You Have a Choice!

June 30, 2019

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

Growing up I would say that I had the greatest freedom I could imagine. Probably the only thing that could have made it better was if my parents had been millionaires. Still, I would usually receive what I asked for within reason. Of course, it helped that I am a white male that lived in a predominantly white town. 

My parents gave me the freedom to make many of my own decisions and befriend whomever I wanted. I had the freedom to choose to attend Central Michigan University and the freedom to discern and decide to go to seminary and become a pastor.

Some of these freedoms may come to us because of where we live. As we approach Independence Day, it is important to be reminded of the roots of our country and the many struggles that we have been through and will continue to go through. We give thanks for the freedom that has come to us through the sacrifice of many generations, however, we must remember that the ultimate freedom we encounter is not our American concept of individuality, autonomy, and self-determination.

As Christians, in Jesus Christ we have been given the gift of freedom. What we choose to do with that freedom is reflective of our life in Christ. You have a choice!

If you read in entirety, Paul’s letter to the Galatians, it will not take too long to figure out that Paul is not too happy with the community that has started following Jesus in the city of Galatia. They have been arguing amongst themselves. They have been bickering about the proper practices that they should be carrying out as followers of Christ. They have probably used not so kind words for one another as they have failed to live fully into a new community. One of their biggest arguments has erupted over the necessity of circumcision.

It was disagreements like this that threatened to tear apart the early church. Paul’s letter was a response to all that was happening. It came to a point where he even wrote, “If however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another” (vs. 15). Perhaps Paul needs to write a letter to our modern times, or we could simply use the Letter to the Galatians.

The arguments and disagreements that Paul writes to are not any different than those that we have today. We turn on the news and we view what this one group did to another group just because they did not agree or simply did not like them. We witness it to an extreme in the violence that we encounter in our culture. We witness it on Capitol Hill in our elected leaders and their failure to work together for the common good of the people. We see arguments over whether we should care for our neighbors.

One of the biggest places to see this occur is on social media where people seem to think that they have more freedom to say anything they would like since they are not in front of those that they are criticizing. The thing that has amazed me is that there is an ELCA Clergy group on Facebook and it seems that even pastors feel they can let all their nasty out on one another through social media.

All of this is part of the nastiness of the flesh that Paul writes about in our lesson from Galatians. The flesh that he is referring to is our self-oriented selves that disregard others and turn inward to our own personal desires. Now, desires are not a bad thing. It is a matter of what light that desire manifests itself. The flesh that Paul writes of pulls us away from our life in Christ. Once we are pulled away, it can be easy to stay in that and thus we must be intentional in repenting and turning back towards God.

So, the freedom that is given to us in Christ can be seen as a two-edged sword. We have the choice to follow the desires of the flesh or to follow the leading of the Spirit. We are given the freedom through the grace of God to follow or not follow Jesus. Wow, how very overwhelming that can be at times and we know that we have all fallen short of the glory of God and following completely in the way of Jesus.

In the freedom found in Jesus Christ we are showered abundantly with the fruit of the spirit to live out the lives he has called us to live. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things” (vs. 22-23).  When we live with this fruit, it does not mean that we will not have conflicts and that everything will be just the way we want it to be. When we live into this fruit, it means that we live into relationship with one another and approach each other with love and respect. Imagine what would be of this world if we kept the fruit of the Spirit near us and did our best to live out that fruit daily.

Psalm 16 concludes, “You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (vs. 11). The path has been laid down for us in the life of Jesus Christ and the freedom that he has given to us through his death on the cross. “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited competing against one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:24-26).

As Paul comes near to the end of the letter, he re-emphasizes the importance of the love found in Christ. We are reminded that love is to be given away as Jesus gave away his love for all of humanity on the cross. It is a love that blankets us for all of eternity. It is the love that comes to us and the same love that we have within us to give away to others. To follow Jesus Christ means to live fully into the freedom he has given us by giving away the very love he has given us. A love that is meant to be shared with all.

Jesus has asked each of us to come and follow him. What is your choice?

Let us pray. Great and gracious God, you teach us to walk in the way of Jesus. We pray that we are not tempted to walk alone desiring the works of the flesh, but that we are open to the Spirit weaving through our lives and communities to guide us in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Amen.

