Love By This: Faith Isn’t One More To-Do

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him

whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

1 John 3:16-24

My sermon from the 4th Sunday of Easter (April 22, 2018) on 1 John 3:16-24. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

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So on Tuesday, I discovered just how waterproof my rainboots are. My boots, if you haven’t seen them, are pretty much the only water resistant shoes I own. I’m pretty picky when it comes to what I wear so when I find shoes I like, I wear them until their bottoms literally fall off. That means, when there’s even a hint of rain or water outside, I bust out my trusty boots. They’re thick, with a heavy heel, banana yellow in color, and come up to the middle of my calf. They usually work great…but Tuesday was a different story. My family and I were visiting the Cape Cod National Seashore on the one good weather day we had. Since it rained the day before and the temperature was hovering around 40, we bundled up in our winter coats and our rainboots and headed to the beach. I had the bright idea to hike 2 miles along the beach to visit a lighthouse. That hike went as well as could be expected since my unrealistic expectations and unrestrained optimism ran head first into the reality of taking a 3 year old and a 5 year old on a very physical hike. We didn’t make it very far before we got stuck in a tide pool. The ocean waves were pounding the beach, sending the water inland. The pool, at first, didn’t look very deep but a few steps into it, and we suddenly sank. I soon had two very wet kids and some very wet socks because the water came up to my knees, pouring over the top of my boots, and filling them up. When we finally managed to get out of the tide pool, I took off my boots and poured the water out of them. I slipped the, back on only to hear a large squick every time I took a step. My family decided to head back to our warm, and very dry, airbnb but I decided to press on, towards that lighthouse. I found a way through the tide pool, and headed along the sandy shore, with each step going squick. After about a half mile of this, I noticed my boots filling up again with water. Each step I took was squeezing the water out of my socks. But since the water couldn’t go out, it just stayed in my water tight boots. Every step I took meant more squicks as the loose sand on the beach made my feet sink, causing each step to be harder than the one before it. These boots, designed to bring me comfort and protection so that I could engage the world with dry feet, ended up trapping me in miserable wetness to the point where each step was a struggle that I didn’t, necessarily, want to take.

Today is our 3rd week in the first letter of John. We’ve already seen how this letter isn’t really a letter – it’s more a statement of what the letter writer believes. Some kind of split in their community, based on different understandings of Jesus himself, has caused the larger, more successful part of their church, to leave. What remained behind was the smaller group, the ones that wrote this letter, trying to get the larger group to come back. But at the same time, the author of 1 John affirmed that the Jesus we know: who lived a human life and ended up nailed to a cross – that Jesus is truly God’s Son. Jesus can’t be split into two different parts – into a human side and a divine. He is 100% one of us, and at the same time, 100% God. His entire life mattered. His death mattered. And his resurrection mattered too. To know Jesus is to embody and live out his whole entire story. So that means our life should love and help and make sacrifices for others just like he did. And we’re told told this every single day because God’s love never takes a break.

Which sounds, from our human point of view, as an utterly exhausting way to live. Each one of us woke up this morning with things we have to do. There’s the basic stuff, like eating, and the other things we do or have done for us, to cover the bare minimum of our human living. Some of us are working today or getting ready to go back to work tomorrow. Others are figuring out who will take which kid to practice, who will shop for food for the week, who will try to get their taxes finished before their extension expires, and who will visit their parents, knowing that they might have to say goodbye. It’s amazing how things, sort of, just pile, drowning us in all that we need to do. And then there are still more of us, feeling lonely or scared or worried, who wished we had a longer to-do list to distract us from our feelings. The complexity of everyday living is tiring all on its own. So it can feel overwhelming when our faith seems to be asking us to do one more thing. It’s like, if on our daily to do list, we had to write “be Jesus to everyone” on it each and everyday. Our faith, this living and breathing and evolving relationship with Jesus, can bring us comfort, peace, and a sense of purpose but it also, at the very same time, demands a lot from us. The flip side of faith is that faith itself, this force that causes us to trust God, is a gift that God freely gives us…but it’s also a gift that compels us to become something new that loves like Jesus can. Faith, which can protect and guide us as we wade through the sinking sands and tide pools of our lives, can also overwhelmed us when crisis, busyness, worry, and our everyday reality cause us to feel trapped, lost, confused, and wondering where is God right now? When the comforts of faith collide with the demands of faith, we can feel trapped in the sinking sand, unsure if we even want to take our next forward step.

