A funeral sermon for C.

[Jesus said] “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:1-6

My sermon to honor the memory of C. (June 18, 2016) on John 14:1-6.

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Which Were Many: A sermon on Jesus the Critic.

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.’ Jesus spoke up and said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ ‘Teacher,’ he replied, ‘speak.’ ‘A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered, ‘I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.’ Then turning towards the woman, he said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.’ Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

Luke 7:36-8:3

My sermon from the 4th Sunday After Pentecost (June 12, 2016) on Luke 7:36-8:3. We celebrated a First Communion at the 10:30 am worship.

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Sat Up: A sermon on Jesus, seeing, and someone’s first communion.

Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, rise!’ The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has risen among us!’ and ‘God has looked favorably on his people!’ This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

Luke 7:11-17

My sermon from the 3rd Sunday After Pentecost (June 5, 2016) on Luke 7:11-17. We celebrated a First Communion at the 10:30 am worship.

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Dependency: a sermon on worth, Jesus, and the National Spelling Bee.

After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, ‘He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.’ And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go”, and he goes, and to another, “Come”, and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this”, and the slave does it.’ When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’ When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

Luke 7:1-10

My sermon from 2nd Sunday After Pentecost (May 29, 2016) on Luke 7:1-10. Memorial Day weekend so only one worship service at 10:30 am.

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A Crowd: a sermon on Trinity Sunday, Jesus, and what a faith journey can look like.

‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

John 16:12-15.

My sermon from Trinity Sunday (May 22, 2016) on John 16:12-15. At the 9 am worship, we baptized an adult (my first adult baptism!) Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

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So one of the joys living in Northern New Jersey offers, is that driving here is always an adventure. Yesterday, I was on Linwood Avenue, heading to Valley Hospital for a visit. Traffic was light, the sky was gray, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Ahead of me, about 40 feet away, was a large flatbed truck, colored black and red, with a small forklift attached to the back. The truck looked nearly empty, with only a few pallets of 50 lb bags of sand left on it. So nothing strange was happening, and my mind started to drift towards my upcoming visit. But, suddenly, the truck in front of me jolted. It shook. And, for half a second, it swerved into oncoming traffic. The driver quickly got the truck back into the right lane. But in that correction, something happened to the cargo. Several large bags of sand flew off the truck, barely missing the cars that were coming towards us. White puffs of dust and sand filled the air as the bags burst as they hit the ground. I silently thanked God that no one was hurt and everyone dodged what came down. But the truck didn’t realize what happened. He kept driving. And as he drove, bags kept falling. Every fifty feet or so, another bag would hit the pavement. After a bit, the driver finally realized he was losing cargo. He pulled over, put on his hazards, and stepped out of his truck with a giant roll of saran wrap to secure the load. The crisis averted, I passed him by, and went on my way.

Later, after my visit at the hospital was over, I drove back over the same road. The truck was long gone and most of the bags of sand that hit the road were gone too. But some remained. And the sand, the sand was still there, every fifty feet or so. It looked so symetrical, so intentional, that it reminded me of an industrial version of Hansel and Gretel, were this truck dropping bags of sand to find its way back home. And each bag, as it landed on the ground, made a mark that couldn’t easily be forgotten. That mark, that impact – is what Jesus is getting at in these four verses from John. Jesus is sharing these words during his final discourse – his final sermon before his arrest, trial, and death. He’s preparing his disciples for what’s next, for what life will be like once the Cross comes. These disciples had literally walked with Jesus. They ate meals with him, shared hardships, and made memories together. When Jesus called these disciples by name to follow him – Jesus wasn’t seeking a short term commitment. He, and his followers, are together for the long haul. So Jesus begins today’s text with a promise. He promises that, no matter what comes next, Jesus has more to say. Their experience of God isn’t over just because Jesus no longer walks, talks, and eats with them like he used to. Their experience of God isn’t finished even though their story is going to change. Jesus promises to keep speaking and that he will be heard. And as his disciples live their lives – wherever they go, and through whatever happens next – Jesus’ voice in their story will not be silent. God is still speaking. God is still caring. And, above all, God is, through the Spirit of truth, still guiding. God looks at God’s people, sees their story, walks with them as they experience their lives – and in their joys and sorrows, and even when their worlds turn upside down – God is still doing what God does – and that’s love.

