Comfort in Uncertainty

May 5, 2019

John 21:1-19

There came a time in seminary, somewhere during my second year, that I started to wonder what I was doing. I questioned if I was truly following God’s call to serve in the church with the hopes of becoming an ordained pastor. I doubted myself because I did not come from the same background as most of my classmates had, since they mostly all grew up in the church and it was an incremental part of their lives from birth to the present day.

I began to wonder if it would just be much easier to return to my previous career. At points as I was challenged by Greek and Hebrew, and deeply immersed in heavy theological papers, managing a store and stocking shelves seemed like a much better option than to submit myself to an overwhelming class load and subjects that just made me go, huh, at times.

Perhaps this is how the disciples felt after Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus has turned the world of the disciple’s upside down! Amid their uncertainty they return to what they know, only to find Jesus there to greet them and bring them hope.

In his gospel, John shares with us that the disciples have finally moved out of their hiding place. It is about time! Last week, Jesus appeared to the eleven for a second time after his resurrection and Thomas is welcomed into the fold and has received the Holy Spirit from Jesus just as the other disciples had a week earlier. Finally, we find them venturing out into the open. The fear may be starting to abate a little and some of them return to the only place where they feel comfortable! In such an uncertain time they return to the sea so that they can do the one thing they know how to do well. The only problem, they have no such luck catching any fish in their nets overnight. As much as the disciples want to move forward, they seem to be stuck. Their nets are empty, and they are struggling.

Let’s admit it, we do not have perfect lives. We struggle. We are challenged with family issues. We are challenged with finances at times. We are challenged with relationships. We are even challenged in placing a sure and definite hope and faith in God. While I stayed in seminary, went on to internship, and returned to finish my senior year, it does not mean that it was easy and without its challenges. At times I would have just loved to leave it all behind and return to what I knew and what I was comfortable doing.

However, Jesus challenges us! Yes, you heard me right. Jesus challenges us to look within ourselves to listen and discern who we really are as a child of God. I am sure that you have heard it said that Peter answering Jesus’ questions about whether he loves him three times is a reversal of the three times Peter denies Jesus. What if, it was about Jesus getting Peter to remember who he is? Yes, Peter has denied Jesus three times. However, in these denials, he is denying himself. He has forgot whose he is and who he is as a child of God. Jesus’ questioning could just as easily be a call back to Peter to remember who he is and not that he is called to love Jesus, but that Jesus loves him just as he is. His flaws, mis-steps and all!

The wonder of it all, is that Jesus keeps showing up. He has now appeared three times to the disciples and they are starting to be drawn out of their seclusion and be fed. While they return to what they are comfortable doing, Jesus is present in the lack of catching fish to ensure that they are fed and fed abundantly. Jesus instructs them to throw the net to the other side of the boat and they can barely lift the net back into the boat because it is completely filled. We are told that there are 153 fish in all. According to a commentary by St. Jerome, it was believed back then there were 153 different types of fish in the sea.

As the disciples are sent out to fish for people, this is a sign for them not to exclude anyone. God welcomes all people in, and all are part of God’s wonderful, beautiful creation. God will welcome and gather every single one into an embrace full of love and grace. And as we learn with Peter, Jesus looks beyond denials, mis-steps, and flaws. Jesus shows up. Jesus shows up to remind us whose we are and that we are called and sent out to a world in need of God’s hands and feet.

While we may not see Jesus face to face, or at least not in an impression that is reminiscent of famous paintings, Jesus still shows up. Jesus shows up in our friends and neighbors. Jesus shows up in the unexpected. Jesus shows up in the exact places where he needs to be. Places where his love flows over, and we experience a grace that is both mysterious and wonderful. Once again, I ask you, where have you seen Jesus this Easter season? Earlier this week, I was at the Institute of Liturgical Studies and on the closing day, I witnessed a Valpo student paying for the lunch of an older couple. He did not know them. He barely said anything to them. However, you could visibly see their appreciation and Jesus in this very simple action of the young man that generously touched two lives that will be remembered for some time to come.

This is Jesus at work in our world today. This morning, I invite you to come forward to receive Christ in the bread and wine. These are the visible signs of Christ with us this morning and in the breaking of the bread and sharing of a meal, we take Jesus into our very selves so that we can then go out into the world and be Christ for those that need a sign of hope and a promise that all will be made new.

Let us pray. Ever-present God, you come to us in the most unexpected places. May we welcome you to call us and send us out to do your very will in the world. May we bear the signs of hope that you bestowed to us in Jesus and carry out your love for all to see and feel. Amen.

