The Spirit Abides!

June 9, 2018

John 14:8-17, 25-27

There is an anxiousness that often times will creep up within me when I find myself in a place that is unfamiliar. Perhaps, you know exactly what I am talking about. It is that feeling when you feel yourself at an unease and you begin looking around for someone that you may know. Someone familiar to make the unfamiliar not seem as unnerving.

Believe it or not, some people live for these moments! And to be honest with you, as an introvert I do get anxious, but that little bit of the extrovert within me loves the new surroundings and the ability to experience new people and places. I want to believe that extrovert is the Holy Spirit within me pulling me in a direction to try and experience new activities, people, and places. It is the same Holy Spirit that energizes us to go out and share the good news of Jesus Christ.

Our first reading this week unfolds onto the birth of the Christian church as we know it. Now, Pentecost is not a new celebration for the followers of Jesus. It has been known as the Feast of Weeks, Shavuot, and eventually Pentecost by the Jewish people. Pentecost would follow 50 days after Passover and on it they would celebrate the handing down of the Torah, or law, to Moses and also the giving of the first fruits of the harvest at the temple. Therefore, the disciples are already gathered, and it is in this place that Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to take up residence in them. It will guide and teach them in the ways of the Lord and drive them out into the world to spread the gospel.

Amid this Pentecost celebration the anxiety had to be escalated! This was not a normal Pentecost, as everyone was speaking in their native language speaking about the amazing deeds God has and will continue to accomplish. I would like to know how Philip felt at this point in time following the conversation that he had with Jesus in the gospel lesson this week.

Philip needs to learn a little patience as the disciples walk with Jesus. Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father so that they will be satisfied. He does not sound much different from Thomas after Jesus’ resurrection. He wants some proof of who Jesus really is. This will satisfy him. He knows that it had happened before with Moses, so why can’t Jesus just reveal the Father to the disciples so that they are better equipped to go and share Jesus’ message. There must be more. Philip could simply be afraid. His expectations of God, the Father is not what he has witnessed so far with Jesus as he eats with sinners and touches the outcast. He is afraid and his heart is troubled because he is still looking for God among the actions of Jesus. This therefore feeds into the unbelief that Jesus addresses further in the gospel lesson.

Fear and a troubled heart can lead us in many wrong directions. Out of fear, we seek to exclude those that are different from us. Out of fear, we lock all our doors and are afraid to step out into the greater world. Out of fear, countries engage in war with one another. When this fear takes over our very being, our hearts become troubled and we fail to see Jesus in anything. The enemy has worked its way in and is doing exactly what it intended to do; to believe that we are separated from the love of God.

Personally, it is hard to overcome that unbelief! On my own, I struggle with this from time to time. The moment that we think we have it all figured out ourselves is when we begin to find ourselves in trouble. If we keep going down that hole, it just keeps getting deeper and we definitely cannot climb out on our own.

While Philip cannot help is own unbelief, Jesus can. And Jesus does the same thing for each one of us, for every person in our community, state, country, and around the world. The proof of Jesus helping our unbelief is that fact that he laid down his own life to share with us the depths that God is willing to go to bring us a love greater than we could ever imagine in our earthly home.

To relieve Philip’s anxiety and fear, Jesus gives him peace. It is a peace that will wash over him and guide him. This peace comes to him in the form of the Holy Spirit. Jesus once again reminds the disciples that he is different from anyone that has come before him.  He tells them, “I do not give as the world gives.” What a blessing this is for us to live into. You name it, we can find it out there somewhere in the world. But if we are looking for a grace and love that knows no bounds and is willing to knock down all barriers, that alone can be found in Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit is alive and active in our lives and is just waiting for us to listen and heed her guidance. It is not just for us individually. The Holy Spirit is also alive and well at Trinity Lutheran and it is our hope with the Tune-In team that we hear that Spirit moving and calling us to new and wonderous ministries.

Are you praying for the Holy Spirit to reveal itself in the life of our congregation? If not, will you? The Holy Spirit is just waiting to set us on fire with the passion to go out and share the good news, and oh, how much sweeter it is when we are able to do it in community.

Jesus went to the cross for us. It is here that we lay our unbelief and are reminded of the gifts of God found in the waters of baptism and the presence of Christ in the bread and wine at communion. The Holy Spirit is not a noun. The Holy Spirit is a verb that is active and moving around us as we continue to be God’s hands and feet in the world. It is the Holy Spirit that keeps everything moving. It is the Holy Spirit that takes up residence within our very beings and guides us and teaches us in the ways of the Lord. The promise of Jesus Christ has been fulfilled in the Holy Spirit!

Let us pray. God of Spirit, you have sent us your Son, Jesus to heal the sick, walk with the outcast, feed the poor, and so much more. May the Holy Spirit that comes to us as an advocate continue to teach us and guide us to be bearers of your goods news. Amen

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A Review: Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson

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I am honestly not sure where to start, therefore this will probably become more of a recommendation than it is a review. Dyson uses the format of a worship service to present a flowing oratory on the current state of race relations in America today. I honestly, believe that as a white heterosexual male my response is not worthy. What I need to be doing, as well as the rest of white America, is to be listening. Listening to our brothers and sisters that have walked the road that is foreign to our own upbringing.