Now, I’m not sure the disciples, while listening to Jesus, if knew exactly what he was saying. By this point in the text, we’re already two chapters into his four chapter sermon. Jesus said a lot – and he’s still got more to say. I imagine, if I was there, it’s at this point where I probably would have started zoning out. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’d still be there – but my eyes would do that thing where they start glazing over. My ears would hear the words but my brain wouldn’t really be listening. I bet my mind would wander, thinking about what I needed to do next or what kind of recipes were used for the meal we just had, or maybe I’d end up just kinda being blank – with no real thought in my head. But the beauty of Jesus’ promise is that his promise doesn’t depend on understanding. Jesus isn’t giving us a pop quiz here, wondering if we’ve listened to every sermon, or memorized every bible story. Jesus is, instead, pointing to our reality. He’s saying that he understands that most of us still have some life left to live. Our journey continues. Jesus isn’t asking for understanding – he’s asking for faith. He’s pointing to trust. His word, when spoken, makes a difference whether we understand it or not. We might feel like each step we take is something we do on our own but Jesus promise’s that’s it not. Even when we don’t realize it, even when we fight against it, even when we doubt, God’s promise is that we’re not going through this life on our own.

Now, one of the joys of my job as a pastor is that there are days like today where we get to see what a faith journey can look like. We, as a community, are witnesses to a Jesus who is still speaking. We get to see that this word of promise is a word that breaks into new places, into new worlds, and into new lives – with a promise of hope, of peace, and love. And even though our lives can, and do, act like there might be a flatbed truck dumping sand in front of us as we travel down the road, creating obstacles we didn’t plan for, and throwing up clouds of dust that make it impossible to see the way ahead, our road isn’t a lonely road. We might not see what comes next – but God sees us, right as we are. And God knows the way through. Jesus doesn’t promise that these obstacles, these hardships, these bags of sand will no longer head our way once we believe or are baptized. We still have a life to live. But Jesus does promise that through everything, God is there, speaking, and guiding. Jesus promises that we are worthy to be loved. And he declares that we are.

[Now Robert, I know that you have plenty of life left to live. And I know, through our conversations, that there have been plenty of bags of sand thrown your way. But, I honestly believe, that God has been with you in all things. Your journey to this place, to this font, to Jesus Christ, is a journey where your faith and your story are intertwined. And, like Hansel and Gretel, those bags of sand tossed your way became moments where God spoke to you, leading you home. Today doesn’t mark your journey’s end. It marks a new beginning. Jesus still has many things to say to you. Jesus still has many things to say to all of us. We all have a faith-filled life to live. We all have love we can give. We all have a hope we’re called to proclaim. Because we are part of the body of Christ. We live in the world God made. The Spirit of truth that led Robert to the water is the same Spirit that leads all of us to discover the word God is speaking. And this word isn’t a word only meant for you or me. It’s a word that, through us, is meant for all the world to see. ]

[Today, at the 9 am service, an adult, Robert, was baptized. Now, one of the joys of my job, is walking with people in their faith – and watching as God does what God does. Through my many conversations with Robert, I heard his story. I saw his life. I witnessed the parts of his life where obstacles, and dust, and bags of sand were thrown at him. But, through all these things, God was there. God still spoke. And like Hansel and Gretel, each bag of sand thrown his way, became a moment when Jesus spoke to him, leading him home. Today didn’t mark the end of Robert’s journey. It marked a new beginning. A new beginning we all share because Jesus still has many things to say to each of us. We all have a faith-filled life to live. We all have love we can give. We all have a hope we’re called to proclaim. Because we are part of the body of Christ. We live in the world God made. The Spirit of truth that led Robert to the water is the same Spirit that leads all of us to discover just what word God is speaking. And this word isn’t a word only meant for you or me. It’s a word that, through us, is meant for all the world to see.]

Amen.

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We Are: A sermon on tomorrow and the Spirit.

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

”I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

John 14:8-17,25-27.

