Tag: Luke

Say what?!

Proverbs 9:1-6 saywhat
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

Be wise, be wise, be wise! Wisdom calls to us – come in! Eat my bread, drink my wine, sit at my table, and become wise!

Be wise, be wise, be wise! Understand the will of the Lord and don’t be foolish!

The wise sought out the Lord, he fed them miraculous bread, and the wise wanted him to be the new King of Israel. But the Lord ran away. The wise sought him out again, and the Lord said you are foolishly seeking bread that perishes. Seek the everlasting bread from heaven. The wise asked, “Give us this bread!” The Lord said, “I am this bread.”

The wise began to murmur… who is this man? He is saying he is from heaven? No he’s not… we know his parents and siblings. He is a mortal.

The Lord replied, “Don’t murmur. The only people following me are those who God has sent me. But the bread is here for everyone. Whoever eats the bread, my flesh, lives.”

Now the wise go from a murmur to distress. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

A cannibalistic king… or vorarephiliac king… a king who wants us to eat his flesh… does not sound like a wise king. And only foolish people would follow such a king.

Jesus hears them arguing. So, he fans the flames. Our English Bible says “eat my flesh” and “drink my blood,” but in Greek, Jesus has changed verbs here. First he politely said eat me. The second time, he says, “Nom, crunch, chew my flesh and slurp my blood.” It is very graphic language.

This is too much for the wise. We’re told after today’s passage that many people left following Jesus. Being a cannibal — even a cannibal for Christ — is going too far.

Today, some of us will consume blood in the form of raw steaks, or blood pudding, blood sausage… or just any meat that isn’t wholly drained of all its blood. But we’re the strange ones. Today Muslims, Jews, and Orthodox Christians alike all refuse to eat or drink blood — even that left over in something like a steak — because our scripture. In Genesis 9:3-4, God tells Noah, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”

This is elaborated later in Levitius 17:10-14 when God tells Moses, “If anyone of the house of Israel or of the [foreigners] who reside among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut that person off from the people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel: No person among you shall eat blood, nor shall any [foreigner] who resides among you eat blood. And anyone of the people of Israel, or of the aliens who reside among them, who hunts down an animal or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. For the life of every creature—its blood is its life; therefore I have said to the people of Israel: You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.”

Quite, quite clearly, in the old ancient world, people understood that our bodies are alive because of blood. Blood is life. Life is blood. They are synonymous. And with science, today, we know that is pretty close to the truth. Your arm is alive, but if circulation is cut off to it… within four hours, all the cells in our flesh will die without the nutrients, oxygen, warmth, and LIFE that blood brings. A stroke is so deadly and damaging because it is a part of your brain that lacks blood – and the brain cells rapidly die. Six minutes without new blood to the brain, and the brain dies.

What’s more, science tells us blood is alive… inside blood are cells. These continue to be alive after they have left your body. Once in a great while, our blood transfusions go badly. Our blood cells attack the new blood cells.

We also know how many infections we can catch from blood! Jesus’ time didn’t have AIDS, but that’s just one of so many things we can catch.

So when Jesus starts telling people to DRINK his blood and EAT his flesh… isn’t that disturbing?

It was for the early Romans. Surviving documents from early Rome accuse Christians of meeting in the dark to worship their dark god by sacrificing a child and consuming the baby’s flesh and blood. Our church father Tertullian mocked the claims, “Come! plunge the knife into the baby, nobody’s enemy, guilty of nothing, everybody’s child. . . catch the infant blood; steep your bread with it; eat and enjoy it” (Apol. 8.2).

Augustine, another great ancestor of our faith, “argued that the words of Jesus refer to “the validity of the mystery, not to the visibility of the mystery, given to the one who eats inwardly, not outwardly, one who feeds his heart, not one who chews with his teeth.” The bread and wine are “signs,” said Augustine, and “the signs of divine things are, it is true, things visible, but … invisible things themselves are also honored in them.” (De Cat. Rud. 26.50). A thousand years later the Council of Trent would thus describe a sacrament as a “visible sign of an invisible grace.” ((https://www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20120820JJ.shtml))

Countless Christians were murdered in Rome under charges of cannibalism.

You’d think the argument would have ended since then… but it really hasn’t. WHERE Christ is in our Eucharist, in our communion, is a sticking point among our denominations. Does the bread and wine become literally the flesh and blood of Christ? Yes, say the Catholics. No, but Christ is infused into them, say the Lutherans. As Reformed, most of us say ‘No’, Christ is in the whole act of the sacrament.

That’s one example how the real world is still being influenced by this ancient debate…

… Another is with our medical laws. When you go into the hospital for surgery, you’re often asked to sign a paper permitting a blood transfusion. This is “eating” or consuming blood to some faiths. And therefore, it is banned.

The same when you go in for your license. Are you signed up as an Organ or Flesh donor? Is receiving a kidney consuming another person? Is donating your skin for grafts after you die considered permitting another to eat your flesh?

Bioethics, biological ethics and religious concerns with medicine, struggle today just like the wise struggled with Jesus back then.

Our easy answer is Jesus was not speaking literally. Jesus was never literally a vine, literally a gate, and never literally meant for us to eat and drink him.

Yet every communion we remember Jesus saying “This is the cup of the new covenant, in my blood” and “this is my body, broken for you.” And we have a cup. And broken bread.

Where is the line between literal and figurative? Symbolic and metaphorical?

Other Christians believed Jesus was using signs to point us towards God. The eternal, everlasting life is the life we have now, enjoyed with God, and the life we will continue to have, after our last day. The bread and wine, or flesh and blood, from Jesus is his life and life-giving qualities.

Many of us take a symbolic and metaphorical approach… but not all of us.

Context matters. It helps us understand what these words mean. For example, the Bible does say in Psalm 14:1, “There is no God.” But in context, it says, “The fool says in their heart, there is no God,” and then goes on to sing praises about God.

Context matters! Throwing Bible versus around out of context gets us things like,  “…then he went away and hung himself,” “and Jesus said, ‘Go away and do likewise.'” (Matthew 25:5b; Luke 10:37c.)