Advertisements

Healed in Christ

June 23, 2019

Luke 8:26-39

The morning burned so August-hot, the marsh’s moist breath hung the oaks and pines with fog. The palmetto patches stood unusually quiet except for the low, slow flap of the heron’s wings lifting from the lagoon. And then, Kya, only six at the time, heard the screen door slap. Standing on the stool, she stopped scrubbing grits from the pot and lowered it into the basin of worn-out suds. No sounds now but her own breathing. Who had left the shack? Not Ma. She never let the door slam.

But when Kya ran to the porch, she saw her mother in a long brown skirt, kick pleats nipping at her ankles, as she walked down the sandy lane in high heels. The stubby-nosed shoes were fake alligator skin. Her only going-out pair. Kya wanted to holler out but knew not to rouse Pa, so opened the door and stood on the brick-‘n’-board steps. From there she saw the blue train case Ma carried. Usually, with the confidence of a pup, Kya knew her mother would return with meat wrapped in greasy brown paper or with a chicken, head dangling down. But she never wore the gator heels, never took a case.

Ma always looked back where the foot lane met the road, one arm held high, white palm waving, as she turned onto the track, which wove through bog forests, cattail lagoons, and maybe-if the tide obliged-eventually into town. But today she walked on, unsteady in the ruts. Her tall figure emerged now and then through the holes of the forest until only swatches of white scarf flashed between the leaves. Kya sprinted to the spot she knew would bare the road; surely Ma would wave from there, but she arrived only in time to glimpse the blue case-the color so wrong for the woods-as it disappeared. A heaviness, thick as black-cotton mud, pushed her chest as she returned to the steps to wait.[1]

Thus, opens the novel, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. It is a journey through the lifetime of Kya, who has been abandoned, ridiculed, shunned, and bullied because she is deemed different and does not fit the mold of those living near her and is feared as the “swamp girl.” The novel spans over the course of a lifetime that sees many things within Kya’s life occur to bring her from ridicule to being recognized for her gifts.

While most of us may not be able to relate to the extremes of her story, we could probably point to times in our lives where we did not feel like we fit in and to times that we were welcomed and a place at the table was set for us. Jesus invites us to open ourselves to his presence and be freed and healed so that we may go out to proclaim his wonderous deeds and good news!

In our gospel lesson this week, Jesus steps out of the boat and is immediately confronted by a man that has been battling demons for years. The people in the country had no idea how to keep the man under control. He had been stripped of his clothes and appears to Jesus in all his nakedness, revealing the barrenness of love that he failed to receive from those that were close to him. To control him they would place him in the tombs and chain him down with shackles. Not only this, they would guard him so that he could not escape. The people were fearful of him and kept him at an arms distance. He was not welcome into their presence because of the fear he invoked, and he did not meet their standards of how one should act. He was abandoned, ridiculed, shunned, and bullied.

Have you ever found yourself to be naked and alone? Anxious of what will happen in the future and not knowing what to do or where to turn to next? Have you ever felt chained up and guarded by those that have greater authority than you? There are many times that we can point towards society in general where this has happened in the past and continues to happen.

As a society we were fearful of those that were different and had different mental capabilities than the societal norm. We would lock up our family members with little support and they were abused at the hands of institutions. Then the pendulum swung to the other side and any support has been stripped away and we regard mental illness as taboo. This is just one instance that we need to address as society as we learn to care for our sisters and brothers.

The man battling the demons knew that Jesus was someone he could turn to. He knew that there could be healing, and peace found in the Lord. You can sense the inner struggle that is occurring in our gospel lesson as the man wants to turn to Jesus, yet his demons are fearful and holding him back. Jesus’ presence is enough to bring the man to his knees and Jesus heals him. The man is brought to fullness and is clothed, both literally, and with the love of God that has brought him to his true self. Jesus welcomed the man into his presence and freed him from being bound and healed him from his desolation.

In this newfound freedom, he is sent out by Jesus to proclaim what has been done for him and the good news of Jesus.

The healing that Jesus brought to this man that had been tortured by the demons and the community is also available to us. Is it going to be a healing that brings complete health and restoration? Maybe not completely in our body, but Jesus will always come to us and bring us peace in our heart, mind, and soul to confront anything that may be in our way. Jesus went to the cross for us to share the love of God and reveal the restoration found in the cross and broken for us at the table.