My sermon from Pentecost (May 15, 2016) on John 14:8-17,25-27. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

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When Jesus speaks, what does he sound like? That’s the question that popped in my head when I read Jesus’ response to Philip today. This scene takes place in the middle of John’s version of the Last Supper. Jesus just washed the disciples feet, shared that he will be betrayed, and told his friends that he won’t be here much longer. And that warning finally gets through to the disciples. Now, these men and women gave up everything to follow Jesus. They left their homes, their families, and their careers. They thought Jesus would start a new era with a revolution by making Jerusalem great again and tossing the occupying Roman army into the sea. But Jesus’ words during this last supper point to something different. The future, suddenly, looks a lot less certain. I imagine something inside Philip – just broke. He immediately recalled everything Jesus said about dying – all the words that pointed to the Cross – and Philip’s mind raced. His heart beat faster. Without a sense of what’s going to happen next, Philip is anxious. So he turns to Jesus and asks for a sign from God – for something that’ll show that everything he believes is going to happen and that, in the end, everything is going to be okay.

And this is the where Jesus’ tone matters. When he responds and says “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?” Do we imagine Jesus sounding patient, kind, and speaking in a whisper? Or do we hear Jesus sounding totally exasperated, like when we our kids or loved one open a fridge full of food and say “There’s nothing to eat.” Like..seriously…Philip, where have you been? That’s the tone – that’s the Jesus – I hear in our gospel reading today. Philip has been there since nearly the beginning. They’ve taken trips together, slept under the stars together, and shared meals all over Israel and beyond. Philip has seen the miracles, seen Jesus do what Jesus does, Philip’s literally seen the signs – and even that’s not enough to extinguish his anxiety and his worry about the future. When Philip walked with Jesus, he carried an expectation of who Jesus is and what’s going to happen next. But if Jesus isn’t going to start a revolution – and with his betrayal and death on the horizon – Philip, in many ways, is undone. His expectations are broken. He pleads to Jesus for another sign – another miracle – to put Philip’s broken expectations back together. Philip is emotional with Jesus – and Jesus is emotional right back. He tells Philip to remember. Remember what he’s seen, who he belongs to, what Jesus has taught. And then, Jesus says, “know what you can control.” Philip can’t control what the future will bring – but there is something that he can do now. He can remember. He can believe. He can love. And Philip can trust that Jesus will be with him, no matter what.

The problem with the future is that we just don’t know it. Our expectations of what’s going to happen next isn’t the guarantee we wish it was. Life is full of too many variables and our anxiety about tomorrow is just…always there. I remember, as a kid in school, spending long nights staring at the ceiling, too anxious to go to sleep, because I wasn’t sure what questions would be on tomorrow’s test or if that special someone I wanted to ask to the prom would say yes. I couldn’t decide what my teachers would ask and I couldn’t decide if my future date was available or if they even liked me. But I could do something about me.I could make sure I studied and covered all the material assigned – and I could do the hard work to be that kind and caring person that even I would like.

So by admitting what we can’t control about tomorrow and focusing on where we’ve come and what we can do now: that’s Jesus’ answer to Philip. Remember – hope – and love: that’s Jesus’ message. But Jesus doesn’t leave things there. He doesn’t tell Philip that this process of looking at the future and looking at today – will be something he has to do on his own. Jesus promises an ally – an advocate, a divine presence that Jesus will give his disciples and who will to put in keep God’s promises always in front of them. And that’s the Spirit. That presence is God’s commitment to us, saying we’re not going through this thing called life on our own. That’s what we’re celebrating today. We might not know what’s going to happen but we do know that in our past, in our presence, and in our future, yesterday, we’ve got God and God’s got us. Faith and love, caring for others and for ourselves, is not something God leaves us to do on our own. Because sometimes we need a flaming tongue of fire to ignite our call to love. Sometimes we need to have others around us who suddenly can speak our language. And sometimes the only sign we get is a memory, a promise, that we were baptized, we were kissed by the water and kissed by God, and that’s all we need to share Christ’s light in the world. Philip walked with Jesus, ate with Jesus, and saw all that Jesus can do. And even Philip needed the Spirit. The Spirit’s holy gift is that we are God’s and God isn’t leaving us on our own. That’s God’s promise. That’s what God’s peace looks like. And that’s the confidence we need to live as the people of God. When we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, the Spirit grabs us to remember our roots, remember where we come from, and remember that God will go to any length – even to death on a cross – for us and for the world. And it’s with this gift, with this Spirit, we can hear Jesus’ words, listen to his voice, and do what he asks: and that’s, in everything, just love.

Amen.

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Who Hears: A sermon on How To End a Book about the end (Revelation)

“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. “It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.

