Tuesday, May 31, 2011

We Are Not Orphaned!

This week I had some friends come over to hang out.
We were talking and having a good time.
We started to talk about the Trinity (It is normal in a pastor’s house to talk about the Trinity around the dining room table with friends) and almost at once all of them including my wife said that their favorite part of the Trinity was the Holy Spirit.
I was really surprised because Lutherans are notorious for not talking about the Holy Spirit.
And yet here were all these Lutherans saying that the Holy Spirit was their favorite.
When I asked my wife why she liked the Holy Spirit so much she said that it was because, “It is the easiest to see. We see it in action every day. We see it working in and through people.”
The more I thought about it the more I realized what a good point they were making.
The Holy Spirit is what we experience every time someone does something extraordinary in an ordinary situation.
It is what makes people believe in God even when all seems lost.
(Maybe it is what kept me believing that the Red Sox would get better this season.)
It is what helps us to do the right thing even when we would rather not.
It is what makes ordinary people express an extraordinary love.

My cousin this week on his Facebook page posted a video of an ABC show called, “What Would You Do”.

It was one of those shows were they put actors in a common place and then have them do something bad to see how people would react.
On this show they had two actresses play a lesbian couple with kids; go to Norma’s CafĂ© in Farmer’s Branch Texas.
Then they had an actress playing a waitress berate them for being gay and refuse to serve them.
One of the people in the restaurant pulls the waitress aside and says, “Do you know Jesus?”
Then he tells her not to judge just as Jesus would not judge.
When the waitress will not stop the man leaves the restaurant and then returns with a note to the two women that says:

Dear Friends,
I know it doesn’t mean much but I wanted you to know that I love you all.
You have a beautiful family and I pray that one person’s judgmental intolerance does not in any way put a damper on your hearts or minds.
In the words of MLK Jr. “In the end we remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” -Donavan
The actresses were so touched they started to cry.

These are Moments when the Holy Spirit is at work.
The Holy Spirit is moving among and through us, keeping us close to the commandments that Jesus taught us.
The Holy Spirit helps us to act with compassion and love.
But the Holy Spirit does even more than this.
In the Gospel from John this morning Jesus is about to die, and he is trying to comfort the disciples who will have to go on without him.
So he tells them that he “will not leave them orphaned.”
That he will send the Holy Spirit to be with them.
The Holy Spirit is partially our reminder of the compassion that Jesus taught us.
The Holy Spirit is also our support in the midst of trouble.
And we need that because when trouble comes it often knocks us out of our comfort zones and makes us disoriented.

In Joplin Missouri we all saw the devastation of the tornadoes.
The town was devastated so much so that people in the town could no longer find their way around.
Without the landmarks of the doughnut shop, elks club, and thrift store people are having a hard time navigating around time.
For example Mr. Woolston who lived in Joplin his whole life.
This is what he says about finding his way around Joplin after the tornadoes, “Particularly at night, but also during the daytime, areas that you’ve gone through thousands of times — you just don’t recognize,”
“I have to stop and get my bearings to realize where I am at, simply because everything is just completely altered.”
This is how we often feel after a disaster in our lives.
We feel disorientated like the world doesn’t make sense anymore.
We feel that everything has been altered and we can’t seem to get our bearings.
Jesus knew that is how the disciples would feel during and after the crucifixion.
Jesus knew they would need support admits their struggles.
So Jesus told them that he would send the Spirit to come along side them in those struggles.
The Holy Spirit would remind them that they are not alone.
It would remind them what Jesus said and taught them.
It would give them strength in difficult times.
It would help them to keep their bearings so they could still navigate the world they lived in.

Today the Holy Spirit does the same for us.
When you are disorientated and don’t know the way anymore it is the Spirit that comes and puts you back on track.
When you are moved to stand up for someone else who is being torn down it is the Spirit that is there.
When you act out of love it is the Spirit moving you.

I see the Spirit moving all the time in this congregation.
I feel that the Spirit is supporting us in our mission to spread the love of Jesus Christ.
I feel that the Spirit is really moving and alive all the time.