So when you read your Bible, or someone’s quote, ask yourself: what is the context?

Who said this?

Who did they say it to?

Why did they say it?

When? What was going on at that time?

What was said before this?

What was said after this?

And then you can understand the context, and better how this verse, or phrase, or quote was intended to be understood.

The context of “eat my flesh and drink my blood” is very different between church and a horror film.

So where do you stand? What does your God-given wisdom say?

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What We Will Be

Luke 24:36-48
1 John 3:1-7 street-preacher

I don’t like the word witness. I REALLY am uncomfortable with the phrase ‘a witness for Christ’ or something similar to that. It throws me back to how many times I’ve witnessed a witness for Christ being a person I never want to associate with.

The first witness that comes to my mind is my old college’s street witness. This witness would come and stand on the sidewalk, get a megaphone, and start screaming at we students as we walked to and from class. I passed him one day wearing jeans and he pointed to me FORNICATOR! WEARING MEN’S CLOTHES! SINNER!

I saw a classmate go up to him once and ask, “What are you doing? No one listens to this hate.”

I AM WITNESSING TO CHRIST!

He helped convince me to run as far away from Christianity as I could by the time college ended.

That kind of witnessing is religious violence.

Religious hate.

Now, of course, if we’re talking about witnessing, we should mention Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jehovah is one way of saying the holy name of God, so their name means God’s Witnesses. One of their core beliefs is they MUST witness. MUST tell others about God.

So as you know, door to door, they go in nicely pressed clothes handing out fliers about God and inviting people to converse.

The good side is this is not violent. It isn’t spreading hate. And it testifies – witnesses – to their convictions.

The bad side is when they show up on Easter morning.

Should we be going door to door talking about our faith? We’d definitely know our neighbors much better. We’d be living into Jesus’ words to bring word of repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations.

But would we be living into the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations?

That, I don’t know.

Witnessing, testifying about Jesus, speaking about one’s faith, is such a personal thing. Some people respond well to sermons. Some people respond well with coffee conversations. Some people need to see others living their convictions and their impact on the world.

And that’s what makes me uncomfortable with the word witness. What others witness is me: and I hope they see Jesus in my actions.

But they might just witness who I think Jesus is, and not the Christ who is larger than any individual, congregation, or denomination.

Let me give you an example of witnessing that I run into most often. It’s made up, but happens all the time.

There’s a way too happy woman at the checkout lane. She’s almost bouncing where she stands. And as you pass her, she hands you a little leaflet of paper and says, “Have you found your Lord and Savior?”

Now, if I say yes – she’s going to be bubbly and want to talk about how her Lord and Savior is identical to mine. He’s a white man, with blue eyes, who hates the same people she hates and loves the same people she loves. And if I say, “You know, Jesus wasn’t into the hate thing…” the conversation is going to close that happiness off on her. She’s going to get defensive. Angry. I may even hurt her faith by pointing out how the education she’s received at her church, and the Jesus she knows, are not the same education I get at my church, and not the Jesus I know.

On the other hand – if I say no, I haven’t found my Lord and Savior – she’s going to hand me the track and invite me to her church and want me to pray – be convinced she saved my soul today – and she’ll walk away feeling fantastic for hours.

What do I do? Challenge her faith, lie to her, just accept the paper, say nothing, and walk on?

Honestly, that’s the one I usually do. Accept the paper, say nothing, walk on.

I don’t witness to the witness. And her story is the one that gets pushed out. Her story is the Christian story shown on television — where there are a cult of people who act holier-than-thou, who are close-minded, who reject science, who hate those who are different, and who have their eyes on heaven to the point they don’t care about this earth at all — just the salvation of souls.

Frequently, that story is your body is dying. Your body is fallen. Your body is evil. The world is evil. Only the soul matters.

Little children, let no one deceive you. There is more than one Christian narrative. More than one story.

Right from the beginning of Jesus’ arrival as gossip in ancient Israel, people began asking who is Jesus? What is Jesus? Jesus himself asks, “Who is it you say that I am?”

Some say he is a human. A human who God has gifted prophecy, and miracles.

Some say he is the anointed, the Christ, the messiah – who was prophesied about. A foretold leader.

Some say he is a spirit. A spirit who took on a body for awhile, and then took it off.

Some say he is the Word, the Logos, of God, who comes as angels in the Old testament and Jesus in the gospels.

Some say he is wholly God who came into the world as a human to join us more closely.

“Who is it that you say I am?”

Each gospel writer, and even the letters of Paul and in Acts, are trying to answer this question. Who is Jesus?

Luke today witnesses. He writes down the story as he was told it, or witnessed it. Jesus appeared to the disciples. And everyone was terrified because they KNOW Jesus is dead. They saw him dead. They buried him. And yet, here he stands. So they think he is a ghost. While they are panicking yelling ‘ghost!’ Jesus shows them his hands and feet. Maybe he wanted them to see the wounds from the crucifixion. Maybe he wanted them to see he HAD hands and feet, because ghosts at the time were understood to be sort of the floating ghosts whose extremities tapered off into smoke and the ghost sort of hovered over the floor.

Then, and now, we say you can’t TOUCH a ghost. And Jesus invites those men and women — touch me. See. I’m here. I have flesh and bones.

Who is Jesus? Not a ghost.

To further demonstrate he’s alive, Jesus asks for food and eats fish with them.

Who is Jesus? Not a ghost – but some man living who can appear up from the dead and walk through locked doors.

Jesus tells these joyful, astonished people to go and witness — tell about, speak about — what they’ve seen and experienced to all nations. Go and proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins.

So they do. They go and witness. They go and talk.

And as soon as they do, as you know, people begin to say they’re delusional, drunk, and out of their minds. Who is Jesus? The apostles and early church mothers and fathers struggled to answer this question.

As they began to testify, beginning in Jerusalem and spreading to all nations, they had to use the local language. They had to use local ideas. And they had to use their own understanding of Jesus.

There was confusion on who and what Jesus was when he walked the earth. Magnify that with a resurrection and by several thousand people playing a game of telephone, and you know how crazy different the stories about Jesus got.