Revelation 22:12-14,16-21

My sermon from Pentecost (May 8, 2016) on Revelation 22:12-14,16-21. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

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How to you end a book about the end? That’s the question I like to imagine John of Patmos struggling with as he was writing the last paragraph of what we call the book of Revelation. In my head, I see him sitting in a poorly lit room, with his manuscript on his lap, and smoke from candles making soot marks on the ceiling. He flips through what he’s written. He re-reads his visions of heaven and he recreates in his mind the vivid and colorful images his words paint for us. He sees the four horsemen, sees God’s holy city descending from heaven, and watches as God’s story of faith, love, and hopes collide with the faith, hope, and fear that the Roman Empire taught and proclaimed. Through Jesus, John knows that God is doing an almost ridiculous thing. Instead of scratching everything and starting over, God is taking what’s already here in this world and making all things new. The broken, the doubting, and even those who do not know God are being transformed. The call from John to the people who hear his words is simple: don’t forget that Jesus is with you through all things. And this relationship isn’t just life-affirming, it’s life changing. John, in the 21 chapters before this, shared so much. But how to end it? Maybe, as he waits for the Spirit to inspire him, he watches as the candlelight flickers, casting shadows on the walls. And as these shadows move and dance, he sees images of the people he’s writing these words to. He sees the 7 churches, the homes they use as sanctuaries, the men and women who lead worship, and the young and old who gather there on Sunday mornings, in the predawn hours, to experience Jesus. And so, as the images of people dance before him, John takes a breath, puts his pen to paper, and the words just come.

Now, this past Friday and Saturday, was the New Jersey Synod’s annual meeting. Our denomination’s regional body met – so the Lutheran churches in NJ, sent their pastors and some of their members to meet for a day and a half to talk about what it’s like being the church in New Jersey. I was there, as well as Joanne Milano and David Crouse. But I did more than just share the joys and struggles we experience here at Christ Lutheran. I also co-lead a workshop over lunch on Friday that was all about church communication. Over 3 dozen folks gathered in a small conference room to talk about social media, facebook, websites, newspapers, and more. And it was great because, in the entire hour and a half, the conversation didn’t stop. People talked. They asked questions. And, after the workshop ended and I returned to the wider churchwide session, there was one question someone asked that wouldn’t stop gnawing at me. I….couldn’t stop thinking about it. We were asked if the New Jersey synod had any tips or tricks on how to use church communication tools to target, and market to, a specific audience. Churches do have a point of view, a message to share, and different parts of our story appeal to different kinds of people. Someone who loves thinking, talking, and mulling over God while in conversation with ancient theologians and modern day scholars might not respond to a message which highlights that our denomination is second only to the Roman Catholics when it comes to providing social services like nursing homes, food programs, and more. Our story needs to speak to different kinds of people and we need to know the people we’re speaking too. And that’s what targeting is about: knowing our audience and knowing our own story, too.

But there’s about a third of God’s story that this question misses. By focusing on who we’re trying to reach or on the story they need to hear, we bypass the message teller. We hope that the right message, or the right story, or the right words or images to share, will do all the work for us. If we just advertise in the right spot, and make sure these ads show up in the right space like during the Super Bowl or we never someone logs into Facebook, everything will just fall into place. Faith will spread. Our pews will fill and the world will be changed. But, in this scenario, the message, in the end, won’t involve us at all. And that’s what got me about the question we were asked. The question wasn’t how we, personally, could share Jesus. The question was assuming that the message, somehow, isn’t meant to come through us. But the medium is the message and it’s hard to admit that God has has called us – to be God’s message tellers. We, who don’t always know what to say, who might not even know what our own faith story is, we’re the ones called to tell and share what God is doing in our lives. And sometimes this story – this message – is obvious. When we feel God active in our lives, that’s easy to share. But sometimes, the most honest thing we can do is admit to others when we don’t sense God – and share that our faith, is sometimes hard. We’re the ones who, in our baptism, are given the job to tell our story and God’s story too. The message without the message teller doesn’t share all of who God is and what God does. God is making all things new but that needs to be pointed out and shared with our family, friends, coworkers, and even strangers. We’re called to point out when we see that new thing, when we see that transformation, even when the one who is new happens to be us.