I do not know what it is like to be a black man in America, and I could never truly find out. I have been pulled over twice for speeding and not once have I received a ticket. I did not pull out a pour me story or try to make excuses. Both times, my son was in the car with me. I understand how much different the outcomes of those situations could have been if I were a black man in America.

Unfortunately, that understanding falls on many deaf hears throughout the country. While God has created us equal, humanity has decided to divide. This is a sermon to wake up those to the experience of black America. I will never fully understand my brothers and sisters experiences, but I know that I can walk with them and listen. I can stand beside and with them, and do better.

This is a book that should be required reading in schools. Of all of the books that I have read in the past year, this rises to the top of the list.

Turning Back to Our Baptism

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Luke 4:1-13 (1st Sunday of Lent)

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

This morning we find ourselves in the early days of Lent. You may not feel different. You may not sense much of a difference as you look around. Though, as we look towards our paraments you can visibly witness the changes in colors as we mark time with the season.

Lent is a season in the church year in which many people either dread, or a season in which people look forward to on a yearly basis. Lent is a season of preparation as we walk towards Holy Week and the culmination of the three days leading to Easter. We begin on Ash Wednesday as we receive ashes reminding us of our own mortality and that only by the cross of Christ are we given eternal life.

The gospel of Luke brings us the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert which I believe we can all relate to, whether we want to admit it or not. Jesus, being tempted by bread, power, and safety could be those same things that we are tempted by. It could just as easily be translated over to youth, beauty, or wealth as well. As we prepare to walk in these forty days of Lent, Jesus makes his preparations in the desert for forty days, resisting the devil, and preparing for the ministry that lays ahead of him. This desert that Jesus finds himself in this, his training ground; one that continues to prepare him for the cross. Thomas Merton explains Lent in this manner:

“The purpose of Lent is not only (seeking repentance) , to satisfy the divine justice, but above all a preparation to rejoice in His love. And this preparation consists in receiving the gift of His mercy–a gift which we receive insofar as we open our hearts to it, casting out what cannot remain in the same room with mercy.

“Now one of the things we must cast out first of all is fear. Fear narrows the little entrance to our heart. It shrinks up our capacity to love. It freezes up our power to give ourselves. If we were terrified of God as an inexorable judge, we would not confidently await His mercy, or approach Him trustfully in prayer. Our peace and our joy in Lent are a guarantee of grace.”

We are fearful of leaving things behind. Those “things” can be relationships, possessions, habits, or even our own personal desires. As we look inward these next several weeks we also may come to realize that we may benefit by fasting from those things. Fasting is not an easy task. It can bring heartache and longing. It can bring a sense of emptiness. However, fasting can also bring us grace and a deeper relationship with God. We must be careful to make sure we are fasting for the right reasons because the worst thing we can do during Lent is to be tempted to earn God’s favor through self-denial. When we fast it disrupts our lives in a way which helps us to see more clearly.

I was really struck by temptation entering my cell for the first time when I went on retreat at The Abby of Gethsemani. No, there was not a plate of cookies or cake awaiting me in my room, though that would have been a temptation within itself. I was struck by the picture icon that hung over my bed. The icon itself, a scene from this very reading in Luke that we hear today. The icon is painted by Brother Lavrans Nielsen, a member of the community at Gethsemani. The devil in all black seems to be tempting Jesus by asking him to turn a stone into a loaf of bread. Jesus’ rebuke is short and simple, “One cannot live on bread alone.”

While my retreat was in January, there was still some time before the start of Lent. This made me think about those temptations that we attempt to resist as we prepare for our own journeys. Often times we are tempted to take a course that turns us away from God and thus distancing ourselves from the love that flows so freely. The reality is that God’s love never fades for us and when we return we are welcomed with arms wide open waiting to embrace us in a love that is overpowering.

While we are tempted to turn away from things that disrupt our lives, I invite you to welcome that disruption in. Welcome in those things that disrupt you from habits that have shaped us in ways that do not direct us toward God. Some of these we may be aware of while others may have just slipped into our daily lives without us truly noticing. Instead of turning from God , I encourage you to turn back.

Turn back to your baptism in which you were marked by the cross of Christ forever. Turn back to the baptismal waters that have washed over you and cleansed you of your sins. Turn back to your baptism where you were welcomed into the family of God with a deep loving embrace.

As we turn back to our baptisms, we must take the time to repent of those things that turn us away from God. We must say “no” to those things that distract and lead us away from experiencing the oneness of God. We must say “yes” to those things that feed us and bring us back to the baptismal waters.

During these forty days you will be tempted. You will be tempted by those things that always tempt you as well as some new things. Remember it is these forty days that we use as preparation. In this preparation we are continually receiving the gift of Grace from a God that walks with us. In these forty days may those things that you say “yes” to become habit and may your relationship with God be strengthened.

To You is Born This Day

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Luke 2:1-2

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

Christmas Eve is not just another day! I am sure that each and everyone of us has some memory of Christmas Eve pasts, either good or unfortunately sometimes bad. This evening we are all together in one place for a time of worship and celebration.