After sixty to a hundred years of this, there are stories running around everywhere about who Jesus is, what he did, and where he is now. Our John letter today is either a sermon, or a letter, written by John or about John’s gospel. He says:

Okay – look. Here are the things we know. We are loved by God. So much, we’re called the children of God.

What does that mean? We don’t know. Maybe we’re adopted by God. Maybe we’re angels. Maybe we’re somewhat divine. Maybe we’re God’s children because God made us all. We don’t know.

“What we will be has not yet been revealed.”

Peace.

The author then continues, we don’t know what resurrection means either. We can only testify what we’ve been told — Jesus came back to life, appeared to people and they recognized him sometimes on sight, and sometimes only in his words, and the breaking of bread. Jesus comes in visions, and Jesus comes as a Spirit among us. Jesus appears and disappears and yet we have stories of him being tangibly there. We have no idea what resurrection means. But what we do know is this: when Jesus is fully revealed, we’ll be like him. And we’ll see him as he is. Not dimly. Not with doubts in our hearts and confusion. We’ll be like those early apostles, like “doubting” Thomas, and be filled with joy and finally have understanding. Our minds will be opened to understanding.

But right now? We see through the mirror darkly. We understand things in starts and spurts, but we’re not yet there — face to face with God — to ask.

We just know this: God loves us. We are God’s children. And there is resurrection.

Peace. Be still.

What will be is not yet revealed.

I feel like arguing with our scripture – that is great. Sure. No one knows what the future holds. But how are you supposed to talk about Jesus then? And who is was and is, and what he did and does, and our hope if we cannot fathom the future?

The writer of the letter of John says: your hope is the resurrection in Christ. Whatever that is, now and in the future.

And then Jesus reminds us to just speak about what we know now. What we experience now.

It’s sort of like… not a single person can really communicate who Jesus is. It’s one of those things you have to experience for yourself.

And two people might see the same movie, and one think it is all about female-empowerment and the other think it is all about true love.

Each person experiences the same Jesus, but we come away with just DIFFERENT experiences. DIFFERENT understandings.

And we can only witness and testify to the Jesus we encountered.

Together, our voices get closer to the truth… but the full truth won’t be revealed until we stand before God face-to-face.

I think back on the witnesses earlier in this sermon. Each was and is testifying who they know their Lord to be. The street preacher knows Jesus as the man who cleaned out the temple with a whip, who yelled ‘get behind me Satan!’ to his own closest friend, and who said it is better to pluck out your eye than to let it sin. A Jesus of preaching. Maybe he is yet to meet the Jesus of peace and love.

The Jehovah’s witnesses know Jesus who save his followers nothing but their clothes and a staff and sent them out, town to town, to preach. The Jesus who walked hundreds of miles on sore feet, and who inspired a woman to wash those abused feet with her own tears and hair. A Jesus who stopped and spoke with all people. A Jesus of relationships. Maybe the ones I have met are yet to meet the Jesus of solitary prayer in the garden.

And the witness handing out Bibles or tracks. She knows the Jesus drenched in scripture, quoting proverbs and psalms and prophets. She knows the Jesus who Paul wrote about, the source of unexplainable joy. She knows the Jesus who commissioned us all to be ministers, witnesses, priests. A Jesus of actions. Maybe she hasn’t yet encountered the still speak, still creating, unpredictable God larger than scripture.

And me. I know the Jesus of peace, but do I know the Jesus of justice?

All of us know Jesus. He just looks really different among us… but he’s still the same Jesus.

Maybe that’s why we’re all called to witness. No one has a monopoly on Jesus. Everyone’s Jesus looks and acts and thinks and feels pretty similar to themselves. So we need each other. We need these other views of Christ to help us understand.

No two relationships looks alike, and this is good. Since we each have a personal relationship with Christ, that relationship is going to look different than other’s.

It makes the ears need the eyes, and the eyes need the toes, and the toes need the hands, and everyone needs the unmentionable parts…

We know God as a mystical trinity – a God who is only God in relationship.

Who is in communion. Communication. Sharing. Witnessing.

What does witnessing look like to you? Preaching, relationships, actions? Prayers, lifestyles, writing?

Who is Jesus to you? A spirit? A mortal man? A Jewish Rabbi? God? Christ? Messiah? Adopted? Incarnate? A miracle worker or prophet?

Go. Witness the truth of the Jesus you encounter.

And go. Hear the truth of the Jesus others encounter.

Amen.

Do Not Fear

DSC_237012 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Luke 1:26-38

Do not be afraid.

This is a strange greeting, isn’t it? Yet this is how Gabriel, in the Gospel of Luke, says hello to Mary and Zechariah both.

Do not be afraid – this is the greeting the Angels give the shepherds.

“Each word of assurance offered by the angel is not without cause. Indeed, each instance is accompanied by an awe-inspiring, even unusual moment that reasonably sparks wonder and even fear. Indeed, the practice of offering a word of assurance at moments of supernatural wonder and disruption to the norms of daily life is something Jesus takes up in his ministry later in the gospel.” ((Shivey Smith))

Jesus will tell Simon – do not be afraid, from now on, you wish fish for people. To Jarius – do not be afraid! Just believe, and your daughter will be healed. And to the disciples, and to us, Jesus will say, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom”

Do not be afraid.

It’s a strange greeting, but maybe one we should use.

Do not be afraid, it is Christmas Eve and the very God who crafted your bones from atoms, and the cosmos from chaos, who has numbered your head hair and set breath in the lungs of dinosaurs and humans alike – has come to us as a helpless baby who can’t even find his fingers to put in his mouth let alone walk, talk, or rule as our prince of peace.

Do not be afraid – God’s got this.

Do not be afraid – Mary – you are favored with a child conceived out of wedlock, to be born in a barn, raised as a refugee, condemned as a criminal, and murdered before your eyes.

But God’s got this.

Do not be afraid, Saint Michael’s – we have God’s favor, too. And it isn’t good times, and wealth. God’s favor isn’t an easy life and endless happiness. God’s favor is messier.