Which is why 1 John says we should – because when we live out the life of faith, we discover the faith we already have. Faith doesn’t ask us to add one more thing to our to do list. Faith asks us to reorient the list we already have by recommitting ourselves each and everyday to that Jesus who has already committed himself to us. When we love like Jesus, when we examine all our doings and decide to root them in God’s only Son, we not only show others who we know Jesus to be but we also reveal, to ourselves, that we truly are God’s children. We might not always believe that or we might doubt that this Jesus matters. But what we do in our everyday life reveals to each of us the identity we were given at our baptism. We were made followers of Jesus. We made faithful and faith-filled. And we are, even today, loved. When we see clearly how much God loves us, how much Jesus on the Cross was meant for you and for me, the easier it becomes for us to love: to see the needs of this world and give our gifts, our resources, and even our lives so that others can thrive. A confident faith doesn’t mean that we will wade through life fully protected from the struggles, harms, and challenges that life will bring us. A confident faith, above all, holds on to our identity as beloved children of God, so that even in those moments when our faith is overwhelmed, flooded with anxiety and doubt so that our next steps feel heavy, hard, squishy and full of the unknown, we still know we aren’t alone. And then, even when we are afraid, we can then love and serve like Jesus because Jesus never stops loving and serving us.

Amen.

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Other Sheep. One Flock.

I wonder what the disciples were thinking when Jesus spoke about “other sheep?” (John 10:11-18) Could they imagine who those others were? Would they want others to be included anyways?

The disciples were there during Jesus’ early ministry. They witnessed his acts of power. They saw Jesus literally walk on water. I’m sure they were impressed by what Jesus could do and what he said. As his ministry grew, political and religious authorities pushed back. Jesus was challenged in public and forced to defend what he was doing. The disciples, I’m sure, were forced to do the same. Scripture is clear that the disciples never truly understood what Jesus was doing. They struggled to understand what he taught and they were not clear about who he really was. But when the disciples were confronted by others, I imagine it gave them a false sense of righteousness, a belief that they understood exactly who Jesus was. At the same time, however, the disciples probably were very afraid. They didn’t know if they people they spoke to would welcome them or challenge them. The disciples would not know what other people, outside of Jesus’ inner circle, would do. Other people, then, would be unknown variables. And Jesus just his told his disciples that those unknown variables, the people who make the disciples afraid, will be Jesus’ followers.

It’s sometimes difficult for us to imagine the diversity inherent in the body of Christ. Faith itself is a gift from God and a gift that God gives to us in a very personalized way. God knows each of us and knows what our faith needs. This is amazing and wonderful. But it also means that what our neighbor needs might not be what we need. And that their shape and experience of faith might be different from our own. But regardless of our faith, and whether we identify as Lutheran Christians, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholic Christians, Reformed Christians, Non-Denominational Christians, and more – we are all followers of Christ. And we are all invited to keep our eyes, our heart, and our focus on the Jesus who guides us all.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for Easter, 4/22/2018.

Children’s sermon: seashell

Bring some seashells you got from your trip of Cape Cod.

Hi everyone!

I’m very glad to see you today. Last week, my family and I were able to take a vacation and we went to one of our favorite places: the beach. We love the sand, the ocean, the waves, and everything there is about the beach. Now, usually, we go to the beach in the summer when it is warm. Then we get to wear bathing suits, go swim in the water, and lay on the beach reading good books or building sandcastles. But…this time…the weather was cold and rainy and wet. In fact, one day I was at the beach and it snowed. So it wasn’t my typical beach vacation but I did get to hear the waves and water. And I also got to bring back these. What do you see?

Seashells!

Right. Seashells. And all sorts of different kinds of seashells. What do these look like? Let the kids describe the shells, hold them, and see them.