When the ink of the last paragraph of Revelation finally dried, what John wrote was simply: come. Come and see what God is doing in the world. Come and see what God is doing in my life. Come and see how God loves – and God won’t let our brokenness be the final word for us or for the world. Come and see. Come and notice. Come and share. Because as God’s story bubbles up in our lives – as acts of service, acts of love, and acts of faith suddenly show up and make themselves felt – when we hear God say ‘come’ – we don’t hoard that message for ourselves. We don’t hide it from everyone else. We who hear, we who experience, we who see and know God, we go into our world, to our friends, to our families, and to even strangers – and, like John of Patmos, like the 7 churches he wrote too, we who are imperfect – who are broken – and who mess up – we point to Jesus and say to all: ‘come.’

Amen.

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Shine On It: a sermon on connection and what God’s Holy City looks like

And in the spirit [one of the angels] carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Revelation 22:10,22–22:5

My sermon from 6th Sunday of Easter (May 1, 2016) on Revelation 21:10,22–22:5. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

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So – bandwagons. Do you jump on them? I’m not ashamed to admit that I do. I’m not even a baseball guy but when the Mets score 12 runs in one inning like they did a few days ago, suddenly I’m paying attention. Another thing I’m paying attention to is this: vinyl records. I’m totally into it. A new release from a band I like comes out on vinyl? I’m buying it. Crates and crates of old records show up at our amazing Trash and Treasure sale yesterday? I’m crouched over them, letting the smell of old cardboard and all this dust billow over me as I flip through them. And it was while I was digging through those crates that I found this: X’s – Wild Gift. X, as in the letter, is a punk band from Southern California. And I actually already own this album – but only in digital form. My former experience with this music involves song names with the letters mp3 added to the end. But not anymore. This music experience now has heft. It has weight. It’s more physical, and in some ways, more connected that it was before. X’s music, dreamed up, created, and crafted in a specific time and in a specific place has been physically etched onto this record. And it takes something just as physical, the needle of a record player, to make that music come to life. Without the record, we have no music to play. Without a needle, we have no way to retrieve the sound that was created. Each part – the record and the needle needs to be connected to the other to create and share a beautiful song.

And it’s that sense of connection that flows through our reading from Revelation today. For the last five weeks, we’ve been walking through this final book of the bible. We started at the beginning, continued until we met the four horsemen of the apocalypse and are now in the last few chapters of the book. Our author, John of Patmos, is sharing a vision of what God’s future looks like. Last week, we heard how he saw a holy city – a new Jerusalem – descending from heaven and settling in our world. And today, John fleshes out what that city looks like. There’s a giant river, flowing through the middle, and a large tree that does an impossible thing and grows a different fruit every month, like some kind of cosmic fruit-of-the-month club. And in parts we don’t hear today, John describes this city as massive – 1500 miles long and wide. Surrounding it is a large wall, covered in every gem and stone. He goes in detail, naming the stones of the city, and sharing that every building and every street is made of transparent gold. But God’s city of precious stones and metals surrounds what is even more precious to God – people. And, like we heard a few weeks ago, this countless number of city dwellers contains every kind of person from every kind of place. The vision that God gives John isn’t only huge, it’s also vivid, colorful, and, above all, incredibly urban.

Because that’s what’s neat about what John is describing here. When we imagine heaven – or our paradise – or the place where God lives – do we imagine a city? The breathtaking scenes of paradise that we usually think about are beautiful vistas, white sandy beaches, and a wilderness that is perfectly harmless but when we see it, our breath is taken away. Even scripture, when it describes creation, talks about a beautiful garden that Adam and Eve called home. But today’s vision, while beautiful, doesn’t describe an isolated place. There are no beautiful vistas, signs of untamed wilderness, or white sandy beaches where the only thing we see is our feet, propped up, while we’re resting in a hammock. Instead, God’s future is a city – a city filled with city blocks, city streets, and city sidewalks. This new Jerusalem is more New York City than a mountaintop retreat, and is filled with buildings built right next to each other and with windows looking into a neighbor’s apartment. And with this city living comes city people. Everyone is moving, crowding streets and sidewalks. Each step we take involves weaving and dodging through crowds of people who don’t look, act, or sound like us. City living is a very physical kind of living. City living should be a very connected kind of living too. Every single person is gathered together, drawn around the Lord – around the Lamb – around Jesus – who is more than just a presence in this holy city. He’s it’s source. It’s from where he sits that water flows. And it’s that water that gives life to the tree that everyone seems to see. And from the food that comes from this tree, the people aren’t just fed, they’re healed. This tree isn’t for one kind of people. It’s for the nations. It’s for everyone. And it all starts with this Jesus who died on a cross and who marks that cross on his people, forever. To be in the holy city is to be connected to the One who provides life, the One who feeds, the One who brings light even into our darkest places. A life with Jesus is physical – tangible – truly connected and one that sings.