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Christ Shows Up!

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Luke 24:13-35

We were walking long before we got into cars to drive anywhere. Walking was Jesus’ and the disciples chief form of transportation. Walking is healthy and can burn a lot of calories. No wonder we have many stories of Jesus sitting down to eat, he needed to replenish his energy from all of that walking.

We walk when we are happy. We walk when we are sad and grieving. We walk when we are angry and cannot decide where to go. I am sure that at least a few of us have gotten into an argument with their spouse and said I am going out to get some fresh air and went for a walk. Walking seems to calm our minds and settle our anger. Walking can also help us think and work through problems. Steve Jobs, one of the greatest minds in technology, liked to go on walks to talk with those he disagreed with and try to come to an understanding. Inspirations came to him on his walks.

What do you think the two disciples walking to Emmaus had in mind when they slipped on their sandals and headed out the door? Did they need some fresh air? Did they need to walk off their lunch? Were they simply just trying to cope with Jesus’ death?

Whatever their reasons, the conversation turned towards the happenings of the last few days and they shared their grief with one another. There was possibly even some anger that had built up, because everything they had hoped for died with Jesus on the cross. Or so they had thought. How often do we put our hopes and dreams into something, only to find out later down the road that things just did not pan out? This is how the disciples are feeling. According to Jewish thought, they were hoping for a Messiah that would save them from everything and make the Kingdom of Heaven come to earth. Instead they got a teacher that suffered death on a cross and left them feeling empty. It is true that the women had found the tomb empty earlier in the day, but they still have not seen a sign from Jesus.

Remember, this lesson comes from the gospel of Luke. Jesus does not appear to the disciples in the upper room first as he did in our lesson from John last week.

Some walks are longer than others. The two disciples in our story start out on a seven mile walk to Emmaus. A walk that is very doable. A distance that some of us may perhaps go every day. I know we put in those miles almost every day while on vacation last week. These are literal miles. Figuratively, we can walk for many miles to encounter a faith that is even just the size of a mustard seed. And, you know what, some of us put in many more miles than others. And at times, it may feel as though we are going backwards.

While the disciples are gripped with doubt, fear, and grief, they still desire to continue on in the journey that Jesus started; not sure where it may lead them. What are we doing in our own lives while we are on that walk? Like the disciples, we walk many miles with blinders on, where we do not even recognize the presence of Jesus in our midst.

It is not realistic for us to place our expectations of what it looks like to be Christian or Lutheran upon anyone else because everyone’s walk is different. The expectation for others to pick things up as quickly as we may, is unfounded. All we can do is continue to proclaim our faith in the Risen Christ and share our story.

In the disciples walk, we witness a healing of sort. One that many of us are hoping to encounter in our own walks. First, their doubt, fear, and grief is revealed as Jesus shows up to walk with them. Have you not heard what happened in Jerusalem? They are dumbfounded that this stranger has not heard the news and possibly a little irate. They share that their hope for the redemption of Israel died on the cross. Jesus’ response is to quote scripture and point towards the Hebrew Bible where it prophesizes the death that he died, so that salvation is made possible.

Their anger and hurt runs deep and it is hard to judge whether or not they have truly listened. It is not until they sit down to break bread together that their eyes are opened and they truly see Christ for the first time.

Our entire service every Sunday could be considered a walk along the road to Emmaus. We walk together as we come to worship. We welcome the strangers within our midst. We hear the word proclaimed. We share a meal together. A meal in which we recognize the Risen Christ. With this Good News, we go to proclaim it to others.

Our walk reveals the opportunity for open and honest conversation. It is in our walk that we can allow ourselves to be vulnerable and bear all. We too experience doubt, fear, and grief. Some of us more than others. In our walk, just like the walk of the discples, JESUS CHRIST SHOWS UP!

How will we recognize him when he does? We will move from doubt, fear, and grief to a space of faith, hope, and love? Remember though, this walk is longer for some than for others. Even families are on different parts of the journey.

What can we do along the way? We can provide a space for open and honest conversation. Are we listening to others before we quickly interject our own stories? Are we allowing room for the Holy Spirit to breath within our relationships?

In the Good News of Easter Morning and the empty tomb, may we be a place open to doubts, fear and grief.  Yet as we reveal our vulnerabilities, may Christ reveal to us a faith, hope, and love that can change hearts and minds, and foster community.

Are you the one?

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Matthew 11:2-11

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

It does not take long for our circumstances to change. One minute we can feel as though we are at the top of the world. Being part of some amazing things that we think are going to make difference in our community or even globally. The next minute we are caught off guard and are in a place that is unfamiliar and stirs within us questions that we did not even know exists.

