He Has Risen!

HeisRisen

Easter Sunday, Luke 24:1-12

Grace and Peace to you, from God, our creator, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Alleluia! He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

Our journey to Easter Sunday began more than 40 days back as we came together as a community to mark the beginning of Lent with the sign of the cross marked on our own foreheads in ash, reminding ourselves that we are dust and to dust we shall return. A sign of that very same cross that Jesus was crucified on Friday morning. We have experienced the temptations and the suffering, some of us more so than others. We have walked through heartache and we have dwelled in the valley of the shadow of death.

It is for this day that we have walked through the desert and wilderness. It is for this day that we have endured through all of the pain and suffering. It is for this day that the disciples have came to the tomb to ensure Jesus is prepared properly in his burial, only to find the tomb empty!

First, the women come to the tomb, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and others that are not named. The women are the first to truly know what the empty tomb signals. They are reminded of the words of Jesus by the two men in dazzling clothes who spoke words of comfort and reassurance that what Jesus said was going to happen truly did. It is in the resurrection that their belief grows stronger and they experience the hope and promise of the empty tomb. Their response is one that we should all be able to support and follow in our own path. They respond by breaking their own silence of grief and mourning to speak the truth that they now know. This is what God expects and asks of them, and it should also be an example for us.

Even though the women return speaking the truth that they now believe deep down in their hearts, there is still doubt and confusion among those that have not seen for their own eyes. Perhaps Mary is the first one to preach a sermon proclaiming the risen Christ, “I have seen the Lord.” In all honesty, do we need to say anything more than that on Easter?

This first sermon seems to fall on deaf ears. Luke goes as far to say that the other disciples do not believe their “idle tale.”  The disciples more accurate response to the women was that the story of the empty tomb was pure nonsense, or garbage if you want to put it in other terms. They doubted the word of the women and it was guilt-ridden Peter, whom had denied Jesus, that was the first that had to get up and run to see for himself. He leaves the tomb amazed, yet maybe still not fully comprehending what he has just experienced.

What has your experience been this Lent and Holy Week? Has it been one of repentance and forgiveness? Has it been one of contemplation and prayer? It is even possible that you have just went with the flow of the season and have not thought too much about it.

More importantly, have you seen the Lord? Have you witnessed God’s promise? Maybe it was in the love shown to you by a loved one or even possibly a stranger. Maybe it was in the action of others as they went beyond expectations to help their neighbors. Maybe it is in the joy and celebration that we encounter today in the resurrection. Christ is present in all of the above. I had the opportunity to witness the Lord Thursday evening as people came forward for the foot washing and was reminded of the actions of Jesus during that last supper as he bent down to wash the feet of all of his disciples, most likely even Judas. It was again on Friday as I was folding the towels used during the foot washing after they had been washed. I was reminded of the feet and hands that they touched and the love that a community has for one another through Christ.

In all of this God’s promise shines through with a dazzling brightness that is first proclaimed through the men that appear to Mary and the other women in the empty tomb, “He is not here, but has Risen!”

Alleluia! He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

Advertisements

God Works in the Midst of Disruption

easter_vigil

Saturday Easter Vigil Sermon

Grace & Peace to you, from God, our creator, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Alleluia! He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

In all of the stories we have heard this evening, disruption of various kinds occur. In the story of the flood all life as they knew it was forever disrupted as the raging waters rose and all that was left was Noah and his family and the vast cargo of animals that were brought aboard the ark. Moses disrupts the life of the Israelites as he is called by God to lead them out of the land of Egypt and across the Red Sea so that they may come to the land of milk and honey. Ezekiel surely knows something about disruption as he is placed in the midst of the Valley surrounded by bones that appear to have been there for centuries.

The stories of disruption seem to have no end. As we listened to the story of Jonah, we are made aware of the calling that he is eager to get as far away from as possible. He has no desire to take on the challenge that he is called to until his life is totally disrupted by rough waters and a big fish. We could argue about whose life got disrupted more in the story of the fiery furnace, was it Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, or was it possibly that of King Nebuchadnezzar? The three had to tolerate the inconvenience of spending time in the furnace, however, it was King Nebuchadnezzar whose plans got changed.