But this life with Jesus is a life in community. A city isn’t a city if we are the only ones who live there. A city needs people, it needs others, and it needs folks who don’t ignore each other but who care, listen, and get to know who their neighbors are. God’s future isn’t only a vision for tomorrow. It’s a vision for what living with God looks like right now. It’s as if the Christian life needs others so that we can live into God’s eternal dream for us. Like a needle on a record, when God grabs us in our baptism, we are called to be connected. We’re called to get to know each other. We’re called to notice who God has brought into our community and into our city.

And that means more than just noticing that [baptismal name] Nicole Bauer is joining the body of Christ today. I mean, we should notice her because she’s adorable. But more than just adorableness is happening today. Today, we’re changing. Today, the body of Christ as we could see it, is different than it was before. Our vision is expanding. Our understanding of God’s city is growing by 1. And as we share God’s story and a little of who we are to this new member of the body of Christ, we know that Nicole is going to do the same to us. As she grows and experiences the love God gives her everyday, our vision of Christ’s story grows. With her, we can all more fully sing the song God has given to us. Without each other, we’re like a record that can’t speak or a needle that has nothing to say. We can’t be who God is calling us to be without each other. We can’t wait to share our stories, to see what Nicole will add to our vision of what God’s city can look like, and to walk together, in faith, knowing that God’s future is big enough to include all sorts of people – and is big enough, no matter what, to include us too.

Amen.

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Sea No More: The Muppet Movie and the God-of-all-tenses

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.

Revelation 21:1-6

My sermon from 5th Sunday of Easter (April 24, 2016) on Revelation 21:1-6. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

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“A frog and a bear seeing America” that’s the lead in a song from one of my favorite movies – The Muppet Movie. If you haven’t seen it, Kermit the Frog takes a road trip from the swamp he grew up into the bright lights of Hollywood. Along the way, he’s pursued by the evil Doc Hopper, a restaurateur with a chain for frog leg restaurants, who is hoping that Kermit will become his spokesfrog. Near the beginning of the film, Kermit runs into Fozzie Bear, a failed stand up comedian, and possibly the only bear in America who’s earned their driver’s license through a correspondence course. The two partner up, with Fozzie driving, Kermit in the passenger seat, and plenty of room in the back of their 1951 Studebaker to carry all the other muppets that they’ll meet. And so, they head off, starting their journey by singing their song: “Movin’ Right Along.”

Now, it’s a great song. Kermit’s playing his banjo, they can’t read a map, and it sounds like there’s a full orchestra just off screen, who happen to be following along. The two claim to know where they’re going – but the song shows otherwise. They somehow end up in Canada, pass by Rhode Island, notice the sun is rising in the west, and run into a snowstorm while suspiciously driving along some roads through what looks like Southern California. Kermit and Fozzie are “footloose and fancy-free” and in a song that lasts less than 3 minutes, they’re also literally all over the map. When we pay attention to the lyrics and what we see on the screen, none of it makes any logical sense. They can’t go to Rhode Island and Western Canada in just one verse. But what we see makes sense emotionally. We get a foretaste of this new and whacky journey that we get to go on with these two muppets who are ready for the big time – and wondering if the big time is ready for them. And that sense – that feeling – is a part of what our reading in Revelation is trying to do today. We hear a vision of heaven, a vision of the future, a vision of what happens when God comes to earth – but this vision, when we look at the verb tenses in this passage, doesn’t create a logical story. Instead we get an image of how we, right now, are caught up in God’s future and God’s future is already just movin’ right along.

Now, if you didn’t know, I received my undergraduate degree in engineering. When I was in high school, I dreamed about building things, writing computer programming code, and solving complex questions with thousands of variables. I didn’t plan on a career where I would be writing a few thousand woirds each week. If I had, I might have taken a few more English classes than I did. So, when I write, for example, articles for our newsletter, and even manuscripts for my sermons – verb tenses still throw me. Even when I’m careful, making sure each verb tense correctly shows when something happened or existed in the present, the future, or the past, I still slip up. I still need an editor to point out where I’ve gone wrong.