That question for John the Baptist is, “Are you the one to come, or are we to wait for another?” Let’s hear that one more time, “Are you the one to come, or are we to wait for another?” Perhaps, we are left asking this same question ourselves at times, if not variations of it. Questioning who Christ and God are and our role in this great mystery.

What is it within John that stirs this question? Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, our lesson from last week, John is confident in his preparation for the one that is to come after him. The one that will baptize in the Holy Spirit. Jesus walks onto the scene at this time, and through his baptism, he knows that he is the one. However, for some reason, John seems to be second guessing himself. His expectations of the Messiah, are not yet being fulfilled.

While Jesus should be bringing about the Kingdom of God, why is John anxiously waiting in his prison cell? Everything should be made right with the coming of Jesus into the world and yet brokenness seems to persist. It is ancient Jewish thought that when the Messiah comes everything is going to be made right. Right at that moment. Not later, but now. However, we have been told to wait. Advent is a season of waiting. And preparing. In our culture when we want instant gratification, perhaps this is when we find ourselves asking the same question that John boldly has brought to Jesus. We want to be able to understand in the midst of the brokenness and hurting, and yet we are left with more questions.

These questions become even harder for us during the holidays. The holidays are a time when many people are celebrating and having a joyous time with friends and families. There are parties everywhere during this season. The annual office party brings co-workers together for a time to relax and not think about the daily tasks of careers. Families gather to share presents and be with one another. The streets are decorated with lights and tinseled ornaments. Houses around town gleam with lights stating that there is something different about this time of year.

And yet, some are shut behind closed doors, drawn curtains and blinds blocking out the very joy that others exude this season. For some, the holidays bring more dread than joy. For them, they can find it easier to relate with John in the cell, then those rejoicing and celebrating. In recent years, some churches are even having “Blue Christmas” services. These services get their name from the feeling some are left with during this time of year and usually occur on December 21, the day of the year with the least amount of daylight.

In John’s question, he is looking for an answer and reassurance that what he proclaimed was not for naught. Did he truly fulfill the calling that God had laid upon his heart? Did he prepare the way? Is God with him, in his blues?

In our own doubts and blues, don’t we sometimes ask ourselves the same things? Did I make the right decision? Did I share the love of God as it was shared with me? While we may not be in prison as John is, we still hold ourselves captive and in bondage to our sins. We feel tied-up and helpless when it comes to death and disease.

It is in Jesus’ words that we are directed to the grace of God that is all around us. He tells John’s disciples to go back and tell John what they hear and see. The blind see! The lame walk! The lepers are cleansed! The deaf hear! The dead are raised! The poor receive good news!

What do you hear and see as you are walking about this creation that God has given to you? Where do you see Jesus at work in the lives of all people?

I have seen Jesus abundantly at work in the midst of our community these past few months!  While we may not have made the blind see or the lame walk, we have still played a role in the kingdom of God. We have given the homeless a roof over their heads and soup to warm their tired, achy bodies. We have fed the hungry and starving, not just in the greater Blue Water Area, also around the world. We have made it possible for children in Detroit to have a great Christmas by filling these bags. This coming Saturday Trinity will host Second Hand Christmas, and parents will be able to get gifts for their children that they would not have been able to get before. This is what I have heard and seen just in the past few months!

What have you heard? What have you seen? There are signs all around us that God is with us, Emmanuel.

It is in these signs, the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God, that Jesus is brought into our midst to share with those we serve. In this we know that Jesus has come, and will come again!

 

 

 

do not doubt in your heart

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This verse has been playing through my head this past week since it was part of the Daily Lectionary. It comes from Mark 11:23

Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you.

As I lead Bible Studies or discussion with people I always tell people that it is essential that we look deeply into texts and it is ok to question what may be written and at times possibly even doubt it! It is human nature to doubt and question and this usually happens within our minds. As we doubt and question, it allows us to build an even deeper relationship with God, or whatever we are studying, because we must delve even deeper into the subject and gain a greater understanding.

This verse from Mark struck me differently though because it says do not doubt in your heart. We doubt in our minds all of the time many things, whether it be our own personal actions or those actions of others; it may even be that we doubt God at times. However, it is in our hearts that God has written the law. From a few appearances in the Hebrew Bible this is mentioned, one being Psalm 40:8

I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.

So my question, Is it possible to ever doubt in our heart? For the very presence of God is within our own being and in that we embrace the eternal relationship which is God. May we nurture that relationship as we live into the mystery.