Jesus may even come to us in a family member or friend that shares a caring word, smile, or simply their presence to walk with us in our darkest hours. Kya, in Where the Crawdads Sing, had that in a young man that she met when she was young and would encounter a relational roller coaster.  As you enter her story, we realize that Kya is not all that innocent, much like us. She has her own faults, much like us, yet she finds peace and hope in the young man, Tate. Tate brings to Kya a hope and healing that she had not been able to fix on her own and provides a freedom into who she is as a child of God. Are you open to let Jesus work through others to embrace you in God’s tender loving care?

Let us pray. Healing Lord, you come to us in our desolation, when we are broken and in need of healing; when we are bullied and hiding in the corner; when we are fearful and seeking consolation. Grant us the peace to come to you and rest at your feet. Amen.


[1] Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.

I Don’t Know

June 16, 2019

John 16:12-15

“I don’t know!”

This sentence alone can be interpreted in many ways. For a teacher asking a student the answer to a math or science question, it shows that the student does not comprehend or simply failed to do the homework or reading.

When it comes to hearing this answer in the setting of the church, how does it make you feel? Are you comfortable with living into not knowing, or are you more like the disciples that are constantly seeking concrete answers from Jesus? Are you comfortable with mystery, or are you stymied by it?

As a pastor, I hear plenty of questions where people want specific answers. Sometimes that is just not possible. At one point in my life, I have even had asked some of the same questions. I recall during CPE in seminary, where I was a chaplain in a hospital, the struggle and challenge of walking with families that encountered various diagnosis. One family I visited was in the ICU and they were sitting with their father, whose chance of recovery was very slim. As we prayed together, I could sense the love that filled the room. The next day I stopped by and he had awakened from the coma he was in and was beginning to communicate with his family. Another family had a sister that had had routine heart surgery and died a couple of days later due to complications. Where was God in these circumstances, I questioned at the time. It was safe to say I didn’t know and to just be present.

That is the mystery of God that we live into and it could not be made more apparent than today when we recognize Holy Trinity Sunday. The mystery that is God, lays in the very heart of the Trinity.

The disciples were uncomfortable with this mystery. They wanted answers before they were even ready to understand what those answers may be. They constantly sought answers to the mystery that was unfolding in front of them, yet they did not fully understand what was happening. They knew the God they followed in the Hebrew scripture, yet something was not computing when trying to equate God with Jesus. There was a disconnection with fully understanding that Jesus was both divine and human. There was a disconnection occurring when they tried to understand that Jesus was the Son of God. There was a disconnection when Jesus promised to send them the Holy Spirit.

So, where does this disconnection happen for us? It happens more times than we would like it to. To say that we fully understand God and the mystery that surrounds the Trinity means that you are fooling yourself. As David Lose writes in his blog,

“As I’ve said before, I don’t understand the Trinity and don’t trust those that report that they do. The Trinity is, at heart, our best if manifestly inadequate attempt to capture in words the mysterious nature of God.”

We fall short when we think that we have everything figured out and those that are different or have different thoughts than us are wrong. We stumble when we move forward in our own reasoning without listening to the Spirit’s guidance. We slip when we bow to the expectations of the world in preference to the teachings of Christ.

Jesus calls us to trust in the mystery. The mystery that we are not expected to fully comprehend. To be comfortable in the unknown requires faith. As Jesus tells us in today’s lesson, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” The disciples have already been overwhelmed with the journey thus far and Jesus knows that they are not quite ready to bear anything else. It will only be revealed when they are ready. It is the same for all of humanity.

As children of God, we are invited into this wonderful mystery. We are invited to join in community and walk with each other as the Trinity leads us. Richard Rohr, in his daily meditations, recently shared this about the Trinity,

I see mystery not as something you cannot understand; rather, it is something that you can endlessly understand! There is no point at which you can say, “I’ve got it.” Always and forever, mystery gets you! In the same way, you don’t hold God in your pocket; rather, God holds you and knows your deepest identity.