So it’s surprising to see, in our scripture reading from Revelation today, these verb tenses that are all over the place. The passage starts with our author, John of Patmos, reporting to us after seeing a vision of God’s future. So this vision happened in the past. But this vision is of God’s future. So that’s..the future. And this text, written as a letter to 7 churches – 7 churches who would read this outloud during their worship services – well – that’s the present. So, in a sense, we’re caught in mixed of tenses. Past-present-and future are all mixed up here. John saw a new heaven, a new earth, and a new holy city descending from heaven and landing smack-dab on the face of the earth. But then a voice declares – that God’s home is – right now – among mortals. This same voice then moves into the future – a future where God will dwell with people, live with them, and where God will wipe away every tear. And then, suddenly, we’re back in the past, with John telling us who he saw on the throne of the universe. And then this one on the throne, who is God, tells John – tells us – that God is making all things new, right now, and that God will, in the future, give water from the spring of life as a gift to all. This is a lot of tenses. This is a lot to see and hear at once. This also gets a little confusing – like reading a map upside down or expecting a sunset and seeing a sunrise instead.

But a God of all tenses – a God where the past-the present-and the future are all wrapped into one – that’s John’s God. That’s the image that John is painting for us. A God of all-tenses isn’t a God who is far-off, like some distant star, who cares little about the details of our daily lives. A God of all-tenses isn’t a God who is hidden, waiting for a series of pre-determined events to just…happen…in an almost myth like way before God, finally, shows up. A God of all-tenses isn’t only a God of the past, a God for yesterday’s people but who has nothing to say today. A God-of-all-tenses is a God who cares about our past, who loves us in our present, and who leads us into God’s future. This is a God who is active. This is a God who, even when we can’t see it, is breaking into our reality. A God of all tenses isn’t going to rapture people up to heaven but is, instead, going to step off the throne and come-on-down. A theology that claims that God is waiting to take the right kind of people up to heaven ignores this God of all tenses because a God-of-all-tenses cares about us in all of our tenses- our past, present, and our future – too.
Now, we all have our pasts. We all have our own roadtrip that we call life. We have our stories, experiences, and those times when we’ve forgotten God or when God is just not on our radar. We’ve all built our own walls, forcing our loved ones, our friends, our neighbors, and even strangers to pay for them in a multitude of ways. We’ve made choices. We’ve done wonderful things. We’ve even loved others too. But we’ve hurt others – and others have hurt us. Our past is ours – and that matters to a God-of-all-tenses. A God of all tenses doesn’t ignore our past – but instead, our God doesn’t let us stay there. God sees our junk – sees the junk we’ve experienced, created, or that junk that’s just been thrown at us. God sees all of it – and doesn’t let it be our final world, our future tense. Because God is in the business of dwelling with us today and living in the world right now. God is busy breaking in – like a new city, coming down from heaven, and making all things new. That newness includes us. That newness includes those we’ve hurt. And that newness includes those who’ve hurt us too.

When Kermit and Fozzie sing this song – they’re near the start of their adventure. They still have people to see, muppets to run into, and they’re heading to an epic showdown with Doc Hopper, a gang of hired goons, and the biggest Animal we’ve ever seen. Their story is just beginning. And our story, whether we’re 2 or 92, is just beginning too. The God that dwells with us, the Jesus that grabs us in our baptism and doesn’t let go, that’s our Fozzie, that’s our Kermit, in the Studebaker that is our lives. And whatever comes at us – whatever ordeal we face – none of that can undo that we are loved by a God who is in all our tenses – in our past, in our present, and in our future. At the end of “Movin’ Right Along,” Fozzie and Kermit wonder if the big time – if Hollywood and all its fame and fortune are ready for them. John of Patmos, in these last chapters of Revelation, shares that our future, our past, and our present are wrapped in God’s future; a future where the tears we shed are wiped away by the One who created us, redeemed us, and lives with us, right now, even in our broken lives and in our broken world. Our roadtrip is God’s and God’s roadtrip is our roadtrip too. So when we head out, facing our days, facing our world, and facing our lives – we can go footloose and fancy free, knowing that no matter what comes along, the God of our past, the God of our present, and the God of our future is with us – so that we can keep movin’ right along.

Amen.

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