Story

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Acts 11:1-18

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

This morning we are immersed into story! The Book of Acts is a collection of stories of those first disciples that began to preach and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ as they witnessed it and received it in their hearts. Story is what connects us to our ancestors and others of previous generations. Historians share with us the stories that they have pieced together from various resources and research.

Each and everyone of us has a story to share. I truly enjoy sitting down and getting to talk and listen to you so that I get to know your stories and what you are passionate about. All of our stories collectively connect to the broader story which is Trinity Lutheran Church.

It is possible at times to get so connected to our stories that we have a hard time letting go, or we simply take the story at its word and do not question it. Society and culture changes overtime and sometimes the old stories must shift or change as well. We have the ability to be overwhelmed with stories in our current time. Not only do we have stories spread by word of mouth, stories are also spread through print, television, social media online. If you would like, your life could be filled with a constant stream of stories. And at many times those stories conflict with one another.

It is the believers in the Acts lesson this morning that struggle with the story that they are hearing from Peter. Peter confirms what they have heard about eating with Cornelius and several Gentiles in Caesarea. It goes much farther than this, as they receive and accept the word of God. This story does not sit well with those believers in Jerusalem. They are connected with the story of their ancestors and the laws that were presented to them in Leviticus. Laws that they believe are not to be challenged or changed. It is with story that Peter explains his actions.

Peter has to be just as surprised as those that he is now explaining his story to in Jerusalem. For an Orthodox Jewish man to be receiving a vision of animals that are considered unclean and to be told to kill and eat would be shocking and almost like a nightmare. This happens in the typical Peter way, receiving the instructions of God three times and responding in the negative until he finally gets up and fully understands what God is telling him to do. “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

Peter is not the first one to be confronted about eating with Gentiles and those that are not quite like the Jewish people. If you recall in Luke, “the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”” This fellow that they are speaking of is Jesus. If you ask me, this is pretty good company that Peter finds himself in.

This story can be seen as the pivot point for the rest of the book of Acts. It is here that the mission of the disciples changes course and the Good News of Jesus Christ becomes a good news that can be shared with all people.

Peter learned some things while breaking bread at the table of Cornelius and his family. He learned their story and where they came from and how God has had an impact upon their lives. This story of Peter sharing the good news beyond the Jewish believers is essential to our faith today. It is important, if not necessary, to engage with others that are different from ourselves. We are encouraged to do so as we worship together with our ecumenical partners. We are encouraged when we welcome all people into our loving community with open arms and a bright smile. Still the reality is that the ELCA is one of the least diversified denominations within the United States. How do we go about changing this? How do we reach out to those that are different from us?

It all starts with story. Peter shared his story of the visions from God to the believers in Jerusalem and they believed! We’ll look beyond the issue that he had to explain himself in the first place. The story that he shares is one of inclusion and love for the neighbor. Mirroring our gospel lesson this morning as Jesus instructs the disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” I do not hear Jesus saying to just love your Jewish brothers and sisters. He is calling for the disciples to love everyone.

Are we sharing our stories with one another? Are we sharing the stories with our spouses, children, parents or others of how we experience God in our lives? Are we sharing those stories of how God has changed our minds, guided our path, or opened new horizons for us? As we share these stories, others will begin to see God in ways that they may have never expected.

Let us pray, God, you come into our lives through story to shake up our complacency and comfort. You speak into our lives in ways that we could never imagine. May we be bold to share our stories with those that are in need of hope and love. May they experience you the way we do. AMEN

 

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Belonging

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John 10:22-30

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

What a wonderful reminder for us in this Easter season. A reminder that we are living in a post-Good Friday World and are people of the resurrection. We are Easter people, not just in this season of Easter, but throughout all of our lives. This is easily forgotten though. We fall into our own humanness. We come to the realization that we are broken people living in a broken world and try to cover it all up and pretend that everything is alright or we at times fall into a depression and hopelessness. Within this though is a longing! A longing and desire to move from a point where we feel broken to a point where we can be healed. A longing to be with others that are experiencing the same thing in life that we are. A longing to be in relationship and through that relationship to experience God in a deeper and hopefully more profound way. The God within us is hungry to embrace the God that is outside of us.