For example, one of our member’s mom died two weeks ago.
I had talked to Kate at our annual Meatball dinner and she was sharing how bad her mom was doing at this point she didn’t know that her mom was dying.
The next morning before worship I was praying for Kate and something made me write her a letter that I intended to send to her that week.
It was a weird thing because I am not really a letter writer I just felt that Kate would need some words of encouragement during this difficult time.
Anyway, I put the letter on my desk intending to mail it on Monday.
After worship when Kate told me that her mom was dying and she was flying to see her that day I took out the letter from my desk and gave it to her.
I told her that the Holy Spirit must have been working because just that morning something told me that she might need some encouragement.

The Holy Spirit is working all the time.
Jesus sends us the Holy Spirit so we can remain close to him.
Jesus sends the Holy Spirit so we can be supported, and we can love one another.
Jesus knew that we would need this in our faith journey and sent it so we don’t feel orphaned.
Perhaps we should start talking about the Holy Spirit more.
We should share those moments when the Holy Spirit moves over and through us to know God is near.

People in our world today know the Holy Spirit real well.
In most studies about religion more and more people are saying that they are spiritual and not religious.
A recent study found that 18 percent of people 18-39 identified themselves as spiritual and not religious.
In 2008 just a couple of years ago only 11% said the same thing.
What they are expressing is exactly what we are talking about this morning.
That Jesus will not leave us orphaned.
Even if we are to reject the structure of the church Jesus still wants to know us to know him, and so the Holy Spirit is at work all the time in many people’s lives even outside the church.
What we offer here is to help people remember this very truth.
Look it is hard for the other six days of the week not to get disorientated,
It is hard to remember that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives.
We come together to remember that the Holy Spirit is there to support us and come along with us in our lives.

And so as we go back into our lives for the other six days of our week let us remember that Jesus did not leave us orphaned but gave us an advocate to be with us always and that helps us to get our bearings, helps us to love one another, and supports us when things seem hard.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Growing Into Our Salvation

This week was first communion for five young people in our congregation.

I have always loved the idea that we grow into our salvation.
I love the idea that salvation is something that has been given to us, but it is really too big an idea for us to grasp and understand fully.
Consider the idea that God’s Son who made the universe and the stars, who was mighty and power, gave all that up to become a mortal.
Not only that but a mortal human being who was killed in one of the most humiliating ways you can think of.
None of that makes sense, and it does take a lifetime to really come to terms with it.
We have to grow into it.
Consider our Gospel for this morning.
Jesus is going to die, he has told his disciples that he will be denied, betrayed, and killed.
They cannot understand.
Even now after all this time, after all the things that they have been through together.
After all the healing, all the forgiveness, after all the miracles, and after Lazarus was raised from the dead they still can’t get it.
I am so glad that God gives us time to grow into our salvation.
Because we need that time to understand and come to terms with what Jesus says today, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places and I go to prepare a place for you so that were I am you may be also.”
That is an amazing statement.
Jesus is preparing a place for us.
Jesus is getting everything ready for us to arrive.

I remember as a kid when people would come over to our house my mom would go crazy preparing for them to come.
She would clean every inch of the house.
In fact, while cleaning she would make me and my sisters go outside and not come back until the people got there.
It was always lots of tense moments preparing for people to come over.
But the thing was my mom wanted everything to be perfect.
She wanted the house to look good, and for the food to taste good.
She wanted people to know one another and have a good time.
She cared about the people coming over and wanted everything to be perfect.
I like to think the same about Jesus.
That he cares so much about us that he is busy preparing a place for us.
A perfect place where we feel welcomed, loved, and at home.

But even that takes a long time to get used to.
Because we think that maybe we have to do something to earn it.
But it is free is too big an idea for us.
It is given in grace, and we spend our lives growing into that truth.

Today Catherine, Angelina, Grace, Riley, and Evan grow a little more into the salvation prepared for them by Jesus.
They grow by tasting and seeing Jesus offering them so much.
Because when we come to this table we are offered a foretaste of the feast to come.
We get to see what that home is like that Jesus is preparing for us.
It is a home filled with love, compassion, joy, forgiveness, health, life, and peace.

We know this because Jesus has showed it to us.
And when we see Jesus we see God.
“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father….Believe in me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”
It all takes a great leap of faith to believe in such a thing.
And that leap does not happen once it happens many times and takes us a long time to grow into it.