They’re neat, aren’t they? I like to collect seashells when I see the beach. They’re amazing because of what they are. Shells are a hard, protective outer layer that an animal creates o protect itself in the sea. It’s like body armor, able to keep the animal inside safe. The shells we find are the beach are old, the only thing left from the animal that created it. Shells protect, keeping safe what’s precious and vulnerable inside it. The shell lets the animal inside grow big, strong, healthy, and above all – thrive.

Which is why, I think, we use a seashell in the church when we baptize. I use the shell to get some of the water and then pour it over someone’s head. The water flows, so it’s moving, reminding us that Jesus is “living water” for us – and when we are baptized, when Jesus becomes our friend and protector, Jesus helps us thrive. Our baptism is our connection with God. And since we’re connected to God, God helps us grow big, strong, and healthy – in love. Our baptism helps us grow in love – helping us love all people – by being kind to them, listening to them, helping them, and protecting them – like how the seashell protects what’s inside it. Our baptism, our faith, helps us become like a seashell to all sorts of people – to classmates, playmates, and even strangers – so that we can help them grow big, strong, healthy – and thrive.

That’s why a seashell is a symbol a baptism. And why we, whenever we are at the beach, and we see a shell – we can remember that Jesus loves us, that Jesus has made us his friend, and that Jesus is helping us to protect and take care of everyone.

Thank you for being here and I hope you have a blessed week.

Each week, I share a reflection for all children of God. The written manuscript serves as a springboard for what I do. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship on the 4th Sunday of Easter, 4/22/2018.

Reflection – Children of God Sin

One of the striking claims in this passage from 1 John 3:1-7 is “no one who sins has either seen him or known him” (3:6). This seems to contradict what we heard last week: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1:8). How can the author of 1 John say that the followers of Jesus do not sin and, at the same time, that we need to confess the sins we know we have?

Like I mentioned in my sermon last week, there has been a split in the churches that first wrote and used the gospel according to John. Two groups emerged arguing over the nature of Jesus. The author of 1 John believed Jesus to be fully divine and fully human – all at the same time. The other side believed that Jesus’ divinity is all that mattered. This argument about Jesus impacted how they lived their lives. If Jesus is fully human, then how we live our lives right now matters. If Jesus’ humanity is not important, than what we do today doesn’t really matter in the end. For the author of 1 John, sin (the way we deny Jesus and fail to trust him because we are too busy acting as if we are the center of the universe) impacts our relationship and experience of Jesus. For the other side, sin does not alter their relationship and union with God. This kind of belief encouraged a way of life that did not focus on justice, righteousness, or ethics. It’s a way of life that assumed we’re already “good enough,” and thinks that Jesus (and Jesus’ church) cannot show us a new way of living.

Today’s passage from 1 John begins by proclaiming who, through baptism and faith, you are. You are a child of God. You are, right now, living with a fully human and fully divine Savior who cares about you. You have been adopted into God’s family and God’s family cares about justice, mercy, hope, and love. When we live as authentic children of God, following Jesus and serving each other are just what this family of faith do. But, as imperfect people, we sin. We make mistakes. We fail. But when we admit our faults, we also admit who we belong to. Being with Jesus empowers, inspires, and helps all our relationships with other people because we all struggle. In spite of our identity as Children of God, we will sin. But we trust that the Jesus who lived, died, and rose for us, will keep his promise. The eternal life doesn’t begin only when we did. In Christ, our eternal life starts right now. And the core of that life involves loving God and everyone else.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for Easter, 4/15/2018.

Children’s sermon: living with scars

Bring a small mirror so you can find the scar on your forehead.

Hi everyone!

I’m very glad to see you today. Today in our story about Jesus, we’re going to hear something that sounds a bit odd. We hear every year the week following Easter – so you might remember it. It involves Jesus, all of his friends gathered in a room with the front doors locked, and a disciple of Jesus named Thomas. But before we get to the story about Jesus, we need to talk about some of our stories too. And to do that, I need this.

Show the mirror.

