Saturday, May 19, 2018

Easy to Love


I was thinking a lot about love this week because of today's Gospel.
"Abide in my love" Jesus tells us.
I have preached on numerous occasions that love is difficult.
How love takes discipline and devotion.
That is true.
Love can be difficult at times.
It is most assuredly difficult to love those that can't or won't love us back.
It is difficult to love people who are unlovable.
This week I experienced something different.
On Tuesday I went to a prayer vigil for immigrants facing deportation.
At that vigil I heard the stories of people living life in fear.
I heard stories of immigrants that don't feel welcomed here, even if they are citizens.
What I felt while listening to those stories was love.
Love for those people who are having to go through very difficult times.
My heart was big and I felt that I wanted for all of them a better life.
This is what Aristotle and Aquinas called the love that wills another's good.
I wasn't mad, I just felt love.
Also on Tuesday I met with some of my colleagues from Concord for lunch and sharing.
We shared about things happening in our lives.
Some very difficult things.
And what I felt in that meeting more than anything was love.
Love for these people who I got to share intimate hurts with.
On Wednesday night I went and heard from Combatants for Peace.
People from Palestine and Israel who used to serve in the military who now advocate  for peace.
Again, I heard difficult stories of violence and injustice.
I heard stories of fear and prejudice.
But also of redemption and forgiveness.
And all I could feel in those moments was love for the people telling them and for the people of that region who are locked in a long struggle for peace.
As I went about my other tasks as pastor.
Bible Study, committee meetings, delivering health kits,  Cinco de Mayo lunch with one of our members.
I remember that our community is built on love.
I feel love when we are together doing the work of the church,  building relationships, giving for others, planning worship.
I was amazed how easy it was this week to experience love.

And that is what I want us to talk about today.
How easy it is to love.
It is true that love can be difficult, but this morning I want us to know it can also be easy.

It can be easy not because people are easy to love, not because the world is wonderful all the time.
It can be easy to love because we here this morning believe in Jesus Christ who came to show us God's love.
Christians are about love.
Jesus told us this morning, "Abide in my love".
Because of this love should be for us easy.
It should be second nature.
When we are confronted with people that are suffering or hurting we should think about Jesus Christ suffering for us and remember that Jesus suffers along with the world because of his love for the world.
When we are confronted with someone who is deemed unlovable.
We should remember that Jesus loves us.
Jesus loves us even though we don't deserve it, we haven't earned it.
Jesus just loves us.
There are times I feel or think I am unlovable, and yet Jesus loves me anyway.
Jesus tells us this morning, "You did not choose me but I chose you."
We are here this morning because Jesus chose to love us.

Love is a constant theme in John's Gospel.
It is a thread that runs through the whole thing.
From John 3:16 ("for God so loved the world) all the way until the end.
Everything Jesus does and says is to show us God's love.
In John's Gospel Jesus dies on the cross so that we might see his love for us.
And when we remember Jesus' love then love isn't so hard.
When we recall that Jesus loves the world.
Jesus loves his disciples.
Jesus loves the sinner.
Jesus loves us.
Then love is just what we are about.

So when we are out there in the world.
When we are hearing difficult stories about hatred, injustice, prejudice, and violence.
When we are confronted with people who seem unlovable.
When we are confronted with new information that doesn't seem to go along with what we thought.
When we are told stories of other people that are different from ours.
It is natural to feel love, to reach out with that love.
At the vigil after we heard a story from one of the immigrants we would pray this prayer, "Dear God of love help us to love."