It makes me think of when I was a kid and I was growing a lot.
My mom would take me to the store to get new clothes or shoes.
And she would always buy me clothes that were too big for me.
“You’ll grow into it.”
She would say.
That is what God says to us about our salvation.
It might be too big, but you will grow into it.
Someday it will make sense things will fall into place.

That is why I am so overjoyed that these young people are coming to the Lord ’s Table, because I know that here they will experience that growth.
They will grow into knowing the promise of God from tasting and seeing how Jesus is good.

The book we read to prepare for this day was called “A Place For You”.
In it we heard about how Jesus gave us this special meal so that we can remember that he goes and prepare a place for us.
In Jesus’ special meal we can remember that we are loved and cared for, and called to love and care for others.
These seem like such simple things, but living and believing them is so much harder.
It would seem easy to believe that Jesus loves us all, but we are often given contradictory messages.

For example, this week Family Radio’s founder Harold Camping predicted that yesterday would be the rapture.
I must say I am glad that all of you are hear for me to preach to this morning.
The rapture is the belief that some people will be pulled up from earth and taken to heaven, and the rest would be left behind to go through a horrific apocalypse where Satan would rule, and be in pain and torment.
I am sure all of you know this already, but just in case let me say it again.
This is not a Biblical view.
The Bible never once uses the word rapture.
The Bible talks about the end of the world.
But those visions are not about people being drawn into heaven.
The Biblical view of the end of the world is what Jesus tells us this morning,
“That he goes to prepare a place for us…so that where I am, there you may be also.”
Whatever the end entails it means being with Jesus and we know that is not scary at all....It has nothing to do with earthquakes, zombies, destruction, and death.
In my view the rapture was all cooked up by some Christians out there to scare us into believing.
In other words…believe in Jesus or else.
The Biblical view is much better.
Jesus offers us a promise.
It is a promise that says, “I go to prepare a place for you.”
It is a promise that says God calls us out of darkness into the light.
It is a promise that says, “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”
My problem with the rapture is that it makes Christianity seem so mean and petty.
It makes it seem that belief is one time thing, and then we all of a sudden have everything figured out.
Instead of the Biblical view that belief is a process, belief is something we grow into.
It comes from growing into the promise that God has given.
It comes from our understanding that God is building us into a spiritual house.

Consider the signs that were up about the rapture.
“The end is coming. Believe in God.”
That is all it takes as if believing in God can be comprehended in one minute.
God’s grace given in Jesus Christ takes a lifetime to understand, and in some ways we could never understand it fully.
I know that I am often overwhelmed when I think of the magnificence of the promises made to me by Jesus Christ.
I know that often I am at the table receiving communion and I am just overcome by what God has prepared for me.
I am still growing into my salvation as are all of us.

Today Catherine, Angelina, Grace, Rieley, and Evan get to experience the awesomeness of God’s promise.
Today they get to grow a little more into that salvation.
They get to glimpse at what God has prepared for them.

For those of us who have been tasting and seeing God for a long time we get to have that exact same experience.
And today we can all grow into the salvation given to us by God through Jesus Christ.

Monday, May 16, 2011

True Life!

This sermon is partially based on the PBS show Frontline about the nature of advertising.

It doesn’t happen very often but every now and then we will get a call in our house asking if Mr. or Mrs. Hoopkins is there.
You probably get phone calls like this from telemarketers wanting to pitch you something.
What makes me laugh about these calls is that the company is trying to get me to think they are thinking about me personally by using my name, instead of saying something more generic, but really they are totally turning me off because they don’t know my name.
This morning’s Gospel from John is about this very thing.
It is about who we belong to, who gives life, and how we know when they call us.
Jesus uses the image of a shepherd calling his sheep and a open gate.
“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…They will not follow a stranger.”
It is not a command but an invitation into the pasture, into a life full of abundance.

We are sold almost daily a lie.
It is a lie that something we buy or own will be the thing that gives our lives meaning or value.
I am not saying that buying things is evil.
We need to buy things in this world to live.
We need to buy cars, food, clothing, and foot wear.
I am also not saying this morning that we should be on guard against over consumption. (Although we should that is another sermon for another day.)
I am saying that psychologically, spiritually we are told by companies that happiness and life come from buying their products.
Ad companies no longer want you to believe that their products are the best; they want you to believe that what you are buying will give your life meaning and purpose.
You can find identity and transcendence in the things that you buy as a consumer.