What’s this? A mirror! Right! And this is a small mirror that lets you might use to look at your face when you want to put on moisturizer or makeup or whatnot. But I’m using it today because I’m looking for something specific on my face…and…yep, there it is. You see up here, on my forehead and up to the left? That’s a big scar. It’s faded now – and blends into my skin – and it’s usually more noticeable in the summer when my skin is darker. But it’s there, a scar, that I’ve had for over 30 years. And I got this scar because, when I was little, younger than some of you right now, my brother and I were playing at our house. We were having fun. We put the pillows on the floor from the couch in a large circle. And we were jumping from pillow to pillow, round and round and round. My brother started to pretend to chase me and I was running from him and it was awesome…until it wasn’t. I don’t remember exactly what happened – either I tripped over the pillow or it slipped under me – either way, I know that I fell down and hit my head on the corner of a big stereo speaker. I cut my head pretty bad. It was scary and I hand to go to the hospital. The doctors and nurses took care of me, gave me a bunch of stitches, and I was better pretty quick. As the cut healed, it started to turn into a scar. The scar is a place where the wound we have is repaired but the tissue, the skin, ends up being a little different than before.

Over the years, that’s the biggest scar I’ve got. But I’ve got plenty of smaller ones too on my knees and fingers and arms and legs. Do you have any scars?

Share scar stories.

Now we end up with scars for a lot of different reasons. And every scar, I think, is a reminder of a challenge or situation or experience that we lived through. Even if we think that scar was caused by something we did or we’re ashamed of it or if we’re embarrassed about it – if we have a scar, that means we’ve lived through it; we’ve grown through it. A scar is a sign of what we’ve been through – and since a scar is full of new skin – each scar is a sign of how we can, no matter what we’ve gone through, we can still heal and become who we are supposed to be. And we also, regardless of that scar, deserve and will receive from God – love.

Jesus today is going to visit his friends when they are afraid. He’s going to walk into the room and come to his friend Thomas. Jesus is going to show Thomas his hands, feet, and the the side of his chest – the places where Jesus was hurt. But, unlike us when we get hurt, Jesus doesn’t have a scar in those places. Instead, he’s still wounded. His hurts are still apart of him. Everything Jesus went through is part of who he is. But his hurts, and his past, aren’t – with God’s help – the limit of who he, or us, will become. Your scars will always be apart of you. And you will carry different kinds of scars that others won’t be able to see. But no matter what your scars are – Jesus loves you. Jesus is with you. And Jesus, who himself still carries his own hurts, will help you become exactly who you are supposed to be.

Thank you for being here and I hope you have a blessed week.

Each week, I share a reflection for all children of God. The written manuscript serves as a springboard for what I do. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship on the 2nd Sunday of Easter, 4/8/2018.

We Declare: Nerding out with P52 and why church is hard and essential

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 1:1-2:2

My sermon from the 2nd Sunday of Easter (April 8, 2018) on 1 John 1:1-2:2. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

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So if it’s okay, I’d like to spend some time today with y’all nerding out. But instead of digging into our shared love of comic books or which Star Wars movie is the greatest, I want to take us to another level. I want to spend time with something called P52. Well, P52 is just it’s nickname. It’s full name is Rylands Library Papyrus 52 and it looks like this Slide 1. It’s a 3.5 inch by 2.5 inch piece of papyrus located at John Rylands University in Manchester. And it doesn’t look like much. The papyrus is all brown and fragile. Its edges are jagged and torn. And the words written on it are missing most of their letters. In fact, the whole thing looks like maybe it was tossed in the trash and left in the Egyptian desert for 1900 years – which might actually be what happened. On first glance, P52 looks like a piece of junk. But it isn’t. That, right there, is the earliest written copy of anything we have from the New Testament. What’s on that scrap is the gospel according to John, chapter 18, verses 31-33. And it’s a copy of the gospel, dated to sometime between 125 and 175 CE, just a generation or two after that gospel was first written down. The bible we read today, the scriptures that structure our faith, are connected to that little scrap of papyrus that someone left in a trash can 1900 years ago.