Like – new born diaper messy.

Like – 3-days dead Lazarus messy.

Like – empty tombs and locked doors and miracles and crucifixions and martyrs and loving that person you’d love to hate messy.

God’s favor is an invite to be part of the very re-creation of the world.

Do not be afraid – God’s got this – and God wants you to be a part of it.

Do not be afraid “functions as an invitation for Mary to do the unusual and the bold for the sake of the entire world because “nothing will be impossible with God”” ((shivey smith))

Do not be afraid is our invitation to step out and do the unusual and the bold too – because the house and kin-dom of God are now forever sure.

The unusual – that which isn’t to be mentioned in polite company – we’re to bring up those topics and causes, and live out that unusual way of reaching out to the outcasts, the marginalized, the vulnerable, the hated. Do not be afraid – you’re going to get filthy on the outside, but inside, you’ll be whiter than snow. Do not be afraid – God is with you.

We’re invited to be bold. To speak the words people do not want to hear. To preach love when everyone is throwing stones. To be God’s advocate when that is anything but popular. But do not be afraid – God is with you.

Anything is possible for God… God does miracles in the Bible, and is doing miracles now. So why does God bother with the messiness of involving us? Rev. Kathryn Matthews of the UCC writes, “we suppose that God could have chosen to save the world, to fulfill God’s promises of old all on God’s own; after all, nothing is impossible with God.

However, this humble but earth-shaking conversation [between Mary and Gabriel] tells us that God wants humanity to be part of the effort, even if it makes things much more complicated and even difficult (which it does): As Brian K. Peterson writes, “God apparently is not willing to do this behind our backs or without our own participation” (New Proclamation Year B 2008).”

Think about it – if you’re not invested into the world, will you care for it?

If you don’t have ownership, will you protect it?

I hear this time of year many people complain that kids have too many belongings, that everything is handed to them, and they don’t appreciate what they have then.

I hear all the time that said about my own generation.

There’s some truth to this, and it has nothing to do with age or generation. It has to do with investment.

I care more about those things I have spent time on, loved, prayed over, hoped for, and fought for. I care more about what I have tangibly put my hands on than what I have only a dim understanding of.

I care more about people I know, then those I don’t know.

You’re likely the same.

Maybe, God comes with this strange greeting of ‘do not be afraid’ and then leaps into humanity on humanity’s terms as a messy baby to get us more invested, more involved, with the cares of God – with the cares of re-creating the world into a place of love, hope, peace and joy.

Maybe we have a hard time loving the hard to fathom God of the universe… but we know how to love a baby, a child, a person. And so, God in the flesh, invites us to start loving others here.

And, maybe you can’t really care about a billion people you’ve never met… but you can care very dearly for your neighbor. And God says – yes! Do it. Love them deeply. Do not be afraid – I got this – But I want you to be a part of it, doing your own small part.
Here we are – our last Sunday of Advent, on Christmas Eve it’sself – what charity am I going to speak about?

Our own. Where we are doing our small part.

I’m talking about the moms and dads, grandparents, and aunts and uncles and friends and cousins in Baltimore and around the city who are sitting down today to eat a meal you donated.

I’m talking about the kids who don’t have to worry about if there will be breakfast tomorrow on Christmas morning because of you.

The Baltimore Thurston Food Pantry is our charity for today. It is messy. It is chaotic. It is God’s work in our community. It is an unusual and bold way God invites us to work alongside God.

Yes, there are food stamps. These takes weeks to apply and receive. People tend to like to eat every day and not once every few weeks.

Yes, there is emergency assistance. What if your emergency lasts a month – or two – before you’re able to find another job?

Yes, there are people ‘cheating the system.’ What does Tabitha do to earn a resurrection? What does Lazarus do? What have you done to earn God’s love?

Nothing. Nada. Zip.

God just loves you. And we’re called to just love others.

No qualifications asked.

Do not be afraid – God’s got this – and wants us to get involved too.

Needing a gift for that hard-to-buy-for-person who has everything? Now? In the final hours? Consider donating in their name.

From manger to temple, and from senate and house to our local food pantry – from the lowly to high and high to lowly – God is working, and inviting us, to make the vertical world horizontal, to be bold, to be unusual, to love justice and walk humbly and let our lives be our message of God’s radical love.

Amen.

Why Are You Standing There?

Acts 1:6-14 Angels-Talking-To-Disciples-After-The-Ascension-Of-Jesus
John 17:1-11

 

Ever feel like telling the angels in Acts or the Gospels, DUH! Maybe giving them a dirty look to boot? I know I do.

The disciples are speaking with the Risen Jesus, and then before their very eyes Jesus rises up and goes into the clouds. Quite naturally, the disciples stand there gaping up at the sky.

I’ve never seen anyone levitate. Let alone rise up into heaven. I think standing there slack jawed is about the nicest way I’ll look if I ever seen such. I might just have wet pants too.

But these two angels appear and ask, “Why do you stand looking up towards heaven?”

DUH!

This isn’t the first time the angels have been jerks, in my opinion. Remember when Mary is sobbing over Jesus’ empty tomb in John? Once again, two angels appear in white. And once again, they ask a question. “Woman, why are you weeping?”

DUH!

Mary, bless her heart, actually answers: “Because they have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.”

In Luke’s version… just like in John… two angels appear to Mary at the tomb. And they, too, ask her a question. Only they ask her: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

… say it with me…

Duh.

Jesus is dead. Jesus’ dead body was left here. Mary’s seeking a dead guy.

We don’t have to read these stories and think the disciples and Mary and the women are wrong or unenlightened. We don’t have to think the angels are perfect. These stories are meant to be relatable.

And relatable means, to me, hearing these angels being kinda jerkish and asking questions that sound condescending, insulting, when taken just as they are.

But you know, sometimes jerkish questions do us good.

It is no secret I was scared and AM scared to be a pastor. In my mind, there is a lot less on the line to be a writer and a scholar of religion than to actually be preaching and sharing lives with people. I was speaking to a spiritual counselor about this once. I told her how I was scared of saying something wrong to a parishioner or in a sermon and harming someone’s faith. The counselor asked me, “Are you more powerful than God?”

