Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Good News!!


I always start  preparing my Easter Sermon months in advance.
I start thinking about the theme of the sermon and what I want to say to all of you.
This year was no different.
But then we found ourselves in a pandemic.
And I will be honest I totally forgot all the things I was going to say.
And this sermon is very different from the one I was going to give.
The story of course is the same.
The women show up at the tomb that day expecting death, and they find life.
They are told not to be afraid.
They are told to go and tell others what is happening.
Jesus meets them on the road.
Jesus is alive.
The meaning of this story is deep and rich.
And since the first Easter we have been figuring out what it means for us and our lives.
This is the story that we turn to when life is hard or tragic.
But I would offer this morning that the meaning changes for us depending on where we find ourselves.
The sermon I was going to give was great for the time before the pandemic.
But I believe the reason I forgot it was because it wasn't good for where we are now.
And where we are now is in the middle of this thing.
And the best case scenario is that we will still be in this spot for a least another three weeks.
And every week seems to take a long time in this new place.
So we have to ask ourselves how does this story of resurrection talk to us now?
Here in the place we find ourselves this morning.

Let me suggest this morning that this story is more important to us this morning.
We need this story really bad today.
(Well…I can't speak for you, but I need it today.)
I need Jesus to tell me, "Don't be afraid"
I need an angel to show up and tell me that Jesus is not in the tomb!
I need that feeling of joy that the women experience when they are told that Jesus is not in the tomb.

Recently, John Krasinski the actor, who played Jim on the television show "The office", started a youtube show called "Some Good News".
In the show John shows clips of good things that are happening in this pandemic.
Everything from fathers making crazy golf shots, to people cheering on medical personal as they return from their shifts.
It is really a wonderful thing.
I encourage you to check it out on youtube.
It will lift your spirits.
It will show you that there is so much good in the world.
When I watch this I cry.
I am moved because I need this good news so badly.
And that is what we receive this morning.
We are not just receiving some good news, but THE GOOD NEWS!
The best news that we could get.
Jesus lives and so do we!
Even among death and sin Jesus lives!
He is not in the tomb.
Go with Joy and tell this to everyone.

I am wondering if you ever had that feeling.
The one where you get some good news and you can't wait to tell others, and at the same time you are a little nervous to tell others.
In my first years or so of High school I didn't do so well.
There were lots of reasons for this, but I wasn't a good student.
I remember the first time I made the honor roll.
I couldn't wait to tell my parents.
But I was also a little afraid.
Afraid because now it meant I was really capable of doing the work.
Afraid because what I had believed about myself wasn't true.
I was capable, I was smart, I was good enough.
Before this I had given up.
I imagine that is what it was like on that first Easter.
Jesus' followers had given up.
They believed that the bad things of the world had won.
They believed that all the things Jesus had said and done were not true.
That they should be afraid, because the Romans and religious leaders were too powerful.
That love wasn't enough.
And the good news that the women hear changes all of that.
Everything that Jesus said is true!
Good news does win!
Jesus is not in the tomb!

In our congregation we have seen lots of this.
I am amazed at the ways we are staying connected even though we are not meeting in person.
One of those ways was through this project that we done by one of our members Andi Kelleher.
She asked the congregation to all send in a cut-out or picture of their hand with their name on it and one word reflecting something they are doing while in this distancing time.
Then she made it into this wonderful collage of our hands.
I want to share what Andi wrote about this project.
"We are together, united in Christ.
God with us!
We are parents and children, family and friends.
We work, we play, we serve, we pray.
We were given life, breath, mind, spirit.
And as Jesus teaches us, we use it all for God's purpose.
We use our hands to boost each other.
And we lift our hands to God in praise
Who made us all-united-in God's love.
So though we are part- the spirit is here--
Connecting us -
To each other and to so many more
And to God, our wondrous Lord."
That is what it is to believe in this story, this miraculous wondrous story.
It is to believe that even when death is around us Jesus is alive in us.
Even when we are not physically together we are connected to each other through the Holy Spirit!
Even though the world is out of control, and we are not sure what it all means, we trust God will use our hands to boost each other up.