Disruptions do not have the final word. It was in the aftermath of the flood that God made a new covenant with Noah that the earth would not be destroyed by a flood again and all God’s creature are called to go forth and be a fruitful part of creation. Even though the lives of the Israelites in Egypt were disrupted, the sign of God’s promise can be seen as they are protected and delivered through the waters of the Red Sea. In the Valley of the Dry Bones, the Spirit breathes new life back into the bones that have given up all hope.

Jonah turns to prayer as he contemplates what he ran away from and is restored to new life as he finds himself once again on dry ground, with a stronger confidence, ready to go speak to the people of Nineveh. The faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego carries them through the fiery furnace as they refuse to bow down to another god. God protects them and carries them through the furnace and the heart of King Nebuchadnezzar appears changed.

The disruptions that occur in these stories, as well as those that happen within our own lives, are just that, disruptions, yet God is present to see us through. It is in our own baptisms that we are brought into the life of Christ and experience the never-ending love of God. It is at the table that we are fed with the bread of life and experience God’s grace. May we rejoice in God’s promises in the waters and meal as God creates, promises, delivers, provides, and saves.

Alleluia! He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

The Unexpected God

nard-essential-oil-nardostachys-_jatamansi-002

John 12:1-8

Grace and Peace to you from God, our Creator, and our Lord, Jesus Christ.

How many of you like to go shopping?

Of course with having two teenagers in the house I have spent my fair share of time in a mall over the course of the years. If you have been in a mall at any time, I am sure that you are familiar with some of the smells that you encounter. The smells that come wafting out of the food court are enough to tempt you into possibly eating when you aren’t even hungry. Almost every mall has a pretzel place and the smells that come from there can make your taste buds water. The smells coming from the cinnamon rolls will make you gain a couple of pounds instantly!

The smell that truly shocks the senses is when you wander into any of the department stores and get immediately pelted by the smells of the cosmetic and fragrance counters. Sometimes so overwhelming that you have to hold your breath just to get through that area of the store, hoping that you can hold your breath long enough without passing out!

It would be my estimation that if we were to walk in on Jesus having dinner with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in our gospel lesson this morning we would have sensed that we had just encountered the fragrance counter in a department store. An entire pound of perfume Mary had purchased, to anoint Jesus’ feet, and to be used at his burial. There was enough on his feet for her to wipe them with her hair!

What are we to make of this story? The breaking of bread among friends with an anointing that not only points towards Jesus’ death; it also points toward his action of washing the disciples feet during the Passover. Is it the fear of scarcity that takes center stage in this gospel lesson, or is it a story of God’s abundant love poured out for all of creation?

This Lenten season we have walked together as a congregation being reminded weekly of our call to turn back to our baptism on a daily basis. Repenting of those things that we have done wrong and those things that we have failed to do allows us to deepen our relationship with a loving, grace-filled God.

We entered this Lenten season with Jesus. Being tempted in the wilderness. As we have entered our own wilderness this Lent, we are reminded of the many temptations that come in front of us on a daily basis. The temptations to turn away from God and place something else in higher priority. I invited you to welcome in disruptions and listen to where God may be calling you in that time and place. We have thought about what we were going to say “yes” to this Lent, and what we were going to say “no” to. Perhaps you have done well following your Lenten discipline, however, I will have to admit that I have been tempted once or twice and may have possibly slipped a little.

Our journey through the past five weeks have been full of temptations whether we have noticed them or not. We may have succumbed to them and not even realized it. God has continued to work throughout the world in the past five weeks as well! God has shown up in places that may not have been expected and has brought hope and peace to those that are hurting and in need of healing. God does this by being with first responders and caring hands that reach out in love and support. Perhaps maybe God will even show up in the mess of a political system in our country that is currently being dominated by hate and fear.

God has shown the unexpected in our gospel lessons these past weeks also. God has been in the unexpected image of Jesus as mother hen gathering in all of the little children. God has been in the unexpected role of the gardener telling us to “just relax and let me tend to and nurture this thing (whatever it may be) that is so close to you and It will bear fruit as it is fed.” God is unexpectedly seen in the father of the prodigal son that comes home after spending all of his inheritance on wasteful living.