Duh. Of course not.

She continued, “Then why do you think you’re the most powerful voice in someone’s life? You’re not. You’re going to say things wrong. But you’re not God. It’s vain to think you’re going to make or break ANYONE’S faith. Faith is a journey between a person and God. A pastor just gets to walk alongside that journey for awhile. But the journey is way, way outside the pastor’s control.”

Sometimes, jerkish questions help us a whole lot.

At the tomb in Luke, the angels’ question of ‘why do you look for the living among the dead’ leads them on to remind the women that Jesus is Risen. He isn’t dead. He’s not going to be in a graveyard. The women realize this from the question, and they go back to the apostles with the news. They’re the very first witnesses and testifiers of Jesus’ resurrection. A jerkish question from the angels wakes them up, shows them new possibilities, and moves them to action.

Just like a pointed question did the same for me.

In John, at the tomb, both the angels AND Jesus get to ask Mary why she is weeping and whom she is seeking. Twice, she states she is seeking the body of Jesus and doesn’t know where to find Jesus. The questions let us see and understand, and eventually let Mary see and understand, that the dead body of Jesus isn’t what we really are seeking. And if we’re seeking Jesus only in the past, dead, buried… we’re not going to find him.

Our Lord is risen, ascended, and returning. Our Lord is not buried and gone. But are we still only seeking him among the dead and not among those living today?

That brings us to those angels standing near the disciples who are catching flies looking up to heaven some time after Jesus’ resurrection. “Why are you standing there looking up towards heaven?”

Duh.

But their jerkish question has a point. Standing there and staring into heaven isn’t what Jesus commissioned us to do. They had just asked, ‘Is it now that Israel is going to be restored?’ And Jesus tells them no. And reminds them again that God’s message and restoration isn’t just for that ancient country, but for all counties — all people — everywhere. And again, Jesus charges them to carry this message of love everywhere.

Yes, he told us to keep watch. Yes, he told us to stay awake. But never once did he tell us to wait around for his return doing nothing. Rather, he told us to do greater deeds than he. Told us to carry his message everywhere around the world. Told us to do his commandments, to do God’s commandments, and to actively love one another.

So… the question gives the disciples and apostles direction. They go back to Jerusalem. They return to sharing their lives together in prayer, and study, and in good works, and in living the Christian Way.

As we heard today, as Jesus prayed over the last supper – he said to God, “I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world,” and so it is. Jesus is Risen. But Jesus is present through us to one another. Jesus is with God Our Parent, but has sent our Holy Advocate among us to remind us how to live Jesus’ teachings.

What does this look like in action today?

The first example I can think of is our offering today.

A second I think it speaks wisdom into our church woes. It’s no secret at all that churches are closing left and right. Attendance is way down from the height of the 1940s and 1950s. Most congregations operate in the red with their budgets and most congregations are strapped for people under the age of 50.

Like Mary at the tomb, we look in these once-grand buildings but find them empty. And we weep.

Like everyone staring up into heaven, we keep watching and waiting thinking that a return: maybe when the teens are adults and married. Maybe when the adults retire. Maybe when the retirees get lonely.

Some churches are trying to shake up things. You’ve heard of the churches with contemporary services and live music. You’ve heard of churches who worship outside, or worship over coffee, or even in bars. Some get rid of pews and some get rid of hymnals.

But in the end, even these churches find it is hard to keep being relevant to people’s lives. Their numbers may swell for a year or two, but then… things go back to looking drear.

The truth of the matter is – people don’t want to go to services to worship God.

Worshiping God isn’t important in their lives.

And I don’t blame them. That was me for years and years. Standing there staring into heaven felt nice once and awhile… like maybe an Easter or a Christmas service… but doing that weekly didn’t really get the house clean, or pay the bills, or make my day better.

The truth is… church wasn’t relevant to my life and it isn’t for most people.

And I think that’s what the angels are pointing out in our scripture, and even today… reflecting on the past is good, but fixated on it is not. It’s time to move on. Time to trust God, time to do as God asks, and welcome the new reality God gifts us. Reflecting on the glory years of our churches is good. But pining, wishing, for those years to come back is not good.

We won’t find the living among the dead. We’re not going to fill up this church or any church by changing little things or big things in our services.

You see, services don’t make Christians, services aren’t designed to and aren’t aimed towards people considering Christianity. We say prayers that aren’t printed, and we sing hymns not known in pop culture, and we use terms and phrases no one who isn’t ‘in the know’ understands.

Standing there gazing into heaven doesn’t spread the message to all of the ends of the earth. It doesn’t make our faith relevant.

What does?

Mission work. Out reach. Living a Christian life. When the apostles return and live lives of hope, of sharing, of community – people want to know more. Want to join. When a church has a mission, a purpose – people want to join in, and make a difference. When a church has an out reach, a program to assist the community – people want to participate.

The food pantry.

Foundation dinners.

5th quarter, Hope homes, One Great Hour of Sharing, the PIN fund, Vacation Bible School, donating our hymnals, donating time and resources here and there – these are mission and out reach.

Praying for each other. Giving each other rides. Sharing our garden produce and our clothes, our homes and our lives with each other. Knowing how each other are doing. Calling, writing, facebooking, loving each other… this is living a Christian life. This is community.

Church? Worshiping God? These are the results of mission work, outreach, and the Christian life. Church is not an ends unto itself. It is the human response to God’s presence throughout our whole week – our whole lives.

This is where we recharge. Where we stand gazing into heaven and smile. Where we sink on our knees at the tomb in wonder. This is where we pause, reflect, and praise God.

But church is only relevant, only meaningful, if we have been in relationship with God and working for God long before we entered the church doors.

So… let me play the role of the angels for a moment and ask a jerkish question…

Why are you here today? Is church relevant to you? If not, what is missing?

Amen.