You see this Easter the meaning is even more clear.
That not even a pandemic can stop God from working.
A pandemic cannot stop our faith.
It cannot stop of our love for each other.
It cannot crush our spirit.
It cannot stop us from being connected to each other.
It cannot stop us from having joy and awe!

That is what we celebrate this Easter!
That is what we remember this Easter!
That the tomb that was sealed and guarded cannot contain God!
And because of that we are not afraid.
Jesus is alive and so are we!
Because Jesus is alive we have hope, faith, and love!
And that is the good news that we cling to now and always.

He Is Risen!!
He Is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!!

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Alone


Alone.
That is what you are alone.
The adoring crowds shouting your name have left.
Your friend betrayed you.
Your closest disciple denied you.
The rest fled from you.
They ran from this sight.
Maybe they couldn't stand to watch.
Maybe they were afraid that they would be arrested next.
Maybe they just didn't understand what you were going through.
But there you are alone.
There are people watching, but they are deriding you.
They are mocking you.
"I thought you were king of the Jews"
"Save yourself"
No one believes in you anymore.
All of the teaching you did.
All of the healing.
All of the miracles.
It all seems such a waste.
It ends here on the cross with you alone.
You don't even know that God is with you.
"My God my God why did you abandoned me."
We feel this way too.
We feel alone.
We feel that people betray our trust.
That people deny our existence.
That people Leave us.
We feel that God is not present when we suffer.
We feel alone right now.
We feel the pain of not being together, of having to isolate ourselves.
We wonder why would God allow this.
Why would God allows any of it.
You are the Son of God and even you feel it.
Even you know what it is to be alone.
Is that the point?
If God can know our pain then we are never alone in it.
We are not alone.
Here in our pain
In our loss
In our hurt that is where God is.
God is not going to magically make it all go away.
This is what it is to be human.
To be divine is to be human, and to be human is to be divine.
To sit here alone is the point.
Because this is where God is.
This is where our savior is.
This is where God finds us.
And we learn a truth revealed to us by Jesus on the cross…
We are not alone.
Even when we feel that way.
Even when things are at their worst God is there.
God is in that moment of our betrayal.
God is in the moment of our denial.
God is in the moment of abandonment.
God is on the cross.
Because of this night we can know that God is with us in all things.
We can know that we are never alone.
Amen


Sunday, April 5, 2020

Hosanna in the Highest!!!


Hosanna in the Highest!!!
I don't know what the crowds were expecting that day.
I don't know what Jesus' disciples were expecting.
Maybe they were hoping that this was the time when Jesus would finally take over and rule the world.
Maybe they thought this was a revolution.
However, one thing that the crowds got right was that they needed saving.
The word Hosanna literally means, "Save us".
It wasn't so much that the crowd was cheering on Jesus.
It was more of a cry of anguish.
A cry from a people that had felt the crushing blow of being an occupied people.
A people who felt that the Romans had treated them unjustly.
A people who knew that life was not fair and good.
A people that experienced the randomness of life.
And a people that needed saving.

I can think of nothing better for us to talk about today than our need to be saved.
We do feel that very strongly now.
We feel that this world wide pandemic is overtaking our lives.
That we are powerless to stop it.
That we are losing so much of ourselves.
We are losing economically and psychologically.
We do need saving.

On Facebook  I saw that someone I went to high school with Father died.
And he couldn't be there with him in that time.
He couldn't be with his sister or brother to properly mourn this death.
I have heard that story a bunch of different times.
And that is the part of the toll of this pandemic.
We are not even able to be together in tragedy.
What are we to do?

In these times when so much is up in the air.
In these times when we have lost so much.
In these times when life is so fragile and uncertain.
What are we to do?

I have actually lived long enough now to have seen some things.
Lots of things actually.
And lots of them not so good.
I have seen war and violence.
I have seen injustice.
I have seen death and destruction.
I have seen inhumanity.
I have seen this latest trial and tribulation.
And the thing is that we do in this time what we always do.
We look to the heavens and pray "Hosanna".
We plead with God to save us.

