Thursday, April 7, 2016

Resurrection Eyes

One of our members Phil Joseph works the night shift at the Red Roof inn on route 106.
Phil will often come into church on Sunday morning with some tale of what happened at the hotel the night before.
And I was thinking of maybe sharing one of these stories with you, but they would not be appropriate for Sunday morning.
Phil will often say to me, “Unfortunately it makes you cynical about people.”
It is true.
I had a member of my last congregation who was a police man for 25 years in New York City who said the same thing.
We all feel this way at times.
Here we are on another Sunday morning after another horrific terrorist bombing.
How can we not be cynical about the world when people will blow themselves up to kill 31 innocent people?
How can we not be afraid of what is going on all around us?
How can we not hate the people that did this?
How do we stop from being cynical when all around us we see the underside of human behavior?
How do we continue to have hope?

I believe the answer lies in shifting our perspective.
The answer is seeing life not through hope in people that they might change or be better, but in seeing life from the lens of the resurrection.
That is what I want us to consider this Easter morning.
What does life look like from this side of the resurrection?
The resurrection can help us to see life differently.

I want to start by saying that the resurrection does not deny the reality of life.
It does not deny the ugliness of it.
The story of the resurrection includes violence, hatred, and vitriol.
It includes all the worse part of who we are as humans.
But the resurrection transcends our human ways.
It takes all of our worst and says that it is not enough to hold back God’s love and grace.
The one who denies Jesus is the one who goes to the tomb, and the one who becomes the leader of the group.
The women, who were initially terrified, become the ambassadress for the truth of the resurrection.

I will admit that seeing life from resurrection is difficult to comprehend.
The story the women tell seems like an idle tale.
Peter is amazed but maybe not convinced of what just happened.
There are no easy answers.
Are we not the same?
This whole resurrection thing is hard to believe, hard to understand.
What is important within the story we hear this morning from Luke is that the women who went to the tomb keep remembering what Jesus told them.
Faith is the act of remembering again and again the things we are told by God.
“You are my beloved”
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“For God so loved the world.”
“Nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus.”
“The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.”
But it is also a constant experience that we have with a God who is not dead but alive.
It is God who raises us up to new life.
It is God who changes our hearts, heals our hearts.
We don’t have faith in people, we have faith in God.
That is what helps us to not be cynical but hopeful.
We believe through faith that God’s love will win even if we can’t see it.
That is what happens when we see the life through the lens of the resurrection.

If we can see people through resurrection eyes it can change our perspective on them.
Earlier this week I was at a retreat.
Part of that retreat was some of my colleagues sharing their stories of recovery from alcohol.
I am always amazed at those stories because they really are miracles.
When we see an addict through resurrection eyes we see someone not as an addict but someone who has the possibility of new life.

I was reading this past winter about two women.
Both of them have experienced great tragedies in their lives.
They both share the experience of having someone they love kill other people.
One of them is Sue Klebold.
Her son, Dylan, was one of the people involved in the Columbine Massacre.
Dylan killed 12 people, injured 29 before taking his own life.
As a parent I can’t imagine what it was like to find out that your son had done this horrible thing.
I can’t imagine having to try to understand why her son did this.
I can’t imagine the guilt I would feel.
The hurt for all those people my son hurt.
It must have been the worst thing in the world.
Sue has written a book and has been speaking out about what she went through.
She wrote in a article for OprahMagazine, this paragraph.

“Since the tragedy, I have been through many hours of therapy.
I have enjoyed the devotion and kindness of friends, neighbors, coworkers, family members, and strangers.
I also received an unexpected blessing.
On a few occasions I was contacted by the parents of some of the children killed at the school.
These courageous individuals asked to meet privately so we could talk.
Their compassion helped me survive.”
People who her son did irreparable damage to offered her a moment of grace.
In an interview she gave on television she said this about her son,
“The one thing I have hoped for again and again…That I must see him again.”
Through it all she still holds out hope that on the other side she will see her son who she loves again.
This is what life looks like from the other side of the resurrection.
It sees a killer as a son.
It is neighbors who forgive.
It is hope of resurrection to new life.
It is hope Dylan through it all might be redeemed and loved.