Now, that’s sort of mindblowing, right? I like to nerd out with old papyrus because we see how we are connected to a faith that is bigger than ourselves. Our belief and those moments in our lives when Jesus is very real to us – they are part of a wider reality of faith that includes everyone here and whoever held that piece of papyrus out in the Egyptian desert. As much as we in the church like to talk about our faith being a very personal thing – by using words like “my faith” or “I believe” or even “Jesus loves me” – the faith we have is also a very communal thing. Our faith connects us, unites us, and brings us together into a community that looks to Jesus for its life. What we do in worship today might sound different from what happened in Egypt 1900 years ago, but we are all connected to a Jesus who is both personal and communal. Our faith is not designed to be a solo activity. Our faith is a team sport.

So for the next six weeks, we’re going to hang out in 1 John. 1 John is usually called a letter but it really isn’t. It’s more of a position paper, describing what they think the main themes from the gospel according to John are all about. But whenever someone writes down anything that says “this is what this means,” then we can be sure that there are others who don’t agree. Later on, we’ll discover that there’s been a split in the churches who first wrote and used the gospel according to John. And their disagreement centered on Jesus himself. One group, the larger and more successful of the two, decided that Jesus’ divinity, his status as God’s Son, was the most important part of who Jesus was. And since Jesus’ divinity was all that mattered, they decided that the rest of Jesus’ story – his humanity, his life, and his death – didn’t matter at all. For them, it was as if the opening chapter of the gospel according to John, the bit that described Jesus as being God and present since the beginning, was immediately followed by Easter. Everything in between was almost meaningless. It didn’t matter that Jesus was born. It didn’t matter that he was a teacher who always formed communities. It didn’t matter that he ate meals with people he shouldn’t, argued with the religious authorities, and healed those in need. And it especially didn’t make one lick of difference that Jesus ended up dying on the Cross. For the larger community, this framework created a kind of faith that was very personal, very individualized, and one that didn’t need really need the wider community. Because a faith that only cares about Jesus’ divinity, is a faith that doesn’t really care much about our everyday living. Instead, once that kind of faith feels like it already believes enough, then it starts acting as if life, right now, is meaningless to God. We can then make our life into whatever we want it to be, staying rooted in ourselves alone, and not in fellowship with the rest of the team.

Now, I know this kind of faith sounds a bit odd to us. But imagine if we didn’t have Mark, Matthew, or Luke in our bible. Then a faith that doesn’t pay much attention to Jesus’ life and death is a faith that a certain reading of the gospel according to John, can be possible. It’s a faith that’s centered on me and God and… no one else. It’s a faith that looks to escape the world rather than spend time trying to live in it. And it’s a faith that doesn’t really value community because it doesn’t believe that a community is needed to make people grow. It’s a faith that, in the end, looks for Jesus but ends up leaving Jesus’ community behind.

So, It’s to this larger, more successful, community that the author of 1 John was writing to. 1 John wasn’t written by the side that was the most powerful. And it was a letter that, in the end, didn’t really work at all because the two communities never reunited. 1 John is a piece of writing that failed it’s goal – yet it became part of our bible because, I think, it helped show all of us how faith is a communal effort. What we teach, share, and entrust to the next generation is a faith that grows, changes, and evolves in and through community. The gospel according to John needed Matthew, Mark, and Luke. And Matthew, Mark, and Luke needed the gospel according to John. Even the structure of our scripture itself shows us that we can’t be who God wants us to be unless each of us commit to following Jesus with each other.

And that commitment isn’t always easy. We will disagree with each other. We will see Jesus in different ways. There will be parts of our personal experience of faith that we believe should be essential to everyone, but we’ll discover that the person sitting next to us in these pews doesn’t feel that same way. [Nicolas, like the rest of us, is going to discover that] What makes church hard is that we are called to be with people who aren’t just like us. But that’s also what makes church essential because a faith without community is a faith that will not last.