I have been accused at times of preaching about politics.
I accept that some people see it that way.
I want you to hear me out this morning about this.
My defense of it is that for me it is not about politics.
It is about love.
I am not telling you this morning what you should think about any political issue.
I am telling you that regardless of the person you encounter in life you should love them, not because I said it, but because you know that Jesus loves you.
I know that everything is political, because certain people twist things to make it about who we vote for, or which side we are on.
But what I as your pastor am always trying to get you to see is that it is about love.
"Loving your neighbor"
Abiding in Jesus love.
To be present with people that are suffering, to pray with them, sing with them, hope with them, to love them.
That might be political but it is also what Jesus calls us to do.
Love is political, because someone will always say that you can't love that person.
They are not the right person.
Jesus encountered this all the time.
It wasn't right that he ate with gentiles, with prostitutes, with tax collectors, with the poor, with the rich.
I would hope that you expect nothing less of your pastor.
I would hope you would want a pastor who loves, and who is in the world trying to show that love to others.
If you don't want it from me, it means you don't want it from yourself either.
And if that is true then it is a problem, because we are not abiding in the love of Jesus.
That is what a church is a group of people abiding in the love of Jesus Christ.
And that love is to exist when we are together, and when we are out there in the world doing whatever it is that we are doing.

This week I hope you think about love.
I hope you see how easy it can be to love.
Because you know of Jesus' love for you.
You know that Jesus is your friend.
You know that Jesus choose you.
Abide in that truth.
Live in that truth.
And when you do it will be easy to love.
Amen



Thursday, April 19, 2018

Friday Trauma into Easter Joy


Jesus told them that this would happen.
Three different times he told them that he would die and rise again.
Not only that but our Gospel for this morning happens after Jesus had a appeared to the women at the tomb, the two disciples on the road to Damascus, and Peter.
Why don't they understand what is happening?
Why don't they believe that it is Jesus who is alive?
Because it is our natural position not to trust.
We always doubt first.
Because of this we go into any situation with preconceived notions about how things are suppose to go.
We learn to not trust things pretty early on.

Sam Hartung, a youth  from our congregation, helped me this week with this sermon.
He told me that past trauma's stop us from believing in things.
We have all had that moment in our lives when something happens to us that makes us less trusting of the world.
We have all had that moment when we realized that the world doesn't always work out the way we want it to.
And from that moment on we are less likely to trust things.
We are less likely to trust that things can work out, and can go our way.
Maybe it was the first time you realized that your parents aren't perfect, and have just as many flaws as anyone else.
Maybe it is when a friend says they will do something, but they don't come through.
Maybe it is when you try really hard at something only to fail anyway.
Maybe it was more traumatic than that.

If we think about it the disciples had just lived through the trauma of Jesus dying on a cross.
They thought he would be the one to restore Israel.
He would be the one that would make things right this time.
Only to live through the trauma of watching all of their hopes and dreams die on a cross.
They were thwarted again.
No wonder they don't believe that it is Jesus standing amongst them.

No wonder we don't believe it either.
We have been disappointed many times.
We have prayed prayers that seemed to go answered.
We have had dreams that have gone unfulfilled.
We have been let down lots of times.
We have experienced the trauma of Good Friday, no wonder we are having trouble believing in the resurrection of Easter.

I have been to, or presided at, five funerals since Palm Sunday.
That is five funerals in three weeks.
Some of them we have been at together.
Some of them were of friends or colleagues.
Some of them were for relatives of members of our congregation.
Here is something that you might not believe but they have all been uplifting.
All of those funerals have helped my faith.
Standing among three hundred Lutherans or Methodists singing is an amazing thing.
Listening to sisters, sons, daughters, or friends of the deceased tell about how that person impacted their life, and gave of themselves for them is inspirational.
Hearing sermons from preachers about the promises of God, about the centrality of our faith.
It has been inspiring to be a part of.
It has made me laugh at times, and cry.
But it has been faith filled.
I have felt in all those funerals the power of God, the strength that our faith brings us in those times.

I am not suggesting that death is not sad, or traumatic, because of course it is.
But in a funeral you experience how God takes this traumatic moment of death and transforms it into a life giving moment of faith.
You see and hear and sing in those moments what our faith is all about death and resurrection.
Someone we loved died, but here we are together, and we sing, laugh, and cry together.
We remember the person and God makes something more out of it.