The Jewish people that are talking to Jesus in John’s gospel this morning are longing for the scripture to be fulfilled. They don’t want to be kept in suspense any longer. As we will come to find out, Jesus does not fit their expectation of a messiah. In their longings, they are still hesitant to believe and follow.

In our longings we reach out to make connection with those that will welcome us and those that we have familiarities. It is easy for us to connect with those that are of the same gender, same race, or same nationality. We then find that it is easy to set up these divisions among ourselves. However, this can create a sense of tribalism which tends to pit one tribe against the other. This seems to be the story of humanity from the dawn of time.

Our longings can also attract us to those things which steer us even further away from God. Why do you think we have gangs within our society? Why are we compelled to do those things that we know deep down in our hearts are not the right thing? I could go on and on. It all comes down to our own individual longing to be part of something greater; to be recognized by another human, even if that recognition is not healthy. Truly though, within that deep longing, is the desire to belong to something greater; something that gives some sense of purpose to life.

These past few days I have had the opportunity to be with writers, readers, and those of faith at Calvin College in Grand Rapids. I was there for the Festival of Faith and Writing. It fulfilled the longing within me to learn from others that write and to maybe grasp some inspiration and guidance from those that have been successful. At times I felt that I did belong there and honestly at others times I felt that I was way out of my league when talking to others that share their creative gifts.

So, what does it mean to belong, beyond our personal identities of gender, race, or nationality? There are many things that we can belong to. We can choose to belong to our local service clubs, the Rotary or Lions. We can choose to belong to certain groups in our social media lives on Facebook. We belong to the group of people that we work with as we are a group of employees working together to accomplish the same objective. We can also belong to those things that may be just a little more personal as well. We belong to a family, whatever shape or form that that may resemble. We belong to a church, a congregation, that we can come to in times of uncertainty for support and love.

We belong to something much greater. We belong to Christ. It is in his words this morning that we are reminded that we are part of a family much greater than we can ever imagine. We have sisters and brothers beyond our wildest imaginations. We are much greater than what we surround ourselves with in our day to day lives. We have brothers and sisters that are spread out all around the world and it is here that are longing can be fulfilled. Are we ready to welcome that into our lives and be a part of it? Within that belonging we are embraced with a love that is immeasurable.

While Jesus is in God’s hands, we are in the hands of Jesus, being cared for and loved more than we could ever realize. This scripture is not about who is in or out this morning, it is about how great God’s love is that is shown to us through Jesus.

Jesus could be in the hands of the emperor, or in the hands of death. Yet, we are Easter people and death has been conquered once and for all. So as we long to be part of something greater, know that you already are there. We are not in the hands of those that are in authority, or those that think they can have dominion over us. For, we are in the hands of Jesus.

As we reflect that abundant love that is shown for us through Christ, who are we willing to truly hold on to and share that same love?

Let us Rejoice and Laugh!

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John 20:19-31, Holy Humor Sunday

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

Easter is a time of surprises and unsurmountable joy! The women that visited the tomb first were clearly surprised that they had found it empty. Then their hearts were lightened with joy as they realized that the promises Jesus had made before his death had come true, he was raised on the third as he had said he would be. We have the choice to be full of piety and take everything seriously, or we can truly celebrate with joy. To quote William Shakespeare, “Whether its nobler in the mind to control the impulse and maintain decorum, or to give in and enjoy this day is totally up to you!”

Holy Humor Sunday is an opportunity to continue in our joyous Easter Celebration and proclaim the Risen Christ! The history of Holy Humor Sunday goes all the way back to the fifteenth century when priests would share funny stories and jokes with their parishioners the second Sunday after Easter. The celebration gained momentum again in the late 1980’s when the Fellowship of Merry Christians and The Joyful Noiseletter began sharing it.