Again we find God in the most unexpected places this morning. For Mary to use such costly perfume to wash Jesus’ feet was unheard of. For her as a woman to be anointing is unheard of. She breaks all barriers when she takes it upon herself to wash and anoint Jesus in the midst of dinner. It was leaders and kings that did the anointing, look at Saul and how he anointed David. God shows up in the most unexpected places, breaking barrier to reveal the unexpected.

The objections raised by Judas even come as unexpected as we know the rest of the story and know what lays beyond Jesus’ death. Luke even inserts his own knowledge of Judas’ greed and sinfulness in this story to set up what is about to happen in the betrayal. Here we even experience the unexpected. A sudden plot twist that we may not have seen coming if we did not know the rest of the story. As we have got to know Jesus, we may not be surprised to find that he defends Mary, but to tell us that we will always have the poor with us, that is possibly unexpected. If we will always have the poor with us, how do we live into that together as a community? Stanley Hauerwas suggests that, “The poor we always have with us in Jesus. It is the poor that all extravagance is to be given.” By doing so we shower Jesus with the love that has been given to us from the beginning of creation and reminded of in the waters of baptism.

This next couple of weeks is going to go by at a fast rate as we prepare for Palm/Passion Sunday next weekend as we enter into Holy Week. We will come to the basin to have a feet washed on Maundy Thursday and gather around the table to partake in the Lord’s Supper. Good Friday will provide us with a chance to be with Christ and examine what the crucifixion means to us. The Saturday Easter Vigil will allow us to experience that which was unexpected to the disciples.

God is up to something new! God is showing up in the unexpected! May the fragrance of God’s love wash over us in our preparations for the next two weeks and surprise us with the unexpected.

 

Now You’re Speaking My Language by Gary Chapman: A Review

  
I was intrigued when I found this book on Netgalley for review. My wife and I read Chapman’s Five Love Languages several years ago and learned a lot from it as we were able to see which love language each of us appreciated and responded to the most.

In Now You’re Speaking My Language, Chapman brings a much stronger Christian feel to the book with scriptural references to support his ideas. I will admit though that I have some issues of recommending this book to others.

He speaks of marriage in two terms, as contract and covenant. Of course, his thesis is that a good Christian marriage should reflect a covenant marriage in which the couple is open to all and communication is always open. This is compared to a contract marriage which there is just simply agreements and bargaining made. He makes it seem that for a marriage to be successful you have to be Christian and follow all of these steps. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of a covenant marriage, however, I also believe there is room for a relationship to work in other terms as well.

The second issue that I have with this book is the image that he portrays that all marriages should be made to last regardless of what occurs within the marriage, including abuse. His argument is that you should be able to confront the issue and seek forgiveness. This is great in theory. In reality though, some relationships are just not healthy regardless of all you try to do.

Which brother are you?

prodson02

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Grace and Peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord, Jesus Christ.

This fourth Sunday of Lent we are presented with a familiar parable that conjures up many thoughts.  First, we wonder what has gotten into the younger son to want to take off and live a life which appears to be full of sin. To squander his inheritance on those things that do not bring him any closer to God. His first and foremost desire is to ensure that his pleasures are cared for.

Second, who can blame the older son for being slightly ticked off, to put it mildly, with the return of his younger brother and the fear that now is inheritance may be possibly shrinking. This is not fair, and to stage his disapproval of the entirety of the events unfolding in front of him, he stages an angry protest outside of the party. It is here that his father finds him and encourages him to come and be part of the celebrations.

Possibly, the father is just naive! First, his youngest son insults him by asking for his inheritance before he is even dead. It is only after that, that he decides to go off to the Las Vegas of Biblical times. It is here that his dissolute living and lavish spending catches up with him and he finds himself feeding pigs, whom eat better than him.

So, where can you see yourself in this parable this morning. Do you see yourself as the younger or older son? Perhaps you may even see yourself as the father.

You may see yourself as one character in the story one day and another day you may feel as though you are someone else. I love it when I am able to venture into a gospel story and hear and see new aspects as God speaks to me in different ways at different times in my life. I hope that you too, have been able to experience this same thing as you truly listen to God talking to you through various scripture. As I sat with this parable from Luke this past week I was able to experience some new and interesting insights in ways that I had not before.