The other story was of the wife of Charlie Roberts, Marie.
Charlie was the man who killed 5 girls and injured 5 others in an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania.
Marie talks about what happened to her the minutes after she found out what her husband had done.
She was standing in her house thinking about all the implications of what had happened.
How would she tell her children?
How would she explain it to the world?
How would she make sense of it herself?
She stood there for a minute in her house staring at her ceiling fan.
This is what she says happens next, “I could choose to believe that everything written about God in the pages of the Word were true, and that he was going to rescue me and my family.
Or I could choose to believe that we were going down like the fastest sinking ship.”
She saw this from the resurrection lens.
She saw what was awful, horrible, and unspeakable and trusted God to transform it into something else.
Many of you know some of what happens next.
The other people in her community gathered around her, they came to the funeral of her husband.
They brought her food.
They told her not to leave the community.
They offered her grace.
She says it best, “God takes the most broken and destroyed situation and brings beauty and life out of it.”

That is how we stop from being cynical.
We turn it over to God.
We trust God will find a way when we cannot.
The disciples could not fathom that God would find a way to make Jesus’ crucifixion a beautiful and wonderful thing.
God does.

God turns addicts into pastors.
God turns victims of shootings into ambassadors of forgiveness.
God turns death into life.
God turns brokenness into beauty.
That is what life looks like from this side of the resurrection.

Truth is that Phil knows this, because he has also told me stories where he has been put in positions by God to help people at the hotel.
But it is not about Phil or you and me, it is not about how we save people, it is about what God does through people and situations.
When we have faith God turns even the worst possible thing we can imagine into something beautiful.

That is why we are here this morning.
That is why we come on Easter morning.
To see life through the prism of the resurrection that helps us to get through life by seeing new possibilities.
To see that God’s love wins.
That God has the victory!
That truth changes how we see life and all the people around us!
Yes…even the people at the Red Roof Inn.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"Well of course you would say that you are a pastor."

It happens every once and a while.
Someone will say something like, “Well of course you would say/think that you are a pastor.”
I remember the first time it happened.
I was having a conversation with a couple of people in the Church I was pastoring in Long Island.
We were talking about stewardship.
I was sharing how joyful I was to be able to give some of what the Lord had given me to the Church.
And one of the people sitting in this conversation said, “Well of course you would say that you are a pastor.”
It happened another time when we I was talking to some people about loving our enemies.
It was shortly after 9/11.
People were upset, rightfully, about what happened.
I mentioned that Jesus taught us to “love our enemies. Pray for those that persecute us.”
Someone in the group said, “Well of course you would think that you are a pastor.”
Here are some the problems with people saying that to me.
One, it implies that I am somehow a better disciple of Jesus than other people.
I will tell you the truth.
I find Jesus just as annoying as the rest of you.
I would rather not hear it.
I would rather not have to think about others before myself.
I would rather not love people I find annoying.
I would rather not give up 10% of my income.
I would rather not have Jesus bugging me all the time.
Recently I have been struggling with something happening within the life of the larger church.
It has nothing to do with anything happening at Concordia Lutheran.
I don’t want to go into all the details.
But I am angry, frustrated, and hurt over it.
My instinct is to lash out in anger, to get revenge.
But Jesus keeps pulling me back, asking me to find a better way.
Jesus keeps telling me to look for the best in the people who did this.
I am trying, but it is not easy.

The second thing wrong with this is that it degrades all of you.-
It says that you are not expected to be a good disciple of Jesus Christ.
That your pastor lives the type of discipleship you are supposed to have, but since he does it than you don’t have to.
And here is the thing; Jesus demands all of us to be his disciples.
He asked all of us to pick up our cross and follow him.
He asks all of us to lose our life for the sake of the Gospel.
He doesn’t anywhere in the Bible say, “Well this stuff I am saying is just for pastors. They are the only ones who have to do any of this.”
Jesus teachings are for all of his disciples.
It is for all those who follow him.
Just like those from our Gospel this morning.