Whatever is going on in God is a flow, a radical relatedness, a perfect communion between Three—a circle dance of love. God is Absolute Friendship. God is not just a dancer; God is the dance itself. This pattern mirrors the perpetual orbit of electron, proton, and neutron that creates every atom, which is the substratum of the entire physical universe. Everything is indeed like “the image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:26-27).

We have the opportunity to encounter each part of the Trinity in our own time and place. We are invited to join in the dance of the Trinity as Richard Rohr refers to and that we will sing about soon. To enter that relationship is mysterious and yet also overwhelming. God is much greater than we can ever imagine. God is the creator that calls us to care for God’s creation. Jesus is the part of the divine that has come to us in our own human form to show us the way. The Holy Spirit completes the three to companion us on this great journey of life.

The Holy Trinity is present with us at all times in our lives. When we are born. When we fall off the bicycle for the first time and scrape up our knees. When we enter the scary world of high school. When we must start providing for ourselves. When our own children are born and when we grow old and experience all new aches, pains, and terrible diseases. The Holy Trinity is with those that wake up from comas as well as those that breath their last breathes in this earthly world.

The Holy Trinity is at the heart of our Faith and is revealed to us in Jesus Christ as he died on the cross to reveals God’s unbounded love. The Holy Trinity is the Spirit that companions us throughout all of lives twists and turns. The Holy Trinity is the creator God that brings us all together in a relationship that is growing and is mystery.

It is okay to say, “I don’t know,” when you do not have an answer. For we are not expected to know it all. For as Jesus tells his disciples, you are not yet ready to bear it all.

Let us pray. Holy Trinity, your mysterious way leaves us dumbfounded. As we enter the dance of the Trinity, let us be open to those teachings that draw us ever closer to you. In the meantime, let us be at ease with those things we cannot understand and let our faith guide us in your ways. Amen.

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

“one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church”

June 2, 2019

John 17:20-26

This past Thursday, I had the opportunity to take Emali to Central Michigan University for orientation. After all the visits to different schools over the last couple of years, you would think that I had been ready for this point in time to occur. As many of you know, sending your first to college is a scary, yet wonderful experience. I am excited by the diversity that she will encounter and the sense of community that is to be found on campus.

Unity seems to be a common theme of all the schools that we have visited. Every single one of them have promoted their inclusiveness and diversity that can be found among the many organizations on campus. I know that diversity is something that is hard to come by in our rural communities, and especially the Lutheran church. Did you know that the ELCA is the most segregated denomination in the United States on any given Sunday? We are the whitest denomination in the United States. Part of me wants to say, “what do you expect when you were founded primarily by Germans and Scandinavians.” Another part of me is upset by this fact and desires the diversity that is found in the university environment. We cannot live fully into unity until we meet our sisters and brothers of every race, religion, sexual orientation, and ability, with a warm embrace and loving welcome. Jesus Calls us to live into unity with one another. Are we welcoming our neighbors into that unity as Jesus leads us?

This morning we come to the end of Jesus’ last prayers before he is handed over to the authorities. It is a prayer that challenges the disciples as well as those believers to come. It is a prayer for all to become united in Jesus Christ so that they may come to know his love and grace. His prayers are evoked from the experiences he has had with the disciples and the challenges he knows future believers and seekers of the divine will encounter.

He prays for unity because he has experienced division among the disciples. There are several times within the gospels that the disciples appear to be divided. Peter shows his division with Jesus when he tries to sweep Jesus’ talk of crucifixion under the rug. He does not want to hear about it and does not want Jesus to talk about it. We witness James and John arguing about who is going to sit at the right and left hand of the Lord. Jesus is not even dead yet and they are arguing about who will be with him in his glory and how they will be present to advise him. This is not much different than the disciples arguing about who is the greatest. And don’t forget about the disciples insecurity when others are healing and casting out demons in the name of Jesus. They seem to think that they are the only ones worthy of performing these mighty acts.

When it comes to Christian unity today, in certain circles, that can sound like an oxy-moron. We argue and bicker among ourselves over orthodoxy and doctrine. We overlook the teachings of Jesus Christ to simply help support our own points of view. We choose not to worship with this group or that group. Of course, I am speaking in broad sweeping strokes, but we can experience this in our own community. While our table is open to all, we find the table closed off to us in other congregations in town. I am sure that there are even certain practices and actions that we do that make others feel excluded that we may not even be aware of. We create division when that is not even our intention.