In fact, the ad companies did research into why people joined cults or participated in cult like behavior.
They discovered that people who joined these things were looking for identity, purpose, community, and transcendence.
So they set out to market products based on these ideas.
No longer do we buy a shoe, we buy a lifestyle that comes with that shoe.
In one of my favorite examples there was a commercial some years ago about Chinet paper plates.
The tag line was, “What are you saying with your Chinet plates?”
I am saying it is time for a hamburger!
Nothing more nothing less.

Today we are told by Jesus that what gives us life, true life, is knowing the shepherd.
What gives true life is going into the pasture with the other sheep.
Being in the pasture is about blessing and not being in want.
It is about knowing that God is with us and having true life.
True life is being able in all circumstances to be able to thank God.
It is not about the car we drive, the clothes we wear, or what kind of paper plate we use at our cookout.

Because Jesus always knows our name never would Jesus call me up and ask for Mr. Hoopkins.
Jesus would know my name and use it to call me blessed, loved, and holy.
Today Jesus knows your name and calls you by it and invites you to have true life.

What does it look like this life in the pasture?
What does it mean to live in the pasture with other sheep?
It looks like the picture in Acts, “They broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.”
It is not about following rules or doing the right thing.
It is about having glad and generous hearts because of what God has done for us.
It is about knowing that there is the shepherd who leads us beside the still water, and revives our souls.
It is found in those little moments of grace that we sometimes get to experience.
It is found in those noisy times when the whole family gathers for a meal.
It is found in those quiet moments of prayer.
Jesus invites us into a relationship that is real and living.
It changes and moves us and we move with it.

When I was a child I didn’t understand it this way.
I thought of God as some far off distant figure who would show up in the stories I heard in the Bible.
But the older I get the more I need God in my life I have discovered that God is not far off at all he is right here with me.
I find that I enjoy the times in the pasture knowing Jesus is near and I am with the other sheep praising God.

The problem with the things we buy is that they will never really satisfy what we truly want.
They will never be able to give us true identity.
They will ultimately fail to transcend this life because they are of this life.
They will not be able to give our life true meaning, because at the end of the day a sneaker is just a sneaker, paper plates are just paper plates nothing more nothing less.

Jesus on the other hand is so much more.
Jesus is everything we will ever need to satisfy our true longing for community, identity, meaning, and transcendence.
No matter what you need in your life you can turn to Jesus and receive it today.
If you need forgiveness it is offered.
If you need someone to talk to Jesus is there for you.
If you need meaning Jesus gives it to you.
If you need community the Church of Jesus Christ (hopefully) is there for you.

The life that Jesus offers comes from knowing that we need a shepherd.
It comes from knowing that we don’t have all the answers and don’t have our act together.
The times when we admit that we need help, that we are lost, and need to be lead, comforted, and lifted up these are the times when we come to see Jesus in our lives.
The whole thing about having a car that defines us means we are trying to hide something missing in ourselves.
We are trying to identify ourselves by what we own rather than who we are.
Because we are often afraid of whom we are or what we might be.
We might not measure up to others.

Today Jesus is inviting us not to jump the fence, but rather doing the hard work of recognizing our need.
There have been many times in my life when I have needed Jesus.
There was this one time in college when I was having a particularly bad semester.
I had a whole bunch of thing go wrong in my life, and I was doing a whole bunch of bad things.
I wasn’t really sure who I was or what I was doing.
One night I took a walk to the chapel on campus.
It was a huge chapel with big gothic ceilings.
I prayed that night for God to help me because I was lost.
I prayed that I might have the strength to admit that I couldn’t do it.
I asked God to forgive me for being selfish and prideful.
When I left it started to rain.
I took that as a sign from God that it was time for a new start, that my sin was being washed away.
No sneaker or paper plate can do that!
Things got better for me after that.
I felt a strength that was not there before that night.
I wish I could tell you that was it.
But there have been other times since when I have been in need and fell to my knees and prayer.
Each time I have heard Jesus call my name and bring me back to the pasture.
Each time Jesus has opened the gate for me and led me to still waters.
Jesus brings me to the waters that calm my restless soul.