Today’s Gospel is familiar to all of us because it is the story of Palm Sunday.
But it is also unfamiliar to us because the story we have in our head is really a combination of all the Gospel stories.
In Luke’s telling of Jesus ride into Jerusalem it is interesting to note that it is not the anonymous large crowds gathered in Jerusalem for Passover that cheer Jesus on.
It is only “the whole multitude of disciples.”
Meaning that there are a lot of people, but all of them are disciples of Jesus.
They are the people that have been following Jesus on his journey from Galilee to Jerusalem.
They are the people who have seen him cure the lame, give sight to the blind.
They have heard him preach good news to the poor.
They experienced him feed 5,000 people.
They are the people who know him best.
That is us.
We are Jesus’ disciples we are the people that know him best.
What do we believe that Jesus means to us?
How do we live out our own discipleship?

We are about to enter Holy Week and experience again the ancient story that gives our faith its deepest meaning and value.
And the question that Palm Sunday raises is where will we be?
We know that most of Jesus disciples will desert him.
They will flee in fear.
One will betray him.
One will deny him.
And a couple, all women will follow him to the cross.
They will watch in horror as Jesus is killed.
They will be the first to go to the tomb Easter Sunday.
Are we willing to go to the tomb with Jesus?
That is what our discipleship demands of us to give our life away for the sake of the Gospel for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Within that context even 10% of our income, our talent, and our time would not be enough.
Jesus really demands all of it.

When people say to me, “Well of course you would say that you are a pastor.” what I want to say back is that it is not me saying these things.
It is Jesus!
Jesus is asking you to love your enemies not me.
Jesus is asking you to pick up your cross, not me.
Jesus is asking you to bring good news to the poor, not me.
Jesus is telling you not to make money more important than God, not me.
I am merely the spokes person.
And even if I didn’t tell you these things God’s truth would come out anyway.
Even if you had a rock for a pastor that Word would get spoken.
Somehow God would find a way.
That is what I always rest my hope on.
Because there are lots of times when I don’t say what I should because of fear.
Fear that it would offend; fear that it will drive people away.
But God’s truth comes out anyway.
God’s love wins.

The good news is that our discipleship is lived out by sharing the love God has given us with those around us.
We live out our discipleship by loving our Families, friends, and the people we encounter every day.
We live our discipleship by giving ourselves so others can have a better life.

The problem is that we are also called to care for other families too.
We are called to love the unlovable people.
And we must face the facts that even being a disciple within the flow of everyday life is really hard.
We are not always a good spouse.
We are not always a good friend.
We are not always a good boss, or worker.
We struggle sometimes to love the people that love us.
How can we love those that don’t?

Well the good news is that it really doesn’t depend on us at all, because even if we are silent the stones will cry out.
Even if we totally mess this up God will find a way.
The resurrection did not depend upon the disciples’ willingness to give up their own lives.
God will make happen what we cannot.
And that is our ultimate hope.

On this Palm Sunday let us all think about what it means for us to be disciples of Jesus.
What does it mean for us to follow him to the cross?
What does it mean for us to love our neighbors, our enemies, as ourselves?
What does it mean to give away our lives for the sake of the Gospel?
What does it mean to shout, “Bless is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”?

You are called to live fully into God’s love so that everyone may know the good news we experience on Easter.
But of course I think that I am a pastor.
True but we are all disciples of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Faith for the Journey

This will be the last week of the Joseph story.
I hope that you have enjoyed hearing it these past five weeks.
I have enjoyed preaching on it.
Every time you dive into a Bible story with depth you find something new about that story.
This time I noticed how much Joseph’s story of faith is tied to ours.
In the story of Joseph he experiences God much the same way that we do.
In the story of Joseph God is an important character, but God never actually shows up.
God is in the background.
God never appears to Joseph in a burning bush like he did with Moses, never shows up as three strangers like he does with Abraham.
God never directly talks to Joseph to give him advice or to comfort him.
Never tells Joseph directly that everything will work out and be OK.
Isn’t that the way that we experience God?
I don’t know anyone who has talked to God in a burning bush, or through a cloud.
All I know of over 12 years of pastoral counseling are people who have struggled to understand what God was up to in their lives but who carried on in faith.