And then what?
It doesn't seem to be enough right?
Shouldn't there be more.
The thing about Jesus is that there is always more and it is often just lost on us.
Because the crowd is shouting "Hosanna", or "Save us".
What they don't know is the way in which that will actually happen.
They don't know that it will be through death on a cross that Jesus will save them.
They don't know how God will choose to save them.
And then when it happens it is actually not even believable.
Kings don't die on crosses.
Especially if you are the King of the universe.
Especially if you could calm storms with only a word.
Especially if you could cure the lame, make the blind see.
Especially if you could cast our demons.
Especially if you talked to Elijah and Moses.
Especially if you are transformed, and a heavenly voice declares  you the son of God.
But God chose what was foolish in the world to prove God's glory.

And that is where we miss the boat.
We are waiting for the big thing to happen.
We are waiting for the miraculous thing to happen.
And right in front of us God is at work.
In the way we didn't expect.

I know one thing about that first palm Sunday.
They were not practicing physical distancing.
In fact, we know that the streets of Jerusalem were packed with people.
People who were going to the temple for Passover.
People who were doing what they always did that time of year.
People who were comforted by the ritual.
And then Jesus showed up…and things got turned around.
That week became something else entirely.

I know that coming to worship together is a great comfort to many of us.
It provides structure and gives us a way to thank God.
It provides for us so much.
But today as we begin Holy Week I am wondering what is it that God is saying to us spiritually.
This is a different experience for us.
But this morning in the calm of this day, in the beauty of this day, in the wonder of this day, God's grace is here.
God through Jesus Christ has come to save us.
And that is the message of Palm Sunday.
We are being saved, we just can't seem to see it.
We can't see it because it is in front of us and we miss it.
We can't see it because it is under the strange ways of God.
All I can do is accept in faith that God is at work.

To those who are losing someone they can't be with right now know that God is at work.
To those who are suffering because of the Coronavirus know that God is at work.
To those who are afraid, unsure, or just really fed up know that God is at work.
In faith we turn to God in times like these and pray, "Hosanna".
That God might come and save us.

It is not in the big public celebration, but in our hearts that Jesus comes to rein.
It is not with violence and terror that God comes, but on a donkey offering us peace.
Peace..Shalom…wholeness…
This morning take a moment and breath it in.
Do you hear it there in the distance.
"Hosanna"!
Save us.
Today we have much to be saved from.
Today I hope you know that Jesus has come to save you.
That Jesus is saving you.
Today I wish for all of you that peace that surpasses understanding.
The peace that rests in our hearts.
The peace that comes from knowing that even when we can't see it our faith tells us that God is at work.
Peace to you all this morning who are being saved through Jesus Christ!
Amen

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Dying and Rising in the Time of COVID-19


This is the third week we have had to physically distance ourselves from another.
And I am guessing this is changing for all of us.
It seems real now that we are entering our third week.
It really does seem that our "normal" life is changed.
And I am wondering how you all are dealing with it.
I imagine that like me it is becoming more sad.
That this reality we are currently in is unsettling.
It is not what we want from our lives at this moment.
I want to suggest this morning that what we are experiencing together is death.
We are losing so much of what we thought the world was for us.
Every day I have to learn to let go of something that I thought was "normal", and embrace what is now.
It is not easy to go through death.

I have to tell you that so far our assigned Gospel text have been perfect for what we are facing.
They seem to capture this moment.
From shock, to the initial acceptance of what is happening, to the grief that goes with knowing that things are no longer the same.
And that is what our Gospel this morning is about.
It is about a death that leads to a changing of the world.
One of Jesus' friends Lazarus dies.
And then Jesus brings his friend back to life.

Let us start with the death part.
One of my favorite things about this story is how human every one is.
All these people are crying, because they lost a friend, brother, or whatever.
And Jesus cries too.
And then the text acknowledges what we all know about death.
It stinks!
There is no way to say it other than that.
When we experience a death it is awful.
Most of the time when I meet with people going through the loss of someone they love I tell them, "This sucks! And that is my professional pastoral advice."
Any other way to see it just tries to dress up death in some mushy way that it doesn't deserve.
Death stinks.
For me this acknowledgement of the reality of death is helpful.
It is cathartic.
It is why we get together at funerals and cry together.
It is our way of saying that death stinks, and we acknowledge the pain that we are going through.