And so, the author of 1 John, begins his writing in the place where our faith starts: with an honest sharing of what was “from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.” Our personal story with Jesus – with its struggles, doubts, and joys – is a story that we are asked to share with each other. When we tell our story, we commit ourselves to this community. And when this community listens to these stories, all of us discover a little more of what following this Jesus thing is all about. The person in Egypt hearing about Jesus from P52 had no idea that us, here in Woodcliff Lake, would be talking, and sharing, and following that same Jesus 1900 years later. But the Jesus that gave that person in Egypt life, and breath, and held them through all things – is the same Jesus who is here, with us, forming us into a new community where walking in His light is all that we [including little Nicholas] do.

Amen.

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Children’s Sermon: Jokes

Bring Easter Eggs. Make sure you have a chocolate egg replaced with a grape!

Hi everyone!

For those of you who don’t know me or remember my name, I’m Pastor Marc. And I am so glad that you are here today. Today is a very special day – it’s Easter. Even though Easter officially starts today, I know many of us have been celebrating Easter in different ways for weeks now. Most towns in our area have already had giant Easter Egg hunts. And the town I lived in had there’s yesterday. After everyone had left the field, I noticed there were this one egg that everyone forgot. So I picked it up – and brought it here – and let’s open it right now, to see what’s inside.

Open the egg. Show the two chocolate eggs.

Whoa! What does it look like that is in there? Candy! Chocolate eggs. Chocolate eggs! Wait…these aren’t just chocolate eggs. They’re caramel chocolate eggs. Oooh that is my favorite! Let’s open it up and see what’s inside…

Open the egg. Discover a grape.

Wait a second?! What’s this? A grape! A grape isn’t chocolate. Okay, okay. There must have been a mistake. There’s another egg in here. Let’s open that up and see what’s inside.

It’s another grape!

ARGH. Isn’t that unexpected? We thought there would be a chocolate in there but instead, there was a grape. And a grape, while delicious, is not the same as candy.

But do you want to know a secret? I actually didn’t find these yesterday at my town egg hunt. I actually made them to share with you as a joke. We expected chocolate but we got a grape. We got something we didn’t think was possible. And finding the unexpected – that’s what Easter is all about.

On that first Easter morning, the women who were Jesus’ friends found something unexpected. But it wasn’t a grape instead of chocolate. It was, instead, new life from a place they didn’t think was possible. Discovering joy and love and wonder in places we don’t expect – that’s Easter; that’s love; and that’s Jesus story – a story meant for you, and me, and everyone here. So we’re invited, I think, to look for the kindness, love, and joy that comes from the places and people we don’t expected – because that’s exactly the place where God is making something new.

Pass out Easter eggs and highlight that there are no grapes in them.

Thank you for being here and I hope you have a blessed week.

Each week, I share a reflection for all children of God. The written manuscript serves as a springboard for what I do. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship on Easter, 4/1/2018.

No Joke: A mid-sentence and resurrected life

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.​

Mark 16:1-8

My sermon from Easter (April 1, 2018) on Mark 16:1-8. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

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I’ve noticed that my life lately keeps wrapping up mid-sentence. When I walk from one side of my house to the other, with a very clear and specific purpose in mind, I’m usually detoured by the most random thins – like that sock, right there, in the middle of the floor. I grab it, planning to toss it into the laundry but then realize I forgot to move the laundry into the dryer. Oh, and there’s that email I need to write and I better post that funny thing my kids said on Twitter before I forget….….wait…I forgot what they said. When I finally return to that original task, hours have literally floated by. I call these mid-sentence moments because my wife and I will start a conversation and in the middle of a sentence, something like this will come up, and we’ll finish the conversation days later. This mid-sentence kind of living is exhausting and it’s also hard because it leaves conversations, thoughts, and experiences hanging in the air. And unless I keep these mid-sentence moments right here, right in front of me, they end up forgotten and falling away. Now I know that most of my mid-sentence living is caused by my life choices. It’s not easy having many competing priorities and living with a family that has their own priorities as well. I have some control over my mid-sentence moments but I also know that this isn’t always true. There are experiences that stop us in mid-sentence and not by our own choice. We are caught up by things and events and people we can’t control. And before we know it, our expectations are inverted. Our plans go awry. Our assumptions are undone. And we become like Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, left in mid-sentence.