We don’t hear too much in the story about what Joseph is thinking and feeling as things are happening in his life.
But we can imagine that Joseph at times must have been wondering what was happening.
He never knew directly that everything that was happening to him had some greater purposes.
Instead he trusts God and has faith.
Without hearing directly from God he simply keeps going, and believing.
And that how it is for all of us.
We never know when we are living through things how all the pieces are going to work out.
We never know what is in store for us.
We sometimes might wonder what God is up to, if God cares at all.

As we think back on Joseph’s story we see how God was at work in his life.
And through this story we can see the way God is involved in our lives.

We see that it starts with sin.
Much of our life is populated with sin, real sin.
Not some fake superficial version of it.
But with real things that we do to other people that hurts them.
And we experience the pain of that sin.
We experience the pain of broken relationships, missed opportunities, and broken dreams.
Because we are selfish, because we have been hard of heart, jealous, or simply mean.
I was telling the confirmands this week that one of the gifts of our faith is that we get to confess our sins.
We get to confess the real sins that we have done, or have not done.
We don’t have to hide behind the facade that we are “good people”.
But we get to lay bare our imperfections and brokenness before God and each other.
Because through confessing of sins we do experience the good news.
We experience forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation.

Joseph also experiences difficult times.
We see him imprisoned unfairly.
We see him wait for over two years in a prison cell.
We all experience moments or times in our lives that are difficult.
We experience hardships out of our control.
What can we do in such times?
All we can do is grab onto God have faith, and pray.
It doesn’t seem like much of an answer.
But it is all we have.
That is how we experience God through faith in difficult times.

We also see that Joseph was given many gifts by God.
The most obvious of these gifts is that he can interpret dreams.
We see the gift of dream interpretation is what helps get him out of Jail.
It was his God given gift that helped him.
And we too experience God through the gifts that God has given to us.
Our gifts are ways that we contribute to our community and the world.

We also see God working through dreams.
Dreams in this story are pivotal to help the characters know what God wants of them.
We too can experience God in our dreams.
They are ways for God to tell us everything is going to be all right, ways for God to direct our future.
We also have dreams of what we want our lives to be like.
Those dreams can help us to step confidentially into what God has called us to do.
Our dreams are what we have that give us passion for the work we get to do.

We see that God ultimately works through forgiveness.
The story ends with another assurance that the forgiveness is complete.
Without forgiveness this family could not be complete again, and God’s future could not move forward.
We experience God in our own lives when we are able to forgive each other and move on.

The story ends with Joseph stating his faith that God will come and lead his people to the Promised Land.
Joseph in the end continues to have faith that God will be true to God’s word.
Joseph has nothing to base this on other than faith in God.
He has no evidence to suggest that God was going to lead them to the land promised.
We too have to ultimately have faith in God without any proof.
We will not get some magical moment when God shows up to map out every future for us.

In our lives this is how God works.
We can’t see it, but in faith we know that God is there for us on our journey.
God is offering us a hand on the way.
And all we can do is have faith that God’s hand is in it all.
God’s hand is in our sin, gifts, dreams, suffering, triumphs, reconciliation, and forgiveness.
God behind the scenes is involved in it all.
God is with us on this journey and like Joseph we know this only through faith.

I want to end by sharing a poem by Jan Richardson.
Some of you have heard it already as I have shared it at the start of a couple of meetings.
I share it again because in this Lenten season it has given me strength and comfort.
It has reminded me what Joseph knew and what this story teaches us.
That God travels with us on our path, and is the one who reminds us that we are beloved.
If you would enter into the wilderness,
do not begin without a blessing.
Do not leave without hearing who you are:
Beloved, named by the One who has traveled this path
before you.
Do not go without letting it echo in your ears,
and if you find it is hard to let it into your heart,
do not despair.
That is what this journey is for.
I cannot promise this blessing will free you from danger,
from fear, from hunger, or thirst, from the scorching
of sun or the fall of the night.
But I can tell you that on this path there will be help.
I can tell you that on this way there will be rest.
I can tell you that you will know the strange graces that come to our aid
only on a road such as this, that fly to meet us bearing comfort and strength,
that come alongside us for no other cause than to lean themselves toward our ear
and with their curious insistence whisper our name: Beloved. Beloved. Beloved.
Whatever your path is or has been this Lenten time remember that you are beloved, that God is walking with you.
May your faith in God continue to comfort and strengthen you on your path.