Fortunately, we can find the grace in the prayer of Jesus. A prayer that begins with prayers for himself, flows into prayers for his disciples, and concludes with prayers for all believers that are yet to be. This prayer flows down to us in this time and place so that we may be one with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus is praying for us! It is a prayer for unity that we are still seeking to fully live into. It is the promise of the kingdom of God to come into this world as we look forward to a new creation.

Jesus’ prayer is not for one single group. It is for all of humanity that is formed in the very image of God. Jesus’ prayer is a sign of the love that he has for all of creation. Bede Griffiths is quoted in Pathways to Peace, saying:

Love is invisible, but it is the most powerful force in human nature. Jesus spoke of the Spirit which he would send as Truth but also as Love. “If anyone loves me, my Father will love him and we will come to him and make our abode with him.” This is the love, the prema and bhakti, which was proclaimed in the Bhagavad Gita, the compassion (karuna) of Buddha, the rapturous love of the Sufi saints.

Ultimately a religion is tested by its capacity to waken love in its followers, and, what is perhaps more difficult, to extend that love to all humanity. In the past religions have tended to confine their love to their own followers, but always there has been a movement to break through these barriers and attain to a universal love.

As the ELCA, it is our hope to reach out to all people in love and compassion. We join with our ecumenical partners to share the love of Jesus Christ. We reach out to dialogue with our interfaith partners to see how we can live into unity with one another. Love is the one language that transcends all religion. It is this love that Jesus can be found praying for his disciples as well as the believers yet to be. It is a reciprocal love that Jesus prays for us to live into. It is a love that is reflected in the words of the Apostle’s Creed, “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.” The catholic in our creed simply means universal. We are called into unity with one another to be one holy church.

Thursday was Ascension Day. The day that Jesus ascends to be with us in the bread, wine, water, word, and even the stranger. In Jesus’ ascension we hear the promise of unity and eventually all will be made one. May we continue to live into that unity while continuing to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

Let us pray. Ascended Lord, we give thanks for the teachings that have remained with us through your first disciples. May we be guided in the time to come as we attempt to live into that unity and be directed by your ever-present love. Amen.
  

A Glimpse of Pentecost

May 26, 2019 (Memorial Day Weekend)

John 14:23-29

I met David during my last J-Term class of seminary. J-term is the 2-3 week period in January before the spring semester starts and the classes offered are usually intensives on a certain topic. The class in which I chose to enroll was Gathered at the Table. A two-week course, led by the then director of education for ELCA World Hunger, where the first week was spent on campus in class learning about how the ELCA was combatting world hunger and how we made our voice heard, and the second week was spent in Washington D.C.

David was passionate about caring for the homeless of Washington D.C. and ensuring that they had every opportunity available to them to step out of homelessness. Why was David so passionate? Because he himself, traveled the United States from Phoenix to Las Vegas, to Dallas and then Chicago, then from New York City to eventually landing in Washington D.C. as a homeless man. He found himself homeless at the age of 29 due to schizophrenia.  He kept moving around the country to find a place where he may fit in, while living on the streets. He always tried to keep up his appearance so that he did not appear homeless. However, he told us that in Washington D.C. he started looking the part and probably looked like the person he used to cross the street to avoid encountering. It was in Washington D.C. that David met people from the National Coalition for the Homeless. The coalition was a voice for the homeless and helped him get off the streets. They advocated for him and assisted him in finding an apartment. They were a voice for him when his was silent. Once he got back on his feet, he started working as a member of the National Coalition for the Homeless by talking to groups like ours and ensuring the voice of the homeless are heard. He had become an advocate.

Jesus promises to send an advocate, the Holy Spirit, in his place when he leaves. This advocate will teach us and remind us of Jesus Christ and how we are to live into the grace and love of God in this broken world. David was living this out in his life and carrying it to the next step and following in the steps of those that had lifted him up. How are we being an advocate for our brothers and sisters around the world?

This is a tough question that some do not want to even be bothered with. It requires us to dig deep into the heart of the gospel and listening to what Jesus teaches. Some choose to walk away while others simply go through the motions. Judas Iscariot has chosen the latter. He has walked away from the promise of Jesus to fulfill the plan that was set in place from the very beginning. Judas himself would suffer in the motion of eventually handing Jesus over to the authorities. He has stepped away from the truth of Jesus Christ and set into motion the passion that would pull all of us into the greater story.