The gospel according to Mark is a little weird because it ends basically in mid-sentence. Unlike Matthew, Luke, and John, there’s no vision of the resurrected Jesus in this text. Jesus doesn’t speak Mary’s name. He doesn’t walk through locked doors to surprise a disciple named Thomas. We don’t even get to see Jesus having brunch with his friends on the beach. Instead, we get a large stone, rolled away. A young man sitting there, telling the women to not be afraid. He gives them a job, saying “Go and tell.” Tell the disciples what you saw. Tell Peter where Jesus is going. Tell everyone that Jesus isn’t where you expected him to be. And the women, according to this text, go nowhere and say nothing.

Which isn’t really the story we expect to hear on Easter. We already started today by proclaiming that Jesus is risen. We’ve already shouted alleluia. We’re gathered here because we know that someone told; that there have always been women preachers because if the Marys and Salome hadn’t preached, we wouldn’t be here right now. We expect on Easter for the Bible to show us Jesus raised from the dead and yet the gospel according to Mark leaves us, and these women, stuck in mid-sentence – between what we know came before and what now looks brand new.

Now the women already knew everything that had gone before this moment. They had followed Jesus, heard his teaching, watched his healings, and were the only ones of Jesus’ disciples who saw him die on the Cross. I’m sure these women thought they knew Jesus’ whole story. But then, in a completely unexpected way, the women heard that the resurrected life was now a reality. And at that moment, their understanding of their relationship with Jesus suddenly changed. Their connection to God’s Son; this Savior who called each of them by name; who promised through word and deed that God knew them; that God saw them; and that God loved them; this Jesus who gave so many other people new life now had a new life of his own. And because Jesus knew these women, this new Easter life was now part of them. Their mid-sentence life was over and their resurrected life had, because of Jesus, begun.

But, according to Mark, this resurrected life doesn’t show up at the end. The resurrected life appears in our everyday living and it shows up everywhere. We see what this life looks like “when Peter’s mother-in-law is raised out of a fever and freed to serve (1:31).” We see the resurrection happen when a tax collector, a profession in the ancient world that required corruption, abuse, and violence, leaves his tax booth behind to follow Jesus(2:14). We see a person marginalized because of their difference “raised into the center of his community’s attention and is” then fully “healed (3:3).” And we watch a father, knowing that his doubt and his faith are not incompatible, so he bring his most cherished relationship to Jesus because being with Jesus changes everything. (Mark 9) Time and time again in Mark, the sick, the wounded, the marginalized, and the ones society casts aside are raised up, given new life, and then placed into a community called to care and love them. It was only at the tomb, after the good news of new life was told to them, that the disciples finally realized that Jesus had already been filling out the next part of their sentence and the next part of their life.

The resurrection isn’t something we have to wait to find out. It’s already here. In our baptism and in our faith, the new life of Jesus is given to each of us as a gift. This gift isn’t given to us because we’re perfect, or get everything right, and or we come to church every Sunday. No, this resurrected life is given to us because God lived our mid-sentence life and, through the Cross, God pushed us to the other side. It’s not always easy to feel and notice this resurrected life. We are, like those women at the tomb, still living lives in between what has come before and what will come next. The Marys and Salome had no idea what joys, struggles, and experiences their new life with Jesus would bring. But they did know that Jesus was right there, ahead of them, and he is right here, ahead of us. We just need to shift our focus, reset our eyes, look to him, and live into our resurrected lives. Lives where healing, not harm, is all we do. Lives where love of neighbor becomes a reflex because it’s part of who we are. Lives where the walls and dividing lines we build to keep others out so that we can stay in our personal bubbles – those walls need to be torn down. And these resurrected lives are where inclusion, care, service, and love become habits that offer new life to all. The resurrected life knows who we are, where we’ve been, and knows all the ways we failed to serve others without fear. This life knows us as we are, right now, caught in our mid-sentence moments; but with our eye stuck on Jesus, this resurrected life will carry us through into a new reality, into God’s reality, where the next part of our life becomes love.

Amen.

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