Our reasons to be here may be varied. It may simply be out of the expectations of family, because this is what we do every year. It may be because Christmas is our favorite time of the year and Christmas Eve worship is the culmination of all of the waiting during Advent. It may be that we have come here to worship and give our praise and thanks to the newborn Christ, a Savior to the world.

I think we can all agree that the last few months have been tough. The mounting violence in our own country and around the world has shaken us. Our level of fear has most likely been ramped up! We fear that the violence may someday come much closer to us. We fear those that are different from us in many different ways, simply because we do not know them or have had an opportunity to meet them.

Fear is a natural human reaction to things that are out of our control. Fear can push us to do things that we would not normally do. Fear may also drive us into seclusion where we think we are much safer. To curb the fear we will quite often turn to something else that provides us comfort or a perceived security. Quite often as children we have a special blanket or stuff animal that we carried around that reminded us of home and provided a sense of comfort. I had both. A blanket that I carried around until it literally fell apart. A blue rabbit, handmade by my grandmother, that had to be repaired several times that eventually ended up missing an ear. These provided a sense of comfort to me.

As adults we often turn to other things to stem that fear. It could be an addiction that ends up leaving us dependent on something that pulls us away from living a full life. We turn to ways of protecting our family and ensuring their safety that at times can possibly ramp up our fears even more.

Fear is not a new thing. It is a natural human reaction. Fear is alive and present in the Bible and this evening, on Christmas Eve, we have an example of that fear. First, you can’t tell me that Mary and Joseph didn’t have at least a little bit of fear of waiting for the unexpected. Mary, an unwed mother, not knowing what the reactions of everyone they encountered would be. Joseph, possibly fearful of harm being done to Mary because she was pregnant and unwed.

We are told that the shepherds were terrified. They have encountered the unexpected. An angel of the Lord comes to them to bring them good news and they are truly terrified because they do not know what is going on. They are fearful of the unknown. The angel is quick to reassure them though, “Do not be afraid; for see–I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” It is in this that all fears are vanished.

One of my favorite Christmas specials is a Charlie Brown Christmas. I was reminded this past week of one part by a gentleman, Jason Sonoski, writing a blog post online that speaks directly to our fear. If you recall, Linus shares what the true meaning of Christmas is by reciting the story from our gospel lesson this evening. It is during his recitation of the scripture that he drops his security blanket, that bright blue blanket we always see him with, on the stage and speaks boldly when the angel instructs the shepherds to not be afraid.

It is in this simple little action and the words of the angel to the shepherds that we come to the realization that the birth of Jesus separates us from our fears. We are given the permission and encouraged to drop all of our false insecurities and fears because the love of God has entered this world in the form of a newborn Son.  Yes, Mary gives birth to a newborn son in a lowly manger. The thing is though, He is not born just to her.

Once again we turn to the angel speaking to the shepherds and hear, “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” This newborn Son, Jesus, is born not just to Mary and Joseph, but to the entire world! And how is this message celebrated? By inviting the least likely of guests!

First, Mary is an unwed teenage mother, and is the mother of the Savior! This in itself is good news. Next, the shepherds are invited to the party to celebrate the newborn King. Shepherds, who are out in the fields day in and day out caring for their flocks. They most likely do not smell the most pleasant and have little to account for. Yet, they are invited! Matthew shares with us in his gospel the visit of the three wise men, who most likely were practicing a different religion altogether.

Christ is born for the world! This evening we celebrate his birth and the in-breaking of God’s kingdom here on Earth. Jesus is born for you this day! And for you! And for you! Do you get the idea? Jesus is born for all of humanity. Jesus is born for each and everyone of us. We do not have to be anything special. We don’t have to do anything special. For it is in this gift of God in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, that we receive grace upon grace.

Now the question is, what are you going to do with that most precious of gifts? As we all come together this evening for various reasons, it is my hope that we all leave this evening glorifying and praising God for all that we have heard and celebrated. It is in Jesus’ birth that God tells us that we are loved: deeply, truly, and forever. “To you is born this day in the city of David a savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Advent Devotions December 12

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Luke 1:65-66

Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

These verses refer to the birth of John the Baptist. John was an unusual name since it was not of Elizabeth’s or Zechariah’s family. Yet, as Elizabeth names him John and Zechariah seconds it in writing, the people are left in fear. For Zechariah had been silenced until the birth of his son and it was in this naming that he once again regained his voice.

The people are in fear because they have personally sensed the presence of God in this birth and have a feeling that John is going to grow up and do something very impactful. Have you had that fear before? Knowing that God is working in the present moment. I know that I have. It may not necessarily be a fear per se, yet it is that feeling in which the hair on the back of your neck stands up. You know that there is something greater at work in the present situation that can not be explained. It is the mystery of God at work in this world. What a wonderful thing it is to live into that mystery.

Let us pray.

Mysterious God, be with us in our trepidation as we encounter you in our daily walk. Let us not be fearful of the encounter. May we rejoice in it as we allow ourselves to be in greater relationship with you. AMEN.