And let us be honest this COVID-19 stinks.
I preached last week about all the ways that we might see God at work in this time.
And all those things are true.
But this week I also want to acknowledge that this stinks.
If you are feeling sad, and lost, and anxious I want you to know that you are not alone.
There are lots of people out there feeling the same way.
And it is ok to think that this whole thing stinks.
And maybe it will be cathartic to know that others are just as sad, lost, and anxious as you are.

But you will notice in our Gospel this morning that is not where Jesus leaves us.
We are not left in death.
We are not left in that stinky place.
Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
And because he lives so do we.

And this is the other thing I get to tell people about their loved ones death.
Yes it does stink.
But it is not the end of the story.
Their loved one is alive this very day with God.
Their loved one is at peace, and wholeness.
As a pastor one of the things I love is to proclaim that promise when people are experiencing death.

I want to give you the same message this morning.
This is not the place we will stay in forever.
It is the time we are in now.
And when we come out of the tomb.
When we find ourselves on the other side of this things will have changed.
There will have been death, but also there is resurrection.

I can't say exactly what that will look like for any of us.
But I know it will be there.
I want to share something that one of our members shared with me this week.
It was about a woman who was talking to husband about not being able to get her hair colored during this time.
She told him that during the quarantine will be baring our true hair color as roots begin to grow in.

And her husband looked into his wife's eyes and she was reminded that the heaviness of this pandemic—financially, emotionally & mentally, has not escaped our family.

Because what he said next reminded her that it’s in the trials, in the troubles & in the tribulations, we’re gifted with a deeper experience of God’s surpassing wisdom — & that’s when he said it...

“I have a feeling it won’t just be hair roots — but our faith roots, too.”

Because that spiritual gray I’ve been bleaching with busyness...

And that job title I’ve been wearing as an identity...

And that stock number I’ve been depending on as my anchor...

And that social environment I’ve been using to fill voids...

And that place of worship I’ve been relying on as my foundation...

And those loud gatherings I’ve been trusting to drown out my thoughts....

And those non-essential shopping sprees to cover my pain...

Yep, they’re being e x p o s e d .

There’s no dying, coloring, highlighting, low-lighting, Balayage-ing, covering, hiding these roots.

And since God is not a God of condemnation, but of revelation from the One who is our safehaven; no shadow of shame will cover our face (or hair) ~Psalm 34.5

It’s here IN this time of stillness where God gently reveals the roots, exposes the gray & blankets us in His confident hope.
A hope saturated in a Love which enables us to whisper in the darkest of moments... “I do not fear bad news. I confidently trust the Lord to care for me!” Replay & repeat.

And that is what this is for us.
It is turning to God in trust.
It is us standing outside a stinking tomb, our friends, our loved ones inside.
And hearing God say, "Come Out"!
And living again.
This time will reveal to us that we can't trust in much in this life.
And that the things we have leaned on are going to die.
But in that place God will grow new things in us.
That is the continuing story of our faith.
Dying and rising.

In this time of that we are experiencing dying, I hope that you can trust and know that God is also rising new things in you through this time.
Trust in God's love to bring us through this.
Amen

Sunday, March 22, 2020

For God's Glory


I spent some time this week calling people in our congregation to check in and see how people are doing.
I am glad to say that most people are doing OK.
We are all a little befuddled about what is happening.
I heard a lot of people say something like, "It is really unbelievable".
I also heard some express concern about what is happening.
Some people are mad about what is happening.
They see the economic impact and are mad that we are taking such drastic steps.
Maybe we should have worship.
Maybe we should have school.
Maybe the restaurants and other business should stay open.
We are only talking about 1% of the population dying.
We don't have all the information.
The media is making more of this than it is.
Politicians don't know what they are doing.
Maybe all that is true.
I don't think it is.
I think we are following the advice of the CDC and WHO.
We are listening to science and medical people.