Rearview Mirror

Luke 24:13-35
Acts 2:14a, 36-41

where-is-god.png

Elie Wiesel, his parents, and his sister were told to board a train. Upon debarking, they were separated. It was the last time he ever saw his mom or little sister. His father and he were placed together in the concentration camp of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. He writes about he witnessed as men were beat, starved, tortured, and murdered. Day after day. Jews, Romani ‘gypsies,’ homosexuals, people who disagreed with the government, and those suspected of being any of these categories – all subjected to cruelty.

Around the boy Wiesel the men confront their faith. Why does God permit this to happen?

Is God good?
Is God just?
Is God loving?

Is this a punishment from God? If so – what could a mere human do to deserve to watch their toddler tortured to death or their grandpa murdered by his fellows over a scrap of food?

Elie Wiesel writes in his memoir ((Night)) of how some people still prayed, and still praised God, even in deep heartache. But he could not. He writes,

“Blessed be God’s name? Why, but why would I bless Him? Every fiber in me rebelled. Because He caused thousands of children to burn in His mass graves? Because He kept six crematoria working day and night, including Sabbath and the Holy Days? Because in His great might, He had created Auschwitz, Birkenau, Buna, and so many other factories of death? How could I say to Him: Blessed be Thou, Almighty, Master of the Universe, who chose us among all nations to be tortured day and night, to watch as our fathers, our mothers, our brothers end up in the furnaces? Praised be Thy Holy Name, for having chosen us to be slaughtered on Thine altar?”

The torture, the anger, the feelings of betrayal and abandonment led many prisoners to wonder… where IS God?

Wiesel recounts watching a very young boy being hung to inspire fear into the camp; “‘Where is merciful God, where is He?’ someone behind me was asking.” But God doesn’t save the boy and the boy hangs – but he is too light and so instead of a quick death, slowly suffocates. Wiesel continues, “Behind me, I heard the same man asking: ‘For God’s sake, where is God?’ and from within me, I heard a voice answer: ‘Where He is? This is where-hanging here from this gallows…”

God is dying. God is dead.

Later, a Rabbi in the camp says, “”It’s over. God is no longer with us.” And as though he regretted having uttered such words so coldly, so dryly, he added in his broken voice, “I know. No one has the right to say things like that. I know that very well. Man is too insignificant, too limited, to even try to comprehend God’s mysterious ways. But what can someone like myself do? I’m neither a sage nor a just man. I am not a saint. I’m a simple creature of flesh and bone. I suffer hell in my soul and my flesh. I also have eyes and I see what is being done here. Where is God’s mercy? Where’s God? How can I believe, how can anyone believe in this God of Mercy?””

On that long, seven mile walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus, I believe a similar conversation occurred. I am not saying it was as hellish as that Wiesel suffered, but similar conversation may have happened. I think the two walking had to ask each other:

Where is God?
Where is this God of Mercy and love?
If this Jesus was the Chosen One of God… how could mere mortals murder him?
If this Jesus was the Messiah to bring in God’s reign, why do bad people still rule and good people die?
Why do the innocent suffer and the guilty go rewarded?
If this is God’s reign… where is God? If this is God’s world – where is god?
What if… there is no god?

In situations not as hellish as seeing Jesus die. Not as hellish as seeing everyone you know tortured to death. But similar words you may have asked: where is God?

Is there a God?

Wiesel’s faith of God changes, wavers, stops all together at times and flourishes at others. He alone out of his family survives the concentration camp. As an old man, he spoke with a news paper reporter. ((The Star Ledger)) The reporter asked Wiesel,

Q: What is it like having strangers ask you if or why you believe in God?

A: You know who asks me the most? It’s children. Children ask, “How can you still believe in God?” In All the Rivers Run to the Sea, I speak about it. There are all the reasons in the world for me to give up on God. I have the same reasons to give up on man, and on culture and on education. And yet … I don’t give up on humanity, I don’t give up on culture, I don’t give up on journalism … I don’t give up on it. I have the reasons. I don’t use them.

Q: How often do people ask you this question?

A: Whenever there’s a question-and-answer period after a lecture, inevitably the question comes up. Inevitably. I still (can’t) remember once that I gave a lecture on philosophy or on history or the Talmud or the Bible (when it didn’t come up) at one point. It’s `How come you — or do you — believe in God?’

Q: How do you respond to people who no longer believe in God because of the Holocaust?

A: I ask them, `How can you believe in man?’ After all, God did not send down Auschwitz from heaven. Human beings did it. And most of them were cultured, educated. The (Nazis) were led by people with college degrees, some of them with doctoral degrees, some with PhDs. Then they don’t know.

Q: Why do you think people ask you these questions?

A: It is for their sake. They want to understand. Look, a very religious person would not ask me this question; only if that religious person has some anxiety or some doubt, then that person wants to know how I deal with that anxiety and that doubt. And I say, `Look, I have faith. It’s a wounded faith.’

Elie Wiesel lives on with a wounded faith.

Out of that wounded faith, he inspires others to remember HUMANS caused the Holocaust – not God. We bear the sin. We bear the responsibility to never do this again.

Out of wounded faith, Wiesel heals.

Walking to Emmaus, I wonder if the two have a wounded faith. All their dreams and expectations have been murdered. Hung on a cross. Left to die. Buried. Already the close disciples of Jesus have begun to be captured up, to be stoned to death… murdered.

How could God torture and murder God’s own son?
How is that just?
How is that right?
Are we going to laud divine child abuse?

… Maybe, as with the holocaust… God didn’t do it. Humans did.

Humans accused Jesus. Humans killed him. The holocaust was not some part of a great big plan. Nor was the cross.

In the words of George Santayana:” If pain could have cured us we should long ago have been saved.”

UCC Rev. Terry Williams continues, “Suffering is never redemptive. Christ’s love for us is shown in how he chose to live; our sinfulness is shown in how we chose to end his life. Suffering is never God’s will.”

Where is God?

God isn’t the one inflicting the pain.

God is hanging from the gallows.
God is hanging on the cross.
God is with the person suffering.