Can you hear Jesus this morning call you by name?
Can you hear Jesus invite you into the pasture?
Today Jesus offers you abundant life filled with meaning, community, transcendence.
What the psalmist sings is true; “with God surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”


Monday, May 9, 2011

On Our Way!

We are a people on the way.
Just like our two disciples this morning who are on the way from Jerusalem to Emmaus.
We are on the way from sadness to joy.
When traveling on the road we sometimes hit low moments.
This was one of those low moments for the disciples.
Jesus was dead, so they thought, and their hopes were dashed.
So they walked along this road sad and disheartened.
When we are on the way we too sometimes feel sad or disheartened.

For example, last Saturday we all heard the horrible news that the Friendly Kitchen had a fire.
We heard the horrible news that one of the most beloved places in our community was destroyed.
It was a place of welcome for people who needed a meal and a friendly atmosphere without judgment.
It was a place that people down and out depended on for sustenance.
I know that it brought me immeasurable joy the Sundays I get to serve at the Friendly Kitchen, and if you asked anyone else who did it they would tell you the same thing.
Then on Saturday afternoon it was gone destroyed by a fire.
It was disheartening.
Except that out of that fire our community came together.
Within hours of the fire I was receiving calls from members of our congregation saying that we should offer our congregation as a place to temporarily house the Friendly Kitchen.
Only our church was not needed, because First Congregational had already offered.
Then the Greek Congregation said the Friendly Kitchen could be there “indefinitely”.
Then people started to give money.
I understand that in those first couple of days they raised about $7,000.
Since, then I have heard of several different ways that people in the community are planning to help.
Far from being a letdown people in the community of Concord rallied, pulled up their sleeves and went to work.
As Gail Megan said to me last week after worship, “I am just so proud of how our community came together.”
I would agree it is inspiring to see so many people offer to help.
Far from being a story about death it became a story about how our hearts came together to do something great.
Many of you may know that the word “Concord” actually means “with one heart”.
So it is appropriate that our community’s hearts come together when we experience a tragedy.

It is also what means to be a people on the way.
It means to have our hearts burning with the passion of our resurrected Lord.
This morning in our Gospel the two disciples recognize Jesus in the burning of their hearts as he explained scripture to them, as they walked and talked with him, as they broke bread together.
This morning I want to suggest the same is true for us.
As we are on our way we can know the risen Christ by paying attention to our burning hearts.
Our hearts burn and we know Christ’s presence by gathering together, by hearing and studying the word of God, and by sharing a meal with strangers and loved ones.

This helps us on our way.
Because what I hear about from people all the time is the struggle that comes with being a people on the way.
We are all on our way from or to something.
We are all getting better from something or just starting to struggle with something.
We are on the way to being cured, or on our way to ill health.
We are on the way from youth to old age.
Spiritually we are on our way to seeing and understanding, or forgetting and ignoring.
The road we travel is long and there are lots of highs and lows.
The disciples found this out, because they thought Jesus death was the end of the story.
“We had hoped he would be the one to restore Israel.”
That was it for that chapter.
Expect God was doing more in Jesus then restoring Israel.
He was moving hearts.
Jesus was making hearts burn as they went on the way.
That morning those two disciples were reminded that it is not over, and that God can do some wonderfully amazing things.

We are not only a people on our way to a place; we are a people of the way.
The earliest Christian community called themselves people of the way.
They believed that they were walking and following the way of Jesus Christ, and so are we everyday in faith walking the way.

This week we were also all relieved to hear the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death.
I think it was the right thing to do.
I am glad for our country and the world.
But as I watched the news coverage of people dancing in the streets I could not bring myself to celebrate.
The death of any human being, even if that human being does evil things and speaks evil thoughts, is still a human being to me.
Since today is mother’s day it should be pointed out that Osama Bin Laden had a mother.
He was born in the same way all of us were.
He had children and wives.
His wives and children grieve because they have lost their husband or father.
Every human life is created by God and therefore loved by God.