As Jesus spends this last night with his disciples, he leaves some challenging thoughts for them to discern as they choose or choose not to follow him. He challenges them when he says, “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” What exactly does it mean to keep the words of Jesus? Have we been listening to his teachings from the very beginning? The disciples must be pondering some of these same questions. They have been traveling with Jesus for the last three years and now he starts to point out what separates you from God. Note, this does not mean that God does not love us, but our own lack of love for Jesus separates us from knowing the truth that is found in the word.

We not only do this with Jesus, but we do it with those that choose to get close to us, to know us, and want to be in a relationship with us so that we can build community. God works through various relationships to draw us closer to Jesus. As in David’s case, it can take some time to wake up to those that are speaking out on our behalf and reaching out with a love that is reflective of God’s love for us.

Jesus knows our hearts!

Jesus knows that we get lost!

Jesus seeks us out because of these very truths. Jesus will leave the ninety-nine behind to find just the one that is lost. That is the very thing that an advocate does. An advocate speaks up on behalf of those whose voices are getting ignored. As Jesus prepares to enter the passion journey that will lead him to the cross, he promises the disciples that he will send an advocate in his place. This advocate that he speaks of is the Holy Spirit! This is a glimpse of the Pentecost that is to come, and the Pentecost that we will be celebrating in two weeks. The Holy Spirit will continue to be a teacher for the disciples and remind them of Jesus’ words. The Holy Spirit will assist them as they are left wondering where to turn next as Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection begins to set the tone for the ministry to come and their calling to share the good news.

The Holy Spirit is our advocate as well. The gospels teach us how to live out this Christian life and follow in the steps of Jesus Christ. We are God’s hands and feet in the world. David began to learn this as he finally opened his heart up to those in the National Coalition for the Homeless as they advocated on his behalf. He in turn, heard the call to do the same for those that are still on the streets and wondering where their next meal will come from or how they will warm up on those coldest days and nights.

So, I return to my original question. How are we being an advocate for our brothers and sisters around the world?

Are we being bold and carrying out the gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ, as he has called us to do?

There are many things that we can be advocates for. We can choose to advocate for those that hunger and support various organizations, such as Bread for the World or ELCA World Hunger. We can support our ministry partners in Haiti and assist in their care and teaching of those that need it the most. We can speak out against gun violence and the deaths of our sisters and brothers in schools, places of worship, and workplaces. We can be a voice for the environment and the care of creation. We can walk alongside immigrants and those seeking refuge and asylum.

We advocate because we are Easter people. We follow and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Following the gospel is not always easy and it means going against the grain at times. Maybe you feel called to a particular cause to advocate, maybe you are praying for the Holy Spirit to guide you.

As Jesus prepares to leave the disciples, he promises them an advocate. Our hymn of the day, Come Down, O Love Divine, speaks of that advocate. In verse 4 we hear, “No soul can guess love’s grace till it become the place where in the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling.” It is this advocate that comes to reside in us in love and grace. May we be a reflection of that advocate to share love and grace with our sisters and brothers around the world.

Let us pray. God, creator of all things, you promise to send us an advocate, the Holy Spirit, to teach us and remind us of Christ in our midst. May we be open to your words of love and grace as we reach out to share your gospel with our communities and remain strong in our faith as we speak a gospel that seems counter-cultural at times. Amen.

Sheep of the Good Shepherd

May 12, 2019

John 10:22-30

One class that is not offered in seminary is how to care for a church cemetery!

As a new pastor, it is important that it is properly maintained. Mowed on a regular basis and ensure that it looks like it is in decent order. Not to mention that proper records are maintained. Also, you better make sure that there are flags on all the graves of the military veterans on Memorial Day. How this became part of the pastor’s job I was never sure. It did not help that the cemetery was located a few miles from the church on a dirt road near the original church.