But my job is not to defend the media, politicians, science.
It is to bring good news.
And I want you to know that there is good news in this time.
First and most important we always have Jesus Christ.
Jesus reminds us that our lives are more than what we make, what our job is.
It is more than flesh and bone.
It is also Spirit and soul.
And that is what I want us to focus on this morning.
Because what good does it do to be mad about this.
We can't control it.
Well….that usually makes us mad when we can't control something.
This morning I want us to look at this from a the spirit and soul angle.

And our Gospel for this morning is a great guide.
I actually talked about this Gospel story last week, not realizing it was the assigned text for today.
But it is perfect for today.
Because Jesus reminds us that the man's blindness is not because of sin.
It is not caused by God, but it is for God's glory.
It is so those around him will realize a spiritual truth they have been missing.
I think the coronavirus can do the same thing for us.
It can be used for God's glory.
And that is what I want you to think about this morning.
How is it revealing God's glory in your life?
Let me share a couple of things I think it is doing for me.

I get to slow down.
I have not had any night time meetings.
It has meant more time at home with my wife and kids.
We have played games, made delicious food, watched movies, listened to music, and talked.
Of course, we have our moments of frustration with each other, but overall it has been a wonderful time to slow down and enjoy each other.

I have gotten to go on long walks with my wife.
We went out a couple of times.
On those walks we talk.
We also have gotten to see a couple of you along the way.
We have looked together for signs of spring.
We saw flowers starting to bloom, rivers running, sun shining, and people out and about.
When you slow down and walk you see things you never saw before.
I have heard from many of you that one of the things you miss most is worship.
What a wonderful insight.
One person told me they didn't know how much our worship together mean to them until now!
Indeed we are seeing when things are taken away just how valuable things are.

I am not saying that God sent the Coronavirus so that we could learn to spend more time with our families, so we could see spring springing up, or so we could see how much worship mean to us.
But since we are here in this time let us use it for God's glory.
Because this is the time we are in.
This is the situation we are in.
We might not like it.
We might not think it is right or fair.
But we are here so why not look for the ways that God is moving in this time?

I was thinking this week about when my mother was diagnosed with cancer.
It was about 8 years ago now.
And of course I would have preferred that she never got cancer.
But because of that I have experience so many blessings that I would have missed otherwise.
For example, when my mother went for her first chemo treatment, my two sisters and I went with her.
We had a lovely day.
Talking, laughing, reliving old times.
And it dawned on me that this never happens.
Whenever we are together it is a big family moment.
There are cousins, aunts, and our significant others.
There is normally no time in our busy lives for just the four of us to be together.
And it probably wouldn't have happened without this moment.
It was a day I will always treasure.
It was a gift from God, and it came among a really horrible thing that was happening in our family.
I encourage you to look for these moments in your life during this time.
I know you will have moments that are disheartening.
There will be days when you hate the coronavirus (actually I have already had this day).
I hope for you days when amidst this awful time you will see the glory of God.
I hope for you to see the opportunity we have been given to slow down and appreciate life.
An opportunity to take a walk and see flowers budding up.

Because in John's Gospel being blind isn't only about not being able to physically see, it is also about missing the spiritual truth that is in front of you.
The blind man is not only cured of his physical blindness, but is able to believe in Jesus.
During this time of physical difficulty may we be able to spiritually see all the things that God is doing in our midst.
Amen

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Some Thoughts on the Coronavirus and Our Faith


I was going to preach about something else today.
I had a really good sermon prepared, but I scratched it because I knew I had to talk about the Coronavirus (COVID-19).
It seems that times like these make us seek out council from God.
And in times like these there are always some who offer what I believe they think is good advice but ultimately not helpful.
Here are some of my thoughts on what all this means.

First of all we should get rid of the idea that God is punishing us for something.
I know after 911 some preachers said that God was punishing for our sin of being too accepting.
You hear this a lot after some disaster.
I don't see any Biblical evidence that the way God punishes us is by sending some sickness.
In fact, Jesus tells us that these things that happen are not because of our sin.
I am thinking of the blind man that Jesus encountered in John's Gospel.
Jesus disciples ask him, "Who sinned this man or his parents, that he was born blind"
Jesus rebukes them saying, "neither sinned".
It isn't about that.