I think this is what it means to be a person of faith.
It is what it means to be a person who follows the way of Jesus Christ.
So even though everyone else is dancing in the streets and celebrating death we are praying for peace and life.
The way is to love even our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us.
Sometimes the way is not easy.
Sometimes it is not what we want to do.
But Jesus comes and opens to us the scripture.
Jesus shows us God’s plan for the salvation of all people.
Jesus then breaks bread with us and tells us that our sins are forgiven.
Jesus assures us that there is life after death.
How can I then go out and rejoice in death?
The way is not always popular either.
The way is not always easy.
The road is long and there are many twists and turns.

But we are on our way all the time.
We are always on the road to somewhere or something.
Life is in constant motion.
And often we would like it to slow down or take a break.
But one thing after another comes at us.
Ultimately we have no choice but to face it.
I have found the only way to face it is for Jesus to be my companion all the time.

I believe he is, but sometimes I lose track of him.
Just like the disciples did not recognize Jesus at first we too sometimes forget that Jesus is there for us.
But when our hearts burns then we realize it, then we understand.
We understand the beauty of people coming together in tragedy, the importance of all lives, the wonder of forgiveness, and the joy of our faith.
That is ultimately what sustains us as we are on our way.
We are sustained by a faith that tells us about God’s ability to bring people together, and raise His Son from the dead.
Our faith is the assurance of things not seen.
We cannot see what is ahead.
We don’t always know the way we are going.
But our faith assures us that Jesus is there walking beside us and opening up the God’s word for us to understand and draw strength from.

Do not your hearts burn this morning from knowing Jesus is alive!
This is what will give us the ability to be a people on the way, following the way.
May you know that Jesus walks with you on your way!

Monday, May 2, 2011

God Rocks Because, God Loves Everyone!?

This is a sermon I gave on Saturday night at Nativity Lutheran Church in North Conway, NH, at their Rocharist worship service. It was a little strange that I mentioned Osama Bin Laden and he was killed Sunday night. This is the reason that I can not cheer his death. Although I think it was the right thing to do, I still don't think that killing someone is a reason to cheer. We are all children of God even the evil ones.

When I heard that the theme for our worship was that God is awesome. God loves us all.
First thing I thought was I wanted to change God is awesome to the more acceptable theologically correct, God Rocks.
Second, I thought that would be an easy thing to preach about.
God loves everyone.
In some ways we all take this for granted now.
I get up and tell you that God loves everyone and you all think “yeah of course”.
But the more I thought about the more I realized that what sounds good in theory is hard in the real world.
I mean when you think about the people that everybody includes.

Does God love this guy?

Almost every theological discussion about good and evil includes a discussion about Hitler.
I thought we would start here so we can get it out of the way.
Hitler not only started a war he also killed thousands of blacks, gays, intellectuals, and Jews.
Hitler did not merely kill people but he built a philosophy to make that killing seem good.
A man of such hate and evil God could not love this person could he?

How about this person?

Osama Bin Laden is responsible for the killing of many innocent people.
He believes in using terror as a political tool.
Just looking at his picture makes us mad and disgusted.
Right now our country is still trying “hunt down and kill him”.
Not only that but he happens to be of another religion.
God can’t possibly love this guy right?

How about this guy?

Jeffery Dahmer would bring people to his apartment in Milauwakee kill, rape and then eat their bodies.
In all Dahmer killed 17 people in cold blood premeditated.
After his death in prison, Dahmer's mother, Joyce Flint, responded angrily to the media, "Now is everybody happy? Now that he's bludgeoned to death, is that good enough for everyone?"
Does God love Jeffery Dahmer?

How about this person?

In discussing sexuality at my last congregation in New York some people were saying that they could understand homosexuality.
But they drew the line at transvestites.
Why do they have to throw it in our face?
This is a picture of a transvestite at a parade in New York.
Does God love this person?

How about this person?

For many liberals Pat Robertson is the devil.
He is seen as twisting the word of God to fit into a type of politics and world view that is mean spirited.
He is also rich and powerful.
He has his own television show watched by millions.
Does God love this person?