Every year when we come to this point in the lectionary, I am reminded of my first call and their cemetery. Why? Because it was not just known as Immanuel Lutheran Cemetery, but also the Swedish Lutheran Cemetery and more importantly, the Sheep of the Good Shepherd Cemetery. There is a metal archway over the entrance that reads, “Sheep of the Good Shepherd.” It was a serene spot. A place that I truly enjoyed visiting and being surrounded with the saints of the congregation that had already entered the church triumphant. If I was lucky enough, I may be visited by livestock whose grazing area butted up to the cemetery. I walked along the Anderson’s, Nelson’s, Sandahl’s, Hanson’s (you know all those good Swedish names), and many more while praying. I especially enjoyed going out there on Easter Sunday just as the sun was rising and rejoicing in the Resurrection.

In John’s gospel this morning, we enter the story in the midst of The Good Shepherd chapter. Therefore, the 4th Sunday of Easter has come to be known as Good Shepherd Sunday. Jesus, the good shepherd, knows each and every one of us and calls us by name to follow him and have life eternal.

While Jesus knows us and calls us, that does not mean that we fully understand what is taking place. We too often attempt to make Jesus into the very thing that he is not! Don’t think that we are the only ones. There was confusion in Jesus’ time as well. The Jewish leaders in the temple wanted to know who Jesus was. In our lesson this morning, they cannot stand the waiting. It’s like waiting for the name of the latest royal baby that was born. Ok not really, but those talking to Jesus this morning really wants to know if he is the Messiah or not!

We are told that it is winter and the time of the festival of the Dedication. We know this festival better as Hanukkah. It was a celebration of not only the rededication of the temple at the time of the Maccabean revolt, but also a celebration of liberation. As they gather for this festival, the Jewish people are looking towards the coming of a Messiah, and are waiting for Jesus to respond and tell them the truth. However, he chooses not to answer in the affirmative because he does not fit into the box in which they are trying to place him.

They are looking for a Messiah, who will save them from the Roman empire. A conqueror who will destroy all that is in their way and will bring them to a place of peace. Their concern is around earthly matters and not the promise of salvation that the Messiah can provide eternally. They desire someone that can conquer their oppressors and bring them back to a point of nationalistic pride.

Wow, we do not learn from history, do we?

Time and time again, we gather around political leaders that we think are going to bring great change and we remove our eyes from what truly matters in Jesus Christ. We want them to save us from what we think is wrong. We look for leaders in businesses to save them from failure. The church is even guilty of this! Congregations call pastors in the hope that they will turn everything around. Sunday school classes will be back to levels of the past, the sanctuary will be full, and the offering plate will be over flowing. In all of these cases, we look past what truly matters in Jesus Christ. Not to say these things cannot be done, but they are done in community. We are not called to conquer. We are not called to save anybody from anything. That is the calling of Jesus Christ!

Jesus is the Messiah! He just is not the Messiah that the Jewish leaders are looking for. He does conquer. But he does not conquer the Roman Empire as they are hoping. He conquers what truly matters. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, conquers sin, death, and evil! It is this Messiah that we are called to follow. We follow him and he tends to us as his flock.

More importantly, he reaches out to those that need him the most. He looks to welcome all of humanity. Especially the part of humanity that is abandoned, thrown out, cast out, and tossed out. Those that are on the fringes of society. His concern is not with political parties or the bottom line. Jesus’ concern is for his flock. To care for and love us as children of God.

While we may have no clue how to be a shepherd in the literal sense, we can learn from Jesus and reach out to the same people that he ushers into the kingdom of God. And you know what, Jesus does not exclude anyone. In his call to follow him, we too can learn to share the love and grace that is bestowed upon us by God.

This past week, as the church of Christ, we lost another great saint. Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche Community for people with developmental disabilities and those who assist them. He is an example of what it means to truly follow Jesus Christ. He wrote the following in one of his many books,

To become a good shepherd is to come out of the shell of selfishness in order to be attentive to those for whom we are responsible so as to reveal to them their fundamental beauty and value and help them grow and become fully alive.

As we choose to follow Jesus, are we truly following him, or are we just giving him lip service? Are we being his hands and feet in the world or are we just talking the talk? The grace is that Jesus welcomes us in whatever we choose to do, however are we truly living in our faith? What are we choosing to shepherd?

Let us pray. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, you call us to follow you and you know us. You know our hearts and what is on our minds.  May we continue to listen to that calling and be open to your movement in our lives and the life of our community. Amen.