In our scripture, these two are suffering and Jesus comes up along side of them. They don’t even notice. Jesus joins in their reality, their conversation. Jesus then reassures them. The word ‘fool’ here is the kind of fool we call a beloved friend. Foolish beloved friend, the deranged babble of the women is true. God doesn’t leave you in suffering. God goes alongside with you. God accompanies you even with your wounded faith, because God has wounded faith in humanity. And together, we abide, side by side, and hope and trust in better tomorrows.

In Emmaus, the two invite in the stranger who has walked with them. And the stranger then becomes their blessing – and disappears.

In sudden hindsight, they realize Jesus was with them all along. In sudden hindsight, they realize that by welcoming in the stranger they welcomed in Christ. By welcoming in the lonely, they welcomed in Christ. By walking with someone and speaking of faith, even though they themselves felt their faith was wounded, they found Christ and found deep assurance that indeed- the Lord is Risen.

When I am in the middle of hell on Earth, I don’t always see where God is. I don’t always feel God’s presence. I don’t always trust God is love.

But in the rearview mirror… I see… I was never alone.

God was in the care strangers showed me. God was in the prayers of others. God sat with me while I asked the hard questions of: God – why? Why? Why? And WHERE ARE YOU?

In the rearview mirror… I see with twenty-twenty… it’s a talent and a skill we must develop to recognize our Lord in the present moment. For God is present. Right here. In our joys, but also in our deepest questions and sufferings. Amen.

Knock knock!

John 20:19-31
Acts 2:14a, 22-32

Knock knock!
who’s there?
Luke
Luke who?
Luke through the peephole and find out!

Tsk! But Jesus never knocked! Not even in the book of Luke. Instead – he just jumped right into the scene – but that means we get ever more hilarity as the disciples start screaming ghost! And Jesus stands in the middle of the chaos saying Peace! Peace!

And when the disciples see it really is Jesus, and see he still has the wounds in his side and isn’t a ghost – but really is there – they rejoice! Jesus then gifts them the Holy Spirit. The Spirit comes in joy of the Risen Lord!

Far too often, we forget to laugh – forget to take ourselves lightly – forget that the Bible tells us that just as there is time for sorrow, there is also a time to laugh.

Now is the time for laughter!

Rev. Lois Harder said, “God delights in our laughter and receives it as an act of worship. [We continue] the Easter story. We’re celebrating the greatest practical joke of all time: God overturned death. God, in fact, had the last laugh over death.”

Is it any wonder why Peter stands and proclaims his heart is glad, and his tongue rejoices, and his flesh lives in hope? “God will not abandon my soul to Hell! God has made me filled me with the Joy of the Spirit!”

The joy that Jesus is raised up, love is stronger than all powers, and we are now an Easter people!

Hallelujah!

Think about the upside down world Jesus introduced us to….

Jesus told us of workers who were given full day pays for minutes of work, stewards who were successful cheats, wasteful sons welcomed like kings, camels going through needles, people not noticing whole planks of wood in their eyes, and wedding banquets at all hours.

Then — Jesus showed us a few loaves becoming many, water turning into wine, calming the seas, walking on water, healing the sick, curing blindness and lameness, and literally raising people from the dead.

And Jesus showed us what the world could be – welcoming in the strangers, the sinners, the outcasts, the misunderstood, the feared. The woman at the well. The Good Samaritan. The woman who the town wanted to stone. The boy with schizophrenia. The countless multitudes who Jesus taught us to stop labeling by their conditions and start labeling Beloved Children of God. Jesus showed us to love and converse with all people as equals.

The reality of God’s reign is chaos compared to what we know! It is a world all turned around so that the least are lifted up and the greatest are pushed down. A world where those who don’t labor are still fed; and those who ‘fit in’ with the world are actually the ones who need to change.

Rev. H.A. Williams’ in his book Tensions writes, “[It is] No wonder the Pharisees, who seem to have been always wholly serious, had to have Jesus put down. He couldn’t be allowed to go on indefinitely standing everything on its head and making their piety look ridiculous. Why, in the end, they might even laugh themselves, and that would be the ultimate catastrophe.

“…but Eternity had the last laugh after all. Here are Caiaphas and all his crowd, Pilate and Herod and all theirs, sitting complacently in a state of grave and dignified self-congratulation. They have done their duty and justified the authority vested in them by efficiently disposing once and for all of a dangerous fool. He is safely dead. And with solemn calm again restored, they can concentrate once more on the really serious matters to which their lives are dedicated.

“But behind their backs, without them having the slightest inkling of what is going on, the fool has popped up again like a Jack-in-the-box and is dancing about even more vigorously than before and even more compellingly. People here, there and everywhere are falling under his spell…

“If that isn’t funny, nothing is. It (the resurrection) is the supreme, the final, the ultimate joke. And since laughter, although not irresistible is none the less highly contagious, perhaps the brass hats themselves will in time catch the disease, turn around, see the joke, and then laugh with the rest of creation because the kingdom of God has drawn near.”

What a beautiful, beautiful reign it is!

Alright! Time for a joke break! Got one to share? If not… there should be one in your bulletin…

[jokes]

Ready for a few from our Bible? Listen to 2 Chronicles 21:20 NIV: It reads: “Jehoram was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eight years. He passed away, to no one’s regret, and was buried in the City of David, but not in the tombs of the kings.”

Guess we know what people thought of Jehoram’s leadership skills!

In … Elijah and the priests of Baal are in a competition to see whose God will light up their own altar. They wait and wait and wait on Baal. Elijah gets tired of the waiting and in 1 Kings 18:27 we have this line, “About noontime Elijah began mocking them. “You’ll have to shout louder,” he scoffed, “for surely he is a god! Perhaps he is daydreaming, or is relieving himself. Or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!”

Your god might be sitting on the porcelain throne. You best shout louder! Yes, we have a potty joke in the Bible. This is the cleanest of several.

There’s a ton of sex jokes too – but you’ll have to ask me about those after the sermon!

And we have funny stories… which are meant to be funny!

When God comes to Abram and Sarai to say they – at 99 and 100 – are going to have a son, Abram – whose name means ‘Father’ – doesn’t understand and Sarai laughs. And their son’s name? Isaac – which means, He Laughs.