I grew up in the typical American family, or at least what seems more typical today! My parents were married in the mid-seventies and each brought children into the marriage. My mother already had two daughters and a son. My father had a daughter and a son. I can only imagine what those early adjustments were like. I would come along shortly after they were married, being the sixth child between them and their first together. Eventually, I would have two more younger siblings, making for a total of eight. The holidays are definitely loud and full of excitement when everyone is present, including the grandchildren and great grandchildren.

I thought of my family as I read this parable and pictured what my place would be in it. I will have to admit that it scared me a little. I saw myself as the younger brother, the prodigal son, that was willing to take anything offered to me and since so much had been offered, I was not afraid to ask for more, because most likely I would receive it. My parents had the means to do so and I did not feel guilty for the many possessions that I had. By this time, all of my older siblings were out of the house and it was just myself and my younger sister and brother.  Needless to say, this practice did not help my own financial practices when I started college, because I thought I could get whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it. Eventually, it catches up with you.

The revelation that shocked me more so, was that as I listened to this parable more, I was able to see my parents as the father. Some of my older siblings have had their own fair share of problems with substance abuse, and even the law. They have went out and lived beyond their means and at times may have even experienced themselves having to feed the pigs like the prodigal son in the story. As I reflect back now, I witnessed my parents stepping up to support their children in their personal and financial struggles. They were, and still are like the father that welcomes his son home after contentious living and offers a roof over there head and food on the table to eat. There may be some tough love that goes along with the welcoming in as well, but the fact that they once were lost, and are now found was cause for them to open their arms wide and welcome them back home, like they had just left. This parable has helped me see God, where I did not notice God in the past.

What we have in this parable is the one thing that God ultimately desires for all of creation. This parable is God’s deepest desire, greatest yearning, and passionate dream for all of God’s children and the whole of God’s creation. And the one thing that is greater than life itself is knowing that we have been found.

This Lenten season, as we come to the font and are reminded of our own baptisms, we turn back to God and ask for forgiveness. Forgiveness of those things that we know we have done wrong, as well as those things that we are not fully aware. God meets us where we are at, before we have even fully admitted what we have done wrong. God is present in those times that we feel as though we are laying in the pig sty. God is there to pick us up, dust us off, and welcome us home with a deep loving embrace. It is for this reason that we celebrate and break bread together. For Christ meets us at the table, where we are at, broken or whole, offering us a meal that is full of grace.

 

 

Trespassing Across America by Ken Ilgunas: A Review

trespassingacrossamerica

Ken Ilgunas takes the reader on a road of discovery and wonder! Why would someone in their right mind want to journey across North America following a pipeline? I assure you that I am pretty sure that Ilgunas was in the right frame of mind when he set out across America on this incredible journey to meet the people and places that would be and already were affected by the Keystone XL.

There are times that you are on the edge of your seat hoping for his safety, while at the same time having an inner desire to be out there with him. He does not announce to those that he encounters that he is not in favor of the Keystone XL, for the fear of possibly being kicked out of town or even being shot. The fact that his journey could be considered illegal at times, since he crosses many barbed wire fences and walked along where the pipeline was planned to be laid, heightens the excitement. He follows the original Keystone for a while as the proposed Keystone XL would have followed along the same path. Fortunately in November of 2015 the final phase of the pipeline was denied.

As Algunas set out on this journey his goal to meet people along the way and hear their stories was fulfilled. Some that were very dependent upon the pipeline as well as those that were strictly opposed to it. At one point he mentions that he does not consider himself Christian, or of any particular faith. However, one person he meets mentions that he sees the light in him. I do as well, as his care for creation and concern for its well-being is very apparent. His concern for others and willingness to listen also shows his deep concern and caring for others. He makes the comment, “To travel alone, I’d learned, isn’t to rely on yourself. to travel alone is to force yourself to depend on others. It is to fall in love with mankind.”