My point is that we all have our lines.
We all have people that we think about and wonder if God could really love that person.
Recently Rob Bell wrote a book called “love wins” in it he suggests that God’s love is bigger than our sin.
And he suggests that everyone goes to heaven, or that Jesus has made hell irrelevant.
This has caused a major reaction from some Christians not wanting to give everyone a free pass.
They would argue that without hell there is nothing holding us accountable.
I mean if Hitler, Osama Bin Laden, and Jeffery Dahmer are allowed in heaven what is the point.
If God loves everyone then what makes us as Christian special.

The Biblical problem is that God is always opening the door to more and more people.
The Bible is not about God’s love for only some people it is about God’s love for the world.
John’s Gospel starts with this global perspective that God loves the world.
It is then lived out in the real world by Jesus.
Jesus loved the rich and poor, the well and the sick, the prostitute and the Pharisee, the lost son and the good son, the sinner and the saints.
Tonight we hear about Jesus appearing to his disciples after his resurrection.
In the middle of a locked room Jesus appears to the ones who betrayed, denied and fled from him and offers peace.
Then he comes back a second time to show himself to one who does not believe.
Over and over the Bible tells us stories of Jesus going the extra mile for those that are lost and forgotten.
The Biblical view is that God loves everyone regardless of political ideology, sexual orientation, race, creed, and sin.
In Jesus God shows God’s loves to all and offers the love of God to all.

It should be noted that Jesus does not like everyone’s behavior, and is not afraid to point this out.
Especially the rich, religious, and privileged Jesus challenges them to think of the ways they build system that abuse others.
Jesus challenges them to think that their privilege does not make them more loved by God, which was a common theological thought, and still is today, but that they have more responsibility to help others not exclude them.

Cornell West has said that “Justice is what love looks like in public, just as intimacy is what love looks like in private.”
As Christians regardless if we like people we are too love them, because God rocks and God loves them.
This means insuring that every one of God’s people receives all the things that they need to succeed in life.
It means insisting on justice for people experiencing homelessness, addiction, mental illness.
It means having mercy and compassion for those that are less fortunate.
It means extending grace even to the most despicable of people.
It means not allowing anyone to feel less than anyone else.

The ultimate question is does God love this guy?

Do we have faith and believe that God loves us?
Do we believe that God wants the best for us?
Do we believe that Jesus died and was resurrected so that we might have peace?
It is hard to believe sometimes because we don’t always love of ourselves.
On any given day we are the outsiders.
We don’t think we are good enough, pretty enough, rich enough, well enough, young enough.
We are the people who talk in hateful words.
We are the people who kill our neighbors and desire for laws rather than love and mercy.
We are the ones calling out for revenge and blood to be spilled.
Can God really love me?

The answer tonight is that yes God does because God rocks!

The Resurrected Jesus Continues to Appear to Us Today!

Last week at the end of my Easter sermon I said that the Easter story is not the end of the Gospel, but only the beginning, because we continue to experience the resurrected Jesus in our lives all the time.
This morning’s Gospel shows that Jesus continues to show up to his disciples after that initial Easter Sunday morning.
For the next six Sundays we will hear Gospel stories of Jesus appearing to various people.
This morning we have the privilege of being together for the Baptism of Cynthia Marple.
This is a real treat for our congregation because Baptisms in our tradition are usually done when we are babies.
But today we see that God is alive and at work in lives like Cynthia’s.
We see that the resurrected Jesus continues to appear to us today.
For Cynthia, it has been a long journey to this moment.
One of the things that Cynthia told me about her faith journey was that when she thought about God she would see Jesus.
That for her it was Jesus who best exemplified the things that she believed and understood about God.
So, even before this day Jesus was showing himself to her and was appearing in her life.
Jesus resurrection is still happening today.

Now even though Cynthia is not a baby there are couple of things that are still the same about Cynthia’s Baptism and that of a child.
First, is that Baptism is only the beginning in our relationship with God.
Like I said Cynthia has been experiencing Jesus in her life for a long time before today, but she will admit that she still has much to learn and to know about God.
In Bible study she will say, “I am just a newbie at this…”
It is really the same for all of us.
Our Baptism is the start of a long journey and a deep relationship that we develop over time with God.
It is in Baptism that God claims us as God’s children from that day we begin to mature in our faith and it is something we work on for a lifetime.
Even those of us who have been Christian our whole life still need to constantly work on our relationship with God.
We still need to seek God in our daily lives.
It is like any relationship that we have in this world.
If it is a relationship with our spouse, or a close friend we need to foster it and work on it.
The same is true of our relationship with God.