And this is what is so powerful about God.
Is that God transforms our wounds, our traumas, into something beautiful.
God doesn't get rid of the trauma.
Trauma is a part of life.
It is part of being human.
People let us down, life doesn't always work out.
People die, love hurts.
But trauma can be transformed.
What was dead is alive.
Forgiveness is real.
We can be at a funeral and laugh together at something that happened in life.
We can sing past death into a whole new realm of existence.
Coming together makes that possible, faith makes that possible.

I have always wondered why Jesus shows up with his scars?
I would have thought that they would have gone away.
I think this because when we talk about heaven that is how we think of ourselves.
When I get to heaven I will get the best version of my body.
Somewhere between 18 and 21.
I will be young and fit, I will be without scars.
But Jesus has his scars.
He shows them to the disciples.
It is the only way they know him.
Perhaps we shouldn't be so quick to want to do away with our scars.
Perhaps it is the scars that makes us who we are.
It is in the trauma's of life that God makes us who we are.
It is in the trauma's that God transforms us.
It was in this great trauma that God transformed the world.
When before there was only death and sin, now there is life and love.
That is the message of the resurrection.
Things don't have to stay one way.
Our trauma is not the end of the story.
God can transform it so that we can believe in the resurrection of life, the forgiveness of sins, and the company of the saints.

Someone posted this quote, from author AnneLamott, on Facebook this week.
“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved.
But this is also the good news.
They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up.
And you come through.
It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly – that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”
That truth speaks to what God does with our trauma.
God transforms it into good news, into life, into singing and laughing.

Maybe our first reaction is not to trust.
We have good reason not to.
Our past trauma's forge in us preconceived notions about the world and ourselves.
But faith in God helps us sing in the midst of sadness.
Faith in God helps us celebrate a well lived life.
Faith in God transforms our traumas of Friday into the joy of Easter.
May you all have a week filled with transforming your traumas into the joy of Easter.
Amen

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Do We Dare Believe?!


The confirmation kids begged me to start my sermon this morning in a bunny costume.
They thought it would be appropriate because today is April Fool's day.
It would be a funny way to play an April Fool's day joke.
I was going to do it.
I had begun to think about where I could get a bunny outfit.
The problem is that I follow Jesus Christ on Twitter.
On Monday Jesus Christ Tweeted out, "Get your  'Easter is on April Fool's Day'  jokes out of the way right now."
I took that as a sign not to dress up in a bunny costume.
Or try to make Jokes about April Fool's Day and Easter.
But...I do think that there is an appropriate link between these two days.
It seems appropriate because Valentine's day was on Ash Wednesday this year.
So Lent begins with Ash Wednesday.
It started reminding us of God's love.
And end's with April Fool's day.
What could April Fool's day possibly have to do with Easter?

By some accounts April Fool's day started when they changed the calendar.
The year used to start  on April 1st.
But in the year 1582 the French went from April 1st to January 1st.
Some people didn't get the memo, and didn't realize that the year had changed.
Some people as a joke continued to tell people that the new year was still on April first.
April Fool's day became about pranking people.
There have been some great April fool's pranks over the years.
For example the website beliefnet doped people into believing that Oparah Winfry had been added as another part of the Trinity.
In 1996 it was reported that the Liberty Bell was going to be renamed the "Taco Liberty Bell"
In 1992 people were outraged when it was reported that Richard Nixon was once again running for president.

The most famous April Fool's hoax was in 1957 when the  BBC news show Panorama announced that thanks to a very mild winter and the virtual elimination of the dreaded spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop.
It accompanied this announcement with footage of Swiss peasants pulling strands of spaghetti down from trees.
Huge numbers of viewers were taken in.
Many called the BBC wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti tree.
To this the BBC diplomatically replied, "place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best."
People actually went out and tried to grow spaghetti.
And it would seem that the resurrection is a prank too.
In fact this is exactly what the Roman Government was worried about.
They were worried that Jesus followers would come to the tomb and remove the body and say that he had been resurrected.
That is why we have the big stone, in some telling we have soldiers placed at the tomb.
I wonder this morning if we dare believe this story of resurrection.
It does seem impossible, improbable.
It seems like it is a prank a hoax and we would be fools for believing it.
Like believing that Oprah is part of the Trinity.