G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly. Never forget that the devil fell by force of gravity. He who has the faith has the fun.” It is because of our faith in Christ and the resurrection that we are able to laugh and have a fun time. The resurrection brings hope and a promise to our lives and in that hope we rejoice with one another praising God in various ways; singing, dancing, and laughing to name just a few of them. Sometimes we forget that when we are in church while we are trying to focus on getting everything just right. In our joy there aren’t much better ways than to share laughs with one another.

Did you hear about the church member that was baking cookies last Saturday for Easter? A gentleman came to her door looking for some work and she had been meaning to paint her back porch. She told the gentleman that there was 2 gallons green of paint to paint the porch out back. He was excited to have a job and make a little money. He came back after awhile and told her the job was completed, however, he told her “That is not a porsche, that is a mercedes.”

Laughter truly does give us new life and restores us when we are feeling down and even when we are in need of healing. As much celebration and joy that went into last Sunday, we are still confronted with the realities around us. We still have violence and senseless deaths around the world that we fail to understand. At times it seems as though it would be easier to be like the disciples and lock ourselves up in our houses in fear. It is the surprise of Jesus coming to be in their presence that they slowly start to understand and our eventually restored with new life.

They disciples were living in fear of what may happen to them if they were to share with others that they are followers of Jesus. There is a proper time for mourning, yet as Jesus appears to them there is also a time for rejoicing! What do you think that rejoicing looked like behind those closed doors? Was there singing? Was there dancing? Was there laughter? I like to believe that there was probably a little bit of all of them.

Jesus brings the peace of the Lord to them when they need it most, in their mourning and desolation wondering where they were going to go from there. Jesus’ peace means so much more though. The peace that Jesus shares with them is meant to bring peace to their past and all of the things that have transpired in their lives and ultimately on cross. It is also a peace that comes to them in their current dwelling of questioning. The peace Jesus shares also speaks to their future as they will go out proclaiming the good news that they have now received, rejoicing in the risen Lord.

In that peace Jesus brings hope to a broken world and knowing now that he lives, we live in that peace too. This gives hope to us for a future with Christ present by our side in all we do. “Peace be with you,” makes a difference for all of us and it marks our life with a purpose, meaning, and a new direction as we look towards the risen Christ.

Psalm 150 this morning encourages us to Praise the Lord! We are to praise God in the sanctuary, which we do every Sunday. We praise God for all of creation and the resurrection of God’s son, Jesus Christ. We praise God by playing our instruments with joy and celebration and lifting our voices up to the Lord. We praise God by dancing. We praise God by laughter and having fun. It is all of creation that praises the Lord and we join in with all of creation in doing so.

This Easter season we celebrate God’s creation by surrounding ourselves with it and being intentional in witnessing God’s promise in our lives. Let us Praise the Lord!

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

 

 

Pilgrim Road: A Benedictine Journey Through Lent by Albert Holt: A Review

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What a blessing to be able to have a year long sabbatical in which to travel the world and experience places that you have always wanted to experience. That was the beginning of Albert Holtz’s, O.S.B., journey to the writing of this book. After spending close to three decades in his order he looked forward to taking a sabbatical from teaching and learning from others.

The culmination of his journey is Pilgrim Road. What a pleasure it was for him to invite the reader along the journey with him. I felt as though I was right by his side when he described the various places he had visited and even more so by providing his personal drawings of certain cathedrals and various places. What a gift that he has shared with those that choose to go on a Lenten journey and are inspired to journal their progress. His reflections at the end of each day give ample time for you to contemplate and pray about what the story of the day means to you and reflect upon it.

The journey does not go in chronological order, but that is ok. Each week has a loose theme with it and the stories that he chooses to share with the reader are quite fitting for the day and the specific task of reflecting during Lent. While this version of the book was published as a Lenten journey, it would be possible to pick it up at any time and start your own 40 day journey of contemplation and prayer. I appreciated the prompts that got me to reflect and encouraged me to journal, which at times is not consistent.