The entire book of Jonah is rolling in puns and humor! For example: Go to Nineveh, Jonah, and warn them. Jonah refuses. Runs away. And so a storm hits his boat. And his boat mates ask ‘Who made their god mad?!’ So Jonah is tossed overboard. He’s happy! He’ll escape God’s mission to Nineveh in death! But a big fish swallows him and spits him out back on the route to Nineveh. The story goes on and on like this with Jonah attempting to escape his mission to save a city with just his words and God refusing to let Jonah kill himself!

So!

Knock knock?
Who’s there?
Babylon.
Babylon who?
Babble on, I’ve stopped listening.

Means it’s time for our take home message: Psalm 17:22 “A joyful heart is good medicine.”

Let us laugh with holy humor! Let us rejoice in our Risen King!

Bible, Church, and Religion Jokes

From everywhere – for Holy Humor Sunday – and any day!

 

A small boy told a Sunday school teacher: “When you die, God takes care of you like your parents did when you were alive — only God doesn’t yell at you all the time.”

 

A woman invited some people to dinner. At the table, she turned to her six-year-old daughter and said, “Would you like to say the blessing?”

“I wouldn’t know what to say,” the little girl replied.

“Just say what you hear Mommy say,” the mother said.

The little girl bowed her head and said: “Dear Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?”

 

A pastor was speaking to a group of second-graders about the resurrection of Jesus when one student asked, “What did Jesus say right after He came out of the grave?”

The pastor explained that the Gospels do not tell us what He said.

The hand of one little girl shot up. “I know what He said: He said, ‘Tah-dah!'”

 

Church Sign: “We welcome all denominations — $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100.”

 

Church of the Merciful posted this sign: “Trespassers will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

 

In the bulletin of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church, Palm Coast, FL: “We will have a Special Holiday Bingo & Dinner on Monday evening, Dec. 30. You will be given two bingo packs, which cover all games played, and your choice of children or roast beef for dinner.”

 

From the Dalton (GA) Daily Citizen News: “John Franklin, ordained as a deamon, will pastor two churches in Fannin County.”

 

When a young minister was still single, he preached a sermon he entitled, “Rules for Raising Children.” After he got married and had children of his own, he changed the title of the sermon to “Suggestions for Raising Children.” When his children got to be teenagers, he stopped preaching on that subject altogether.

 

A man had been shipwrecked on a remote island in the Pacific, and was alone for 20 years. When a ship finally arrived, his rescuers were impressed with the three buildings he had built and asked him about them.

“Well,” the man replied, “this is my house, and that building over there is my church. It’s a wonderful church and I hate to leave it.”

“And what is the third building yonder?” a rescuer asked.

“Oh, that is the church I used to go to,” the man replied.

 

  1. Why couldn’t Jonah trust the ocean?
  2. Because he knew there was something fishy about it.

 

  1. Who was the greatest financier in the Bible?
  2. Noah; he was floating his stock while everyone was in liquidation.

 

  1. Where was Solomon’s temple located?
  2. On the side of his head.

 

  1. Where is the first tennis match mentioned in the Bible?
  2. When Joseph served in Pharaoh’s court.

 

  1. What excuse did Adam give to his children as to why he no longer lived in Eden?
  2. Your mother ate us out of house and home.

 

  1. What did Adam say on the day before Christmas?
  2. It’s Christmas, Eve!

 

  1. How does Moses make his coffee?
  2. Hebrews it.

 

  1. Did Eve ever have a date with Adam?
  2. No, only an apple.

 

  1. Why didn’t Noah go fishing?
  2. Because he only had two worms.

 

  1. How do we know Peter was a rich fisherman?
  2. By his net income.

 

  1. Who were Gumby’s favorite Bible characters?
  2. Shadrack, Meshack & AhBENDago.

 

  1. Who was the smartest man in the Bible?
  2. Abraham. He knew a Lot.

 

  1. Why didn’t they play cards on the Ark?
  2. Because Noah was standing on the deck.

 

  1. Who was the fastest runner in the race?
  2. Adam, because he was first in the human race.

 

  1. Why did the unemployed man get excited while looking through his Bible?
  2. He thought he saw a job.

 

  1. What animal could Noah not trust?
  2. Cheetah

 

  1. Who was the greatest comedian in the Bible?
  2. Samson. He brought the house down.

 

  1. What kind of man was Boaz before he married?
  2. Ruthless.

 

  1. On the Ark, Noah probably got milk from the cows. What did he get from the ducks?
  2. Quackers

 

  1. Which Bible Character is a locksmith?
  2. Zaccheus.

 

  1. Which Bible character had no parents?
  2. Joshua, son of Nun (Joshua 1:1).

 

  1. Where is the first baseball game in the Bible?
  2. In the big inning. Eve stole first, Adam stole second. Cain struck out Abel. The Giants and the Angels were rained out.

 

How long did Cain hate his brother?

As long as he was Abel.

 

At Sunday School the children were learning how according to the Bible God created everything, including human beings.

Johnny paid particular attention when the teacher told him how Eve was created out of one of Adam’s ribs.

Later that week, Johnny’s mother found him lying on his bed as though he were ill, and asked him, “Johnny, what’s the matter?”

Johnny replied, “I’ve got a pain in my side. I think I’m going to have a wife.”

 

When is medicine first mentioned in the Bible?

When God gave Moses two tablets.

 

Who was the fastest guy in the Bible?

Adam – he was first in the human race.

 

What sort of lights were on Noah’s Ark?

Floodlights.

 

At what time of day did God create Adam?

Just before Eve.

 

Which biblical character was the youngest to speak foul language?

Job, because he cursed the day he was born.

 

Why did the hawk sit on the church steeple?

Because it was a bird of pray.

 

A pastor decided to visit his church members one Saturday.

At one particular house it was clear to the pastor that someone was home, but nobody came to the door.

The pastor knocked and knocked but no-one answered so finally took out his card and wrote on the back:

Revelation 3:20 – “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with him and he with me.”

The next day the same card showed up in the collection plate. Below the pastor’s message was another scripture passage.

It read:

Genesis 3:10 – “I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked and I hid myself.”