

Wasn’t that why we needed a Messiah? To restore the kingdom of Israel?

To reestablish peace and justice and love as the values of our society instead of empire?

And as far as we can see, that has not happened. The world is still a mess. The empire still has power. Violence and execution are still daily news. 

WHEN will the Kingdom of Israel be restored?

Why Are you being taken from us? When God’s work is clearly not finished?

There’s a song in the musical Godspell that is really moving. Jesus has told the disciples the plan. He is going to die and be raised and this one follower begins to sing this song:

“Where are you going? 

Where are you going? 

Can you take me with you? 

For my hand is cold and needs warmth. 

Where are you going?”

The emotions of the song open up for us the depth of this moment. The confusion, the sadness, the fear and realized pain of abandonment. 

Jesus tries so hard to tell us the plan, to help us be patient in our waiting and trusting with our future. He tries so many times to tell us the whole story…and we still are stuck with the questions that affect us –

Where are you going? 

Can we go with you?

Is it time yet?


The question of where has always piqued interest for people inside and outside of the church.

Where exactly is Jesus going? Where is God “taking him up to?”

My question for us to consider today is this one: What is heaven? Where do you think Jesus ascended to?

  • – A place with no evil or heartbreak or violence. A place of ultimate peace.
  • – Where my scars on earth will be gone
  • – Customized for each person’s personality. Extroverts get to be at a party with all their friends. Introverts get alone time. 
  • – I like the way it’s portrayed in a movie where we all get a lawyer and go before a judge to see if our overall life was faithful. Specifically to replay parts of our life where we acted out of trust and courage and the parts where we acted out of fear. 
I heard author Diana Butler-Bass speak this last week at the Festival of Homiletics about heaven. She’s writing a new book called Grounded due to release this Fall and in it, she claims that the hierarchical understanding of salvation no longer makes sense in our 21st century context. 

This idea that heaven is above us, earth is here and hell is below us was shattered in the World Wars with the darkness of the Holocaust. 

All of a sudden during the war, we didn’t need the images of lakes of fire in our scriptures to imagine Hell and use fear to gain salvation. 

Now, we just turn on the daily news. Our minds filled with images of destruction. Hell is here. 

So, what does that mean for Heaven? She claims that we can get glimpses of Heaven here as well. Glimpses of the kingdom being revealed… being made new. 

As we focus on our verbs:

wait

watch

draw together

witness


We may catch glimpses of the kingdom being renewed or of God’s very self with us through the Holy Spirit. 

* * *

We could spend all day pondering this question… Where is heaven?

But we must be careful not to miss the good news. 

The GOOD NEWS is that “taken up into heaven” means that Jesus was received by God. Reunited with God.

We, like the disciples, might be sad or confused because we’ve gotten used to God being here. With us. God Emmanuel. 

But, Jesus doesn’t really belong here… in human form on Earth. He belongs with God, our Creator, his “Abba.” We just got to borrow Jesus for a short time so that we ourselves could be redeemed. 

It is GOOD NEWS that Jesus is taken up into heaven. 

Because Jesus is God. Comes from God. Must return to God. 

And it’s good news that Jesus isn’t done with us yet. There’s a plan.

We wait and watch and draw together because God is not done with us or redeeming the whole world yet. We must wait and watch for what is next.

The GOOD NEWS is that we don’t have to think of the earthly realm and the heavenly realm as completely separate non-permeable boundaries. 

Jesus breaks those boundaries open. The first to travel from God (heaven) to us (earth) back to God. And he paves the way for us… to be forever connected and reunited with God. To trace glimpses of heaven among the glimpses of hell. 

* * *

At the end of our story today, the two men (maybe angels, maybe bystanders) say, “Why do you stand here looking into the sky?”

…. Don’t you know Jesus can cross the barrier? Don’t you know this same Jesus going to heaven will come back?