Second, it is God in our Baptism who chooses us.
Even though Cynthia is an adult this day is not about her choosing God.
It is about God coming into her life and inviting her into a greater relationship.
Consider our Gospel for this morning.
In the midst of fear and anxiety Jesus comes to his disciples in a locked room.
He comes and offers peace.
What is amazing about this story is that just a couple of days before these are the same disciples who betrayed, denied, and fled from him.
In other words they were ready to choose something else over Jesus.
They were ready to choose their own comfort over following Jesus to death.
But Jesus comes and offers them peace, and new life.

Not only this but Jesus comes back again because one of them wasn’t there and didn’t see Jesus for himself.
Thomas was missing from Jesus initial visit and doesn’t believe what the others were telling him.
So, Jesus comes back to show his wounds and offer more peace.
Even in doubt Jesus comes and brings us back into the fold.
Given the choice Thomas doesn’t choose Jesus.
It is only because Jesus went out of his way to show himself to Thomas that he comes to believe.
As Martin Luther once said, “I only believe that on my own I cannot believe.”
Earlier in John’s Gospel Jesus tells his disciples, “You did not choose me, but I choose you.”
Today Jesus has chosen you Cynthia to live forever with and in him.

And the same is true for all of us.
Given our own choose we might not choose Jesus.
It is really something that doesn’t make sense.
I watched this video of Rich Mullins who wrote the song Awesome God.
He said, “That if you are looking for a religion that makes sense then you shouldn’t choose Christianity.”
I would agree.
It doesn’t make sense that we are offered grace instead of judgment.
It doesn’t make sense that God would let his Son die for sinners.
It doesn’t make sense that Jesus would rise again.
That is why we really can’t choose God, because too often God just doesn’t make sense to us.
Thanks be to God that Jesus continues to bust down our locked doors and come to us so that we too might believe in grace and eternal life.

Third, whether we are adults or children, Baptism is not about salvation.
We are not saved by being Baptism.
No religious ritual, however good, can save us.
No act of ours, however holy, gains our salvation.
Salvation was given to us as a gift on the cross and we experience it all the time as we meet the resurrected Lord.
Cynthia you are not being baptized into a religion today.
You are not being baptized so you can be a Lutheran.
But you are being baptized into a relationship with a living God.
You are being baptized into new life with a risen Jesus Christ.
What this means is that you will continue to experience the risen Lord.
In the studying of his word, in the preaching of his word, in the gathered people of God, in his holy meal, you will hear Jesus again, again, and again come to you and say, “Peace be with you.”

Fourth, whether we are adults or children, baptism is a public affirmation of our believing.
We sometimes think of our life in Christ as a private matter.
But Jesus would not let the disciples remain behind those closed doors.
He gives them the Holy Spirit so that they can go out and tell others about God’s love and grace.
Cynthia you will have your own intimate relationship with Jesus.
But you are also called to live that out in the world.
You are called to proclaim Christ through word and deed, care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace.
In doing we are called to make our faith a public matter.
When we help others we always do it in the name of Jesus Christ.
We do it out of the love that is given to us from Jesus so that all may know God’s love and care.

Today is wonderful day because right before our eyes we see the way that the risen Christ is appearing to people today.
We see how God has been at work in Cynthia’s life leading her to this wonderful moment.
I hope that all of us can see in our lives the ways that the living God, who is constantly coming for us to bring us back into the fold, is working in our lives.
I hope that every day we wake up and are ready to serve the risen Christ.
I hope every day we hear Jesus say to us, “Peace to you…Now get out of this locked room and tell others that I love them too.”

Finally, May we all come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
What John’s Gospel tells us this morning is exactly what Cynthia is receiving today.
She is receiving faith so she may know the Son of God and have life in his name.
Today we are so overjoyed to welcome Cynthia into this life that we know through Jesus Christ.
May this day be a constant reminder that Jesus has chosen you, given you eternal life, called you to proclaim his grace and love, and invited you into the greatest most powerful relationship you will ever have.