He was shown that love in return by those willing to let him camp in their front yards, stay in their churches, and welcome him with a warm meal. A great journey that eventually comes to a physical end, leaving the reader, and writer, to ask what’s next?

*Thanks to NetGalley for an advance copy

Book Review: Every Living Thing, General Editor: Christine Gutleben

 

9781942011095-Perfect_updated

As we look across the Christian landscape within the United States there are many denominations with varying degrees of theology which guide their doctrine and practices. It is the hope of many to be able to work on an ecumenical level with our sisters and brothers in Christ. We do not always have the pleasure of doing so as we let our differing opinions get in the way of what is better for our communities.

The collaboration of Every Living Thing brings many denominational statements and beliefs around creation care into one convenient resource. While at times we tend to get into a theological war of words, it is nice to be able to see where our common beliefs align and build a foundation to reach out in common care for all of creation. While there definitely are apparent differences when we discuss the specifics, it does not mean that we end up mostly at the same conclusion.

The creation of Every Living Thing started as a collection of social statements online by the Humane Society of the United States Faith Outreach program in collaboration with Antonia Gorman, Ph.D. This project morphed into the current edition of Every Living Thing, which is very well annotated and gives detailed notes so that the reader can do further research if she so chooses. Gorman states in his history of the creation of the book, “As you will see when you read further, religious values have much to say about our engagement with animals and our obligation to treat all God’s creatures with kindness, compassion and mercy.”

Thirteen of the largest denominations in the United States are included within the collaboration, from Evangelicals, Roman Catholic, Mainline Protestant, and many more. The denominations themselves put a lot of work into the creation of their social statements and all have reference to biblical exegesis as they cite many of the same verses in support of the care for creation. The social statements of each of the denominations included most likely went through vast screening processes and many versions before they were accepted by the denomination as a teaching to be upheld by the greater church body.

It is hard to argue against the fact that the care of animals is of great importance and that as a creation of God we must ensure their protection within creation. Not too many people go around stating that we must exterminate all of the animals of the world. The argument does come to light as we look at practices of farming and hunting. While some denominations, such as the Seventh Day Adventist, call for care of all creation and a meat free diet, others see that we are able to responsibly care for creation while also letting it provide for our needs. These arguments are both contemporary and historical.

One of the blessings of Every Living Thing is that it looks at the social statements of each denomination closely, gleaning from them where care of animals and creation are relevant. At times this can seem redundant as the authors give a summary of the social statements, and then the social statement itself is presented. This at times can seem monotonous and unnecessary. As stated earlier, the statements reference many of the same Bible verses as they present their justification for caring for all of God’s animals. The social statements are then followed up by historical references that may have represented the denomination in earlier years, from early 20th century to pre-medieval time depending upon the denomination.

As we look at the historical, it is hard to look past some of the saints of the early church. Especially St. Francis as he is known as the Patron Saint of Animals and Ecology. Of course he is discussed within the Roman Catholic history in his regard to being able to speak with the animals and truly caring for them. Many other of the Mainline Protestant Denominations celebrate St. Francis as well in their care of creation and blessing of the animals services on or around St. Francis’s feast day.

Each denomination is concluded with Contemporary Reflections that highlight some of the current practices of the churches presented and some examples from other sources within the denomination. These are the most current reflections on the place of animals within the world order as the denomination views it. These contemporary reflections give some insight to some of the leading scholars within each denomination.

A bonus to this collection is the Appendices which reflect on some other historical figures that reflect a positive promotion for the care of creation within our world. C.S. Lewis, Hannah More, and William Wilberforce all promoted the care for animals in their own way. Their gifts that they have left for us can still have an affect on how we care for creation today. Lewis, among the most notable names, was an ardent lover of animals as is evident in his books, especially the Chronicles of Narnia series.

Perhaps if all of creation were to step forward in the manner of love that St. Francis had for creation or the magnanimous care that C.S. Lewis had for all then this book would not be necessary, as well as the social statements contained within its covers. As humanity was given dominion over all of God’s creation, we must remember that that dominion does not mean domination. The dominion presented to us must be reflected back in love and care for all of God’s creation and Every Living Thing does a wonderful job in presenting its argument for the care of all.

*Reviewed for The Englewood Review of Books