Since the ascension and all Jesus has done for us, we do not have to fear what is next. We don’t have to get anxious or remain sad or confused.

For we know that Jesus is not yet done with us.

We know that Jesus is preparing our place with him.

We know that Jesus has already crossed our perceived barriers between heaven, earth and hell and invites us to do the same…

Next week is Pentecost – the birthday of the Christian church… when we remember that the Holy Spirit does come, just as Jesus said, and the Holy Spirit fills the followers with the breath of God. Baptizing them with fire to be Christ’s witnesses and live out the story – God’s story – in this world.

But this week….we WAIT

we WATCH.

we DRAW TOGETHER.

and we WITNESS what God is about to do. 

Because Jesus has told us the plan.

And for this, we give thanks.
Amen



Salt and Light

Scripture: Matthew 5:13-16

Jesus says,
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Sermon

On Instagram, Madison Holleran’s life looked ideal:
Star athlete,
bright student,
beloved friend.

But these photos hid the reality of someone struggling to go on.

Madison was a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania when she chose to end her life.

She had always been a high achiever – succeeding in school and in sports. Her family and high school community were used to seeing her name in the newspaper – a beautiful photo with stats of how many goals she had scored or track awards she took.

To the outside world, it appeared that she could do no wrong. She succeeded in everything that she did.

But on the inside, she was crumbling to pieces.

On January 17, the last day of her life, her dad called her and asked if she had found a therapist at school. She said, “Not yet.” As her biggest supporter and close father, he knew she struggled with perfectionism and finding happiness in herself. He was proud, but worried, too.

When news spread of Madison’s death, her family, friends and sports community rallied together – wishing they could breathe her back to life, to somehow communicate to her that they loved her simply for being Madison, not because of her achievements, or looks, or success.

In reflection on the disconnect Madison experienced between her online image and her inside one, five of Madison’s friends decided together that they would begin to share their unfiltered lives online.

“Intentionally, they peeled away the filters (literally and metaphorically) from their social media accounts to disclose their true feelings during shared moments in their lives.”
 Source – (http://espn.go.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/12833146/instagram-account-university-pennsylvania-runner-showed-only-part-story)

They use the hashtag #LifeUnfiltered with the message – “It’s ok to not be ok. It’s ok to let people know that you’re not ok.”

#LifeUnfiltered is an invitation to be more real in the image we portray online.

It’s an invitation to be vulnerable with our insecurities, failures and fears and find support in others.

It’s an invitation to find peace in who we really are instead of the image we feel like we have to create to fit in…

John Steinbeck once said, “and now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”

Now that you don’t have to be perfect…

You can be good…

You can be who God intended you to be.

* * *

Today’s scripture passage is so important because Jesus tells us who are to be. He gives us our identity.

Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth.”

“You are the light of the world.”

What does he mean?

You are the salt of the earth.

I’m going to pass around salt and I invite you take a piece. Hold it in your hand. Consider it.

…..Salt is a catalyst for change.

We use salt to enhance or change the flavor of our food. We put it on all sorts of things – vegetables, fruits, meats, chocolates. And the salt changes the flavor of the food.

I invite you to put the piece of salt in your mouth. Feel it dissolve. Taste how it changes the flavor of your mouth.

Consider the change one granule of salt has on your mouth.
The change is noticeable. It fills your whole mouth!

Salt is an important resource to us.

We use salt to preserve foods.
It creates a hostile environment for certain microorganisms, keeping them from spoiling our food.

We also use salt to change the substance of our food.
—-My favorite example is the use of rock salt to create ice cream.

Salt also has played an important role in our history by being a sort of currency.  The word “salary” was derived from the Latin term “salarium” which was the name for a soldier’s pay in the army of ancient Rome. The pay included a large ration of salt, which was a spice of high value and also a medium for exchange; thus the origin of such expressions as “salt of the earth” and “worth your salt.” 
Source – http://www.food.com/about/salt-359

So what is Jesus trying to tell us by saying WE ARE the salt of the earth?