Maybe this gets to a core understanding of what it is to be human and that is to be human is to suffer.
There is no way around it.
There is no way to avoid being hurt.
There is no way to avoid getting sick.
There is no way to avoid dying.
That is what it is to be human.
It is what makes being human so scary.
We have done a lot in our modern times to give us the impression that these things don't apply to us.
I never imagined that we would be living with an international pandemic.
That seemed like something that used to happen a long time ago when people didn't have better medicine and sanitation.
I thought we were safe from such things.
But the truth is that we are really fragile people.

This is why we need faith.
We need faith to deal with this fragile state we find ourselves.
Because we don't like it.
We want it to stop.
We want to feel better.
We want to feel secure.
Maybe the only thing I have found that is secure in my life has been God.
God is always there.

The second thing that needs to be said about our faith and the Coronavirus is that it is not an unfaithful response to be scared.
It is not unfaithful to be sacred about what is happening.
I have seen a lot of things like, "God is our stronghold and we shouldn't fear".
But what we are talking about here is a virus that is spreading rapidly in our community and our country.
And fear is one way that God tells us to stop something.
I cancelled church this morning out of fear.
Fear that I might put you in harm's way.
Fear that we might continue to perpetuate this virus.
Fear is something that comes from our gut and tells us something is wrong and we should do something else.
However, even though I might have fear I am not afraid.
I know that seems like a contradictory statement.
Jesus tells us all the time to not be afraid.
Fear is my gut telling me to avoid certain things.
It is what tells me not to jump out of a plane, pet a snake, or try to ride a lion.
Being afraid is a state of eternal worry.
I trust God.
I trust that things will work out somehow.
It may not work out in the way I want, or expect but that it will work out.
It may not even be that "everything will be ok".
Maybe some bad things will go down, but with God I know I can deal with whatever comes my way.
I can deal with all of my complex emotions that I don't really want to deal with.
I can deal with fear, sadness, feeling anxious and uncertain.

At the bottom of my faith is the God I know in Jesus Christ.
It is the God that Paul tells us about in his letter to the Romans.
Paul tells us, "Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through Our Lord Jesus Christ."
We know that God is on our side.
Paul tells us that this doesn't mean that our lives will be with suffering.
Paul knows that to be human is to suffer.
Paul knows we will experience all those range of emotions we feel as humans.
But then Paul says something remarkable.
Paul tells us that God transforms our suffering.
God turns our suffering into hope.
God turns it into faith.
"…We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us."

God takes things in our lives that are painful and turns them into things that give us hope.
Put another way, God takes our deaths turns them into resurrection.
We know this through Jesus Christ.
Because that is exactly what happens to Jesus on the cross.
Through his death and resurrection Jesus transformed suffering into hope.

So it is OK to have fear about what the Coronavirus will do.
But do not be afraid.
In faith I trust that God will turn it into something else.
I don't know what.
I just trust that every day I am dying and rising to new life in Christ.
That is what is my foundation of life.
It is what keeps me going.

That is what I hope for all of you to.
That this time we will learn endurance, character, and hope.
That this virus will bring us closer to God and each other.
It seems like a silly thing to say, because we are far apart today.
We are not in the same room.
And in this time what do we need more than anything it is to be together so that we can give each other comfort.
It doesn't seem possible for us to grow closer together, but I trust that we are learning new spiritual truths through this ordeal.
And that we are learning them in ways that we wouldn't have without it.

I am not saying God gave us the Coronavirus so we could learn deep spiritual truths.
I am saying the Coronavirus is part of our human life, and through living in faith with God we grow in our faith.
We come to have hope in God.
I know this has been true for me.
I have learned so much through some of the most horrible times in my life.
Every time I grow closer to God, and I learn to trust God more.
I hope the same for you during this time.

So as we deal with the Coronavirus I am praying for each of you that you may come to have endurance, that it may grow your character, and that you may continue to live in God's hope.

Amen.