We have to first talk about why this is so unbelievable.
What I think might be obvious, but needs to be said is that people don't come back to life.
We know this.
We have all experienced this truth.
We have sat with someone we love as they died.
We have all sat and prayed for a miracle only to have that prayer not answered in the way we had hoped.
People die, we know this as part of our life.
Even more we experience the harsh reality of this world we live in.
This world that seems to be always mean and cruel.
This world that has in it moments of real boredom, repetitive things that we don't want to do.
How do we believe what is so unbelievable?

Mark's Gospel is interesting in its telling of the resurrection.
It ends with the women encountering the empty tomb and leaving in fear without telling anyone about it.
It ends on a cliff hanger.
It ends with question rather than a declarative statement.
It is as if Mark is daring us to believe it.
Do we dare live as if this story is true?
Do we dare believe that death and sin are not the last word?
Do we dare believe that God's love is that powerful?
After all, we have no proof that this is true.

And that brings us to why we continue to tell this story.
Because it affirms life.
Jesus resurrection shows us that there is nothing hire than this life that we live.
And that this life in and of itself is miracle.

The conditions that have to exists that bring about our creation, our lives are a miracle.
The fact that we are here is a miracle.
We are alive today.
God has given us this day, and that is all the reason to believe in something extraordinary and foolish.

There are of course a number of things that are not going well on this day.
Who knows what any of us in this worship are dealing with before we got here this morning.
It could be something really serious, and awful.
It could be that someone you love is dying, or has just died.
It could be that you are losing a major relationship in your life.
It could be that you are not satisfied with your life.
I will tell you that when I was a kid it was a miracle we made it to Church on Sunday morning.
We only made it because of the will of my mom.
She would force us out of bed, she would force us to be clean and neat.
She would force us to be in the car and on our way.
I don't know exactly how she got me to church, never mind getting all of us.
I know I was never happy to be there.
I didn't make it easy on her.
So maybe this morning you had to deal with that.
It is a miracle that you are here.

We are alive!
And that is the message of Easter that God is alive!
Nothing can stop God!
Not the hatred of other people, not the lies that people told about Jesus, not the cross, the nails, the jeering words, not the tomb, not the soldiers.
Nothing can stop God in our lives.
Not sickness, not death, not cranky teenagers who would rather be sleeping, not our belief or unbelief, nothing.
Nothing big or small.
And that is not a prank, that is true.

And Mark's Gospel leaves us exactly at the right place.
Do we believe this truth?
Do we believe that this life that we have been given in all of its sadness, and doldrums, do we believe that it is a miracle to be lived?
Do we dare live as if it is true?

When I was a Counselor in Training at Camp Calumet we would sometimes have these cookouts.
The first time I was with a cabin group at a cookout a counselor asked me to go to the kitchen and ask for a "left handed smoke shifter".
I did just that.
As soon as I asked the head chef for a "left handed smoke shifter" I knew that I had been pranked.
Most of the pranks that people play on others at April fools is like this one.
We send someone off on some errand that we know to be not true.
Like telling people they can grow a spaghetti tree in their yard.

I think that the resurrection is God's call to us to live out our lives in the fullest fashion.
It isn't a prank, it is the real deal.
It is a call to live our lives with compassion, humility, honesty, integrity, generosity, and love.
It is to live every day and moment as if it is a miracle that we are alive.
It is to live a full life, an abundant life.
Do we dare believe it?

So this morning I want to leave you with that same idea.
Everyone was given an egg as you came into worship this morning.
I don't want you to open it up until you get home.
Inside it is a call from Jesus to live a full life.
A task to accomplish that helps us live into the resurrection.
The question is am I pranking you or is that really what is in the egg?
I ask you this morning do you dare believe in the resurrection?
Do you dare believe that Jesus is alive so that we can be too?
If you dare believe that being alive is a miracle.
If you dare believe that Christ is Risen.
If you dare believe that God is in your life then open the egg when you get home.

He is Risen!