(long pause)

He’s saying that we are good. (pause)

Theologian Dietrich Boenhoeffer points out:

Jesus doesn’t tell us that we WILL be salt or that we CAN be salt.

But that we ARE salt. Right now, in your very being: “You are the salt of the earth.”

Jesus is telling us that we are good. Simply because we are of God. We are created by God… we have all the goodness we need to change the world around us.

Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth” and he’s saying that you are worth something. You’re worth a lot!  To God, to yourself, to the world.

Not by anything that you are doing or becoming, but because of who you are.

* * *

Jesus says, You are the light of the world.

Again, we are a catalyst for change. Light changes things. Makes them better.

If we think of a completely dark room, and then one candle lit….we are aware of just how much change one flame can have.

Light gives us vision. It allows us to see things that we otherwise could not see.
It gives things color.

Light is also a kind of energy.
Light allows vegetation to grow.
Light can be captured as solar power for electricity.

Light is an energy, a power, a catalyst for change and growth.

Later in the gospel of John Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” Christ’s life and ministry among us brought us out of darkness and into a path of light. The light that provides warmth and direction and comfort.

So the fact that Jesus is including US in this identity is significant. Jesus is the light of the world. And we, too, are the light of the world. We, as disciples of Christ, have the light of Christ within us…. a light that can change the world.

* * *

These identities sound pretty good….

They are given to us as our identity in Christ and we don’t have to DO anything to be them.

But… there is something at risk.

Jesus goes on and says that we can LOSE our saltiness. If we lose sight of who we are.

If we put our light under a bowl instead of on a stand… our light will go out.

If we lose our identity –

not only are WE no longer good, but we no longer have the ability to add flavor and light to the world around us.



* * *


Jesus is making an important point for us that we have to accept our identity as salt, as light, so that our lives and discipleship will benefit the world around us.

We have to accept our identity, our goodness, and through it allow God to create change through us. 

We are the catalyst, God is the movement. It seems straightforward, but the implications are huge.

When we truly claim our identity in Christ… Salt. Light. We can not hide who we are. We cannot seek to become something other than ourselves.

Like Madison, the star athlete, successful student – we have to find our identity and our worth in our being. In our one identity as people of God and NOT in the identities uplifted by our culture. Not in other people’s perception of us or of who we should be or of who we think we need to become.

Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth.”

So, be the salt of the earth. Be good.

Be the light of the world. Don’t hide true self, but bring that to the forefront… to your online image… so that Christ’s light may shine through you.


* * *


There’s a classic movie, often played around Christmas time, called It’s a Wonderful Life

In it, there’s a main character George Bailey, a business man who has given up his dreams time and time again to help others. On Christmas Eve, George learns that a deal has turned sour and that there will be a warrant out for his arrest. In despair, he considers the worth of his life. 

An angel in the form of a man named Clarence distracts him by drowning in the river. George saves him and Clarence takes the opportunity to show him the impact his life has had on particular people and his town.  He shows George what life would be like for the town and all the people George loves had he not been born.

His brother, his uncle, his wife, the poor in his town – all would have had negative experiences, had it not been for the one life of George Bailey. The one light of George Bailey.

The movie puts into perspective for us what really matters. It’s not the exquisite dreams of stardom and fame. It’s not the perfect life portrayed in instagram feeds.

It’s the goodness we share in our very existence. The light Christ shines through us simply in our being.

* * *

The challenge of discipleship today is getting back to our identity. Pushing away the expectations of the world, of other people, of ourselves…. to find the expectation of Christ.

To accept and simply live our identity.

To BE THE salt of the earth.
The Light of the world.

This identity will shape our daily lives and relationships.

And our light will shine. Our light will allow others to see the good deeds of God. Our light will give glory to God.

So, let your light shine. Stay salty. Allow the goodness God created in you to change the world.

Amen.

